Movies For Breakfast THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS Review

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The gang is back together in the franchise’s newest installment (sort-of)…if only the writing and performances lived up to the film’s nostalgic meta-ambition.

Synopsis

To find out if his reality is a physical or mental construct, Mr. Anderson, aka Neo, will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more. If he’s learned anything, it’s that choice, while an illusion, is still the only way out of — or into — the Matrix. Neo already knows what he has to do, but what he doesn’t yet know is that the Matrix is stronger, more secure and far more dangerous than ever before.

Review
The last time we left Neo in the matrix universe, he had defeated Agent Smith and sacrificed his body to the machines who created the very institute he defied – the Matrix. The Oracle and the Architect then made a deal: any human that wanted out (and wanted to experience the “real” world) would receive that opportunity…and the free will of choice was finally theirs. As happy an ending as you can receive in the neo (get it?) cyberpunk world of The Wachowskis’ “Matrix”. Eighteen years later, we are thrown back into the same world of illusion vs reality and see a new Neo as well as a new Trinity and a new Morpheus and…well, let’s just get into it.

“The Matrix Resurrections” is helmed by director and co-writer Lana Wachowski (riding solo this time without her sister Lilly) and it begins with Neo (Keanu Reeves, reprising his iconic role) back in the Matrix, living his life as Thomas Anderson. Anderson is a lonely video game developer who regularly sees a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris, terrific) who prescribes blue pills to keep him mellow and…happy? Anderson is also a critically-acclaimed developer that is best known for creating a trilogy of groundbreaking video games called The Matrix Trilogy – these games are shot-for-shot replicas of the first three Matrix films, inspired by “dreams” that fee all-too-real to Thomas. For better or worse, this is where the film takes a huge meta turn – through inside jokes (cringey “winks” to the audience), dialogue callbacks, surprise guest appearances and an obnoxious amount of self-referential power or lack thereof.

Another aspect to Thomas’ world is the recurring appearance of a woman named “Tiffany” (Carrie Anne Moss, great), a married mother of two who Thomas always sees – and admires from afar – in a coffee shop. She is the inspiration for the “Trinity” character in his Matrix games. As suspected, this world is not real, everything in the Matrix trilogy DID happen and Neo and Trinity are trapped in simulated bodies that are not their own. In comes Bugs (Jessica Henwick, good) and her noble ragtag ship crew “The Mnemosyne” who are on a mission to rescue Neo back from the Matrix, once and for all. We meet them in the beginning, through an interesting prologue where they witness and play through a false code of when Trinity’s character first pops up in the Matrix trilogy; she outruns the agents and there, they rescue an alternate version of Morpheus (this time around, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – we’ll get into it later), coded as an Agent but still has a free mind and knows somewhere out there, Neo is still alive.
Cut to the end of Act I where the crew rescues Neo and we run into the first real action sequence of the film (only twenty or so minutes in) – Morpheus and the crew play gun ballet with incoming enemies as they rescue Neo from the Matrix. However, before Neo can agree to live happily ever after in the new Zion (cleverly named the “IO” – input/output), he makes a plea to also rescue his long-lost love Trinity from the Matrix. This sets up the latter half of the film which makes for a good rescue adventure – and a touching sci-fi romance – but also serves as a disjointed piece to the crippling meta first half which serves as more of a self-flagellating satire than as a new addition to a beloved sci-fi franchise.

Keanu Reeves, next to maybe Lawrence Fishburne, is the soul of the Matrix. His performance of Neo in the original trilogy – while not one of the best performances of all time – is iconic in the history of contemporary cinema. It’s the trench coat, the sunglasses, the flying, the “woah”, the battle of doubt vs believing, the power of believing – all of this was felt through Reeves’ performance in the original trilogy. That’s why it is so disappointing that when we discuss Reeves’ performance in the latest installment, it feels like America’s favorite everyman actor is phoning it in. Most of the dialogue that Reeves performs in the film feels stilted and callback jokes – while some land and most feel awkward – are contrived. His portrayal of Neo leaves much to be desired as, even in some scenes where our protagonist has doubt, it feels like Reeves himself has doubt on how to portray a character who has doubt. A conundrum, indeed. But that’s not the only flaw to this film – there is a severe case of miscasting in almost every other role. Abdul-Mateen II (while he has had acclaimed turns in HBO’s Watchmen and the latest Candyman reboot) doesn’t carry the same gravitas or influential power as Fishburne did in the role of Morpheus. His comedic dialogue comes off as awkward, his forced presence is obnoxious and his outlandish costume design is reminiscent of almost nothing Morpheus would ever wear. The ultimate sad reality of it all is that no one can replace Fishburne as the sunglasses-wearing sensei and no one should even try. Jonathan Groff is casted as Thomas Anderson’s boss Smith (get it?) who, as the film unfolds and shows his character’s true identity, suffers from the same fate as Abdul-Mateen – a talented actor giving a lackluster performance that pales in comparison to its’ role’s predecessor. There are however a couple of silver linings in the acting department. Carrie Anne Moss perfectly slips back into the shoes of Trinity, once again delivering a great performance as the badass heroine of the series. Neil Patrick Harris also delivers a great supporting turn as Neo’s therapist, telling him all the matrix visions he’s having are in his head while also carrying some ill intentions up his sleeve.

Everything that made the original Matrix films great is ironically everything that makes “Resurrections” so wrong. For example, there is a scene where Neo is a boardroom meeting with other game developers discussing the possible plot of “Matrix 4”. They talk about how the original trilogy was so groundbreaking, so influential, it would almost be impossible to make a “Matrix 4”. In the end, someone speaks up and says it’s impossible, nothing matters, it doesn’t even make sense to make a Matrix 4 because art is dead or some other pretentious drivel. This is indeed where the film seals its own fate because this film essentially brings a wrongful death to a beloved Sci-Fi series. Characters’ motivations are unclear (made just so for the sake of plot if nothing else), unlikely alliances are made, then broken, then made again, characters are given powers they never had before (again, just for the sake of plot) and characters appear then disappear with no explanation. Sure, the technology is updated, the action is still intact, old friends appear (Jada Pinkett and Lambert Wilson reprise their roles), there are new characters and designs that are cool to look at but the series’ soul is still unfortunately stripped from the machine. What was once a complex, multilayered action/sci-fi franchise is now an agonizing, self-referential, stripped replica copy of the real thing.


Closing Thoughts
In a season of crowd-pleasing sequels and interesting reboots (see: “Spiderman: No Way Home” and “Candyman”), “Resurrections” is a devastating upset. What the film tries to make up for in exciting visuals, updated tech and new characters, it lacks in performances, plot, character and all-around execution. If Lilly had rejoined Lana in bringing this long-awaited sequel to life, could this have been better? Could less writers and more editing have done this incoherent film some justice? Perhaps. But we unfortunately don’t live in a world of alternate realities so we have to stick with whatever subpar sequel we are given in this world….and hope whatever sequel or reboot that comes next makes up for it.


Trailer