How do you fix a franchise like The Matrix? The first film is perfection. The ultimate fusion of kung fu, cyberpunk and quasi-philosophy. Regardless of how a generation of unmentionables took its trappings and warped them, The Matrix was a stunning feat.
The sequels were muddy, messy and rightly maligned; needlessly adding layer upon layer of ergos and concordantlys. In the process, the clean, sharp elegance of the first film was tarnished somewhat.
With The Matrix Resurrections, Lana Wachowski has somehow flipped the script, turning out an ambitious, byzantine return to the world of The Matrix. A chaotic spray of ideas, it’s the kind of Hail Mary shot the series needed.
It’s not perfect, but my god is it fun.
It feels fresh as hell, somehow taking the chores of the second and third films and transubstantiating them. It’s retroactive cinematic triage, and it’s kind of miraculous.
How is Neo back in the mix? Well, I won’t spoil the specifics – the devil, after all, is in the details. But he’s back, and he’s living a pretty odd life.
The first film was largely shot in Sydney, on real sets, which lent a real sense of place – one which was stripped away by the bombardment of CGI and green screen of the sequels. Resurrections returns us to often real locales, shot partially in San Francisco. This immediately helps ground Neo’s metaphysical conundrum: who is he? Is he Neo? Hell, can he still fly? And why does the regular at his coffee shop (Simulatte) look so damned much like Trinity?
There’s all manner of meta foofarah so blatant it’s almost on the nose. There’s even an entire section of the film dealing with public perception of The Matrix as a franchise. But before long, Neo’s life, legacy, and the truth of who he is / was / will be is once again front and centre.
Morpheus is back, and he’s younger (played by Watchmen’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Bugs (played by Jessica Henwick) serves as the main agent for Neo’s mid-life un-crisis. Neil Patrick Harris plays Neo’s kindly therapist, and Jonathan Groff plays his slimy boss.
Honestly, the entire cast leans into the earnest absurdity of the plot with such open-faced glee that it’s hard not to buy in.
Lana Wachowski’s solo Matrix outing feels borderline experimental. Every shot, every take, is a chance to swing at something visually or performatively odd. Maybe this is why I had so little trouble with the film pivoting away from the sumptuous cinematic sheen of the originals – it’s a different beast entirely.
Sure, there’s bullet-time, kung fu, balletic fight scenes, and car chases. But all of it is ensconced within something more akin to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind than The Matrix.
It doesn’t alway work, mind you. But by taking so many full-pelt swings, Wachowski hits more often than misses, meaning what you’re left with is a joyous, ambitious, messy (in a good way) sequel.
In short, I now have two Matrix films I can binge back-to-back without feeling like the universe that seized my imagination back in 1999 has been ruined by its sequels.
The Matrix Resurrections is… well, it’s kind of brilliant.
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Paul Verhoeven is an author, broadcaster and TV presenter. His books Electric Blue and Loose Units are out now through Penguin, and his podcasts, Dish Island and Loose Units, are available everywhere you get your podcasts.