Review: Free Your Mind (Once Again) with 'The Matrix Resurrections'
by Alex Billington
December 21, 2021
"It is so much simpler to bury reality than it is to dispose of dreams." As Morpheus once said in the original The Matrix movie, "no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself." That's true of this movie, as well. I should just end the review here and instead encourage everyone to go watch The Matrix Resurrections – you really have to "see it for yourself" to make up your own mind, attempt to understand what it's saying / showing us, and decide whether that message resonates with you… or not. It has been 18 years since we last entered the Matrix in The Matrix Revolutions - an epic sci-fi action extravaganza that left many befuddled and disappointed. The original The Matrix is an all-timer masterpiece, utterly perfect in every sense, but we already know that. After all this time, was it worth it to revisit this series again? Yes, but mostly because Lana Wachowski really has something to say about the way we consume stories and mind-expanding entertainment. And it's not what many will like hearing, but damnit - someone needed to say it.
This time around, The Matrix Resurrections is directed only by Lana Wachowski, without her sister Lilly Wachowski, from a screenplay co-written by Lana & David Mitchell & Aleksandar Hemon. "Maybe this isn't the story we think it is," one of the characters utters early on. It both is and isn't. The Matrix Resurrections is a marvelous meta spectacle, questioning its own existence as it ponders why we're all still complacent. It's dense and thrilling but didn't quite blow me away. However, being "blown away" this time doesn't matter as much because there's still so much to appreciate about it. Most of the original cast is back - the only ones missing are Laurence Fishburne & Hugo Weaving. Keanu Reeves as Neo, Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity, Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe, and Lambert Wilson as The Merovingian are back in this one. Along with a bunch of new faces which, it turns out, are the best part of this sequel: Jessica Henwick, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Toby Onwumere.
If I start discussing the plot, it will give away parts of it that are best experienced within the movie. It's an exceptionally clever way to rethink the story of "The One" and how it relates to the Machines' control over humans. The theories don't all pan out but it introduces an entirely new set of ideas to consider. Ultimately it's still a must-see-for-yourself in order to think-for-yourself grand sci-fi experience. And, for better and for worse, The Matrix Resurrections seems to course correct the conversation about this franchise. It also debunks a number of other theories (e.g are they in another Matrix when they're in the "real world"? Nah…) and continues the mythology established by the Animatrix series, hinting that the bigger questions about what's going on with the Machines vs Humans is still a mystery. This movie isn't supposed to answer that question, it is supposed to take us on a journey with Neo & Trinity. And it does. More than anything, it's a powerful love story about how connection and togetherness can change the world much more than one hero.
Above all, my favorite thing about The Matrix Resurrections is the way it handles the meta-ness of making another Matrix movie, and how it examines whether we're actually learning anything from these movies. We all love to talk about how great The Matrix is, and what it means, but how many people have actually taken to heart the lesson it teaches us about "freeing your mind"? How many have actually freed their mind since watching it 22 years ago? I don't think it's as many people as one might think. And this movie wrestles with exactly that flaw. One thing I can't get out of my mind with this sequel is… will people truly understand what it's commenting on, what it's trying to tell us? The core of Resurrections and the meta-ness of it is supposed to remind us it's not just a story we chat about, it's meant to be a reminder that we DO have agency. And we can make bolder choices. We really CAN free our minds. Stop referring to it as just a movie, and learn from it as a metaphor for taking control over your own life. It's a freedom many people want, but few truly have.
My biggest complaints about Resurrections are that it doesn't innovate in any way, or blow our minds in any way. It's a beautiful, exhilarating movie - but all the action and all the technology involved is the same we've seen before. They didn't invent any new camera system this time, and that's fine. But then again, we're at a time where it's hard to revolutionize cinema considering cutting-edge digital technology is already prevalent in every aspect of film production. The biggest innovation recently has been utilizing LED screen backdrops in lieu of practical sets, which works well but lacks the visceral-ness of something like Dune or Star Wars. But this Matrix movie isn't really interested in that kind of innovation anymore - it's much more interested in asking why we even need another Matrix movie at all, and answering that question by showing us that ah right, THIS is why we need another one. It's all about the story. Why bring Neo & Trinity back again if there isn't a worthwhile story to tell with them? It's all about the love story, along with another "free your mind" push, this time. And that vital reminder is as potent as ever in this day and age of apathy and complacency.
Thinking more about this revolutionary question, there's even a conversation early in Resurrections where they mock the need to be revolutionary. But even though the movie doesn't have revolutionary action scenes or filmmaking this time, it still does have a revolutionary concept. The way it addresses the meta question of what the original trilogy means and its importance, how it's being used to control many still in the Matrix, and even bigger concerns of how we've turned storytelling into something that is primarily used to satiate and entertain rather than to encourage and stimulate, are revolutionary ideas worked into the context of this kind of Hollywood blockbuster sequel. It's very rare we ever see a big budget movie grapple with these question to begin with, even if there isn't a clear answer provided. And especially in this era of Hollywood, where nostalgia is king, it's thrilling to see Resurrections stand out as one of the few movies to boldly ask, literally, "why does this very sequel need to exist?" and what can it teach us by existing now? Ultimately, it's a reminder that we really do need to free our minds from the systems (and societal notions) that control us.
Out of everyone in Resurrections, my two favorite characters are Jessica Henwick as Bugs and Jonathan Groff as Smith. They give the best performances in the movie, though the whole cast is strong, and they offer us something fresh within the Matrix lore. Bugs as a character is someone we haven't ever met before, but she is the heart and soul of the story this time. She's the one who needs to bring Neo & Trinity back, as they mean so much to her. And Smith, well, he's Smith and Groff kicks ass. Enough said. My other favorite character is Toby Onwumere as the new "Operator". I love the updated score by Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer (I'm listening to as I finish this review). Reeves & Moss as great, it's exhilarating having them back in this, though their journey is very different this time. Above all, I want everyone to watch this movie and make up their own mind. Even if you don't love it, maybe you'll still be thinking about it weeks or months or years from now? I'll wrap up my thoughts with one of the most important lines in the movie: "How do you know if you want something yourself, or if your upbringing programmed you to want it?" A good question…