Whenever someone asks me what movie scared me the most when I was a kid, my answer is always “The Matrix.” When I saw it for the first time, I immediately fell in love with its incredible action and undeniably cool characters. Now that I’ve grown older, I still love the film for its dense philosophical themes, its pioneering filmmaking and it being cinema’s greatest allegory for gender dysphoria and transitioning. It is an undeniable masterpiece that blew my mind as a kid, but maybe a little too much.
At the time, my young mind could not handle the film’s existential implications, leading me to think there was an unknowable possibility that I, like Neo, was just a human battery hooked up to a simulation. My elementary school self could justify monsters in any horror movie as ultimately fictional, but I couldn’t logically handle a challenge to reality itself! I couldn’t sleep the night after I watched the film. Could “The Matrix” films exist in my world to make me think it was just fiction? Needless to say, when I went to see “The Matrix Resurrections” and saw the plot engage that very idea, I was excited.
“The Matrix Resurrections” was released to theaters and HBO Max Dec. 22 with Neo — played by Keanu Reeves — back in the Matrix, but under some interesting circumstances that help to keep him asleep. He is back in his office, but now he is a famous game designer who developed a popular video game series called “The Matrix.” Not only that, but he also has a psychiatrist prescribing him blue pills and telling him that his feelings that the Matrix is real is him relapsing into a psychosis where he imagines himself in his own games. Trinity, played by Carrie-Anne Moss, is also back in the simulation, this time with a husband and kids to keep her sedated.
The movie is incredibly meta because Neo and Trinity have canonically seen “The Matrix” trilogy, and they are being told it is fiction so they don’t realize it is actually their real memories! It takes the characters in a bold direction that expands on the Matrix universe, but it also does more than kickstart a sequel. One of the most interesting elements of this new installment is how it seems concerned with the state of cinema outside of the film.
It seems that every movie that comes out has to be a reboot, unnecessary sequel or an installment in a cinematic universe. Everything has to optimize audience engagement with recognizable properties rather than making original stories. Without diving into spoilers, the film is aware that a fourth installment of “The Matrix” does not make sense. The story was over, but director Lana Wachowski returned to the franchise with ideas and a purpose for expanding the universe, leading to an experience that comments on the current soulless market trends that have a hold on cinema today.
“The Matrix Resurrections” takes a lot from the first film, but justifies that decision by engaging in the conversation about reboots. The film should be seen so a viewer can draw their own conclusions, but an interesting plot point is that Neo is asked to create a fourth Matrix game despite knowing himself it is unnecessary. Its implications are confusing and hard to define in the best way possible due to the story offering different interpretations. Elements of the film’s structure that seem uninspired can be interpreted as commenting on uninspired filmmaking.
Even with all of the fascinating choices that were made, the film is not without its flaws that keep it from the greatness of the first film. It is plagued with many unnecessary flashbacks that do not benefit its meta qualities. The story — similar to the other sequels — has a tendency to get bogged down in its ideas, leading to confusion and unanswered questions. Some of the special effects are not stellar, and some of the new characters are not very memorable. While the film has so many ambitious qualities that some negatives can be overlooked, it does not change that some of the core storytelling and presentation is lacking.
The film may be meta to a fault for some viewers, but what film series is more appropriate for a meta story than “The Matrix”? This may be the strongest sequel to the original film due to how it balances telling a compelling story for the characters while breaking new ground for what the series represents. Unfortunately, the film may be easily skipped due to it being an older franchise and it releasing around Marvel’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, a box office dominating film that represents a lot of what “The Matrix Resurrections” critiques. Hopefully the film will increase in popularity over time as audiences realize that their preconceptions about the film being unnecessary are what help make it into an essential narrative for moviegoers today.