Wednesday, June 12, 2024

‘The Matrix Resurrections’ Blows Up Expectations

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The Matrix Resurrections is the smoothest two and half hours I’ve sat through all year. There’s not a single dull or forced moment for a movie that is the fourth in its franchise and some eighteen years after the last one. This is a swing for the fences from one half of a directing team, Lana Wachowski, that has never pulled their swings yet still somehow feels grander and more personal than any other Matrix film before it.

Wachowski has made a profoundly personal big-budget IP product, something almost impossible in today’s day and age of late capitalism nostalgia bonanza. But far from being cynical, they and their co-writers David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon have crafted a starkly sentimental opus to everything from the nature of art and how it is consumed to the revolutionary power of love. It covers a lot of ground and does so in an effortless manner I was left somewhat breathless.

matrix resurrections
Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss)

While this may be the franchise’s fourth installment, it is by no means a rehash. Wachowski and her co-writers deconstruct what it means to be a franchise while also vehemently favoring an author’s ownership of their material. Unlike so many blockbusters, they are less concerned with what fans want from them than horrified by what fans have done with the story they gave them up to this point. Pointedly Neo (Keanu Reeves) no longer wields guns and instead favors stopping bullets, yet he has lost his power of flight.

Like all Matrix movies, The Matrix Resurrections is a movie that has a lot on its mind and soul. Deeply introspective, it uses its lack of subtlety to grant its characters the freedom to speak openly. Characters such as Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), both of whom are so charismatic and fun to watch that if their careers do not explode after this, then Hollywood lacks even more gut and imagination than I previously assumed. Henwick’s Bugs is the fan who believes in Neo even more than Neo. 

She is a leader; the humans have survived, zion has fallen, but not all is lost. For example, Morpheus, now played by Abdul-Mateen II, who radiates a delirious joy and intense curiosity with every movement, doesn’t play Morpheus so much as an idea of Morpheus. As Neo learns, one of the things he helped change was the definition of “our side.” This moment, which has Keanu touching his head with a machine, filled me with an overwhelming emotion that I almost burst into tears. The Matrix Revolutions is at times profound as it deals with how revolutions change and evolve and as it destroys the illusion of “binary” choices. 

At the center of all this is the power of love. The way love can heal, the way it can force you to strive to be better, and the way it can inspire and heal. Wachowski never comes off as corny or, worse insincere. It’s the dead earnestness that gives The Matrix Resurrections its potency. It is, more than anything, a love story starring Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss). 

The film vibrates with compassion and hopes while taking time to grieve and process its disappointment. And there is disappointment within the story. Neo’s dissatisfaction with himself coincides with Wachowski’s disappointment with how corporations have become more than just financiers but somehow even more soules and calculating than ever before. Warner Brothers themselves are even directly called out by Smith (Jonathan Groff) of all characters.  

Edited by Joseph Jett Sally and shot by Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll, The Matrix Resurrections is one of the year’s sharpest edited and best-looking movies. Wachowski has eschewed an aesthetic, and along with Massaccesi and Toll, chosen to lean into, at times, an almost anti-aesthetic. Merely another way the movie finds a way to deconstruct both the franchise itself and the nature of art and beauty.

matrix resurrections
Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II)

Meanwhile, Sally’s editing flashes back and forth between old scenes of The Matrix with current ones, at times blending them, allowing The Matrix Resurrections to be the most visual of any of the movies so far. Sally and Wachowski splice together the past and the present so effortless, play with perception and presentation so deftly, that I found myself giddy, eagerly awaiting the next scene.

Don’t be fooled that technical stunts and groundbreaking VFX work are all that matters. There’s great fun and pathos in the Matrix Resurrections. Midway through the movie Keanu is once again faced with a choice. His response, and his delivery, are one of my favorite line readings of the year. Neil Patrick Harris and Groff visibly enjoy playing heels and relish delivering the scripts sometimes heady, sometimes on the nose, dialogue. 

But the fact that The Matrix Resurrections is packed full of action AND conversations, and that it dares to have several ideas in its head, at a time when most Hollywood films are doing good to even half a thought, makes it one of the best films of the year. Even if all that weren’t true, the audacity of having Neo, the savior figure, return as flawed, insecure, unsure, yet hopeful, is praiseworthy in its own right.

Reeves is terrific, and it’s hard to imagine another action star of his caliber who would return and give such a small, fragile performance in a movie so loaded to the gills with everything from philosophy to spectacle. But here he is, and the fact that he and Moss’s Trinity have this wonderful gentle romance that slowly blossoms throughout the movie only to be revealed to be a love for the ages is icing on the cinematic cake.

matrix resurrections
Bugs (Jessica Henwick), Neo (Reeves), and Morpheus (Abdul-Mateen II)

Wachowski refuses to be shackled either by expectations, fan theories, or any other piddly binary idea we might feel compelled to put onto The Matrix Resurrections. A staggering operatic work filled with rage and beauty, it nevertheless never gives up hope and constantly challenges us as to what our possibilities might be. If other franchises had movies half as daring, inventive, eloquent, and entertaining as this, I probably wouldn’t mind franchises that much. 

As it stands, The Matrix Resurrections stands above everything else. I can only hope that its impact will be more fruitful and less derivative this time than it has in the past. But, alas, that is Wachowski’s greatest gift in their art, the audacity of love and hope, and how it pulses through humanity despite our worst intentions. 

Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

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