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The Matrix Resurrections review: More meta Morpheus than metamorphosis

This supposed revival reads like a treatise against franchise filmmaking.

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix Revolutions
Published: Tuesday, 21st December 2021 at 4:00 pm
A star rating of 2 out of 5.

It's hard to escape the feeling that Lana Wachowski didn't really want to make The Matrix Resurrections. The original trilogy is a long way from perfect, but it is the untempered vision of two bold filmmakers and ends on a note that feels deliberately difficult to come back from. Nothing in this two-and-a-half hour revisit justifies tampering with that finale and there are telling signs that the writer-director herself knows it.

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Early on in Resurrections, there is an overtly meta sequence in which staff at a video game company are informed they have to make a sequel to their most popular title. The head designer has no desire to do so, but is grimly told by their boss that this order comes from parent company Warner Bros, which will be pursuing a follow-up "with or without" them. Thus, they set about analysing what made the first one so successful and brainstorm misguided methods of recapturing that magic.

I'd be inclined to shrug this off as a good-humoured joke had it been the only studio jab in the film, but these biting remarks are sprinkled throughout the runtime and even factor heavily into the main plot. Perhaps this is an outrageous misinterpretation, but Resurrections seems more concerned with getting one over on the very same executives that gave it the green-light, than it is with telling a coherent epilogue to The Matrix trilogy.

As the trailers have teased, we're dropped into the story approximately 20 years after the events of Revolutions, with the messiah formerly known as Neo settled back into his civilian identity, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves). He suffers an unexplainable fascination with a woman in the neighbourhood, who longtime fans will know to be his lost love Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), but in this reality they seem to have no relationship whatsoever.

Enter Morpheus (only not as you know him). A younger version of the character is centre stage here, played by rising star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, with the exact nature of his role left ambiguous by the marketing machine. Without spoiling anything, I can say that it's a decidedly different interpretation that provides another outlet for the meta humour in the first act. Abdul-Mateen II is a proven talent who does his best with the material, but alas, the absence of Laurence Fishburne is sorely felt.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in The Matrix Resurrections

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in The Matrix Resurrections

It's disappointing (and rather perplexing) that Wachowski passed on reuniting the trio who helped make the first film an instant classic, while neither does she make much use of the stars who did get invited back. Reeves and Moss share surprisingly few scenes overall, with their fleeting moments together failing to produce any cinema magic, a fact that can be blamed largely on script problems given that the former's stilted line delivery is now widely regarded as part of his charm.

Resurrections takes its cues from earlier revivals like The Force Awakens and Jurassic World, placing a certain amount of emphasis on establishing the next generation of characters destined to inherit the franchise (or not, as the case may be). Wachowski finds some success setting up new ally Bugs (Jessica Henwick), but conversely, enlists both Neil Patrick Harris and Jonathan Groff to fill the gaping void left by Hugo Weaving – and still comes up short.

Jessica Henwick in The Matrix Resurrections

Jessica Henwick in The Matrix Resurrections

This lack of a meaty villain is one reason why Resurrections is the first live-action Matrix movie to not have a single memorable action sequence. Of course, the first is positively littered with them, but Reloaded and Revolutions were not exactly slouches in this department, offering the high-octane freeway chase and a delirious anime-inspired final battle respectively. This latest entry never comes close to touching either.

Whether due to the difficulty of filming during COVID-19 or the convenience of contemporary CGI, the sequences in Resurrections feel severely lacking in ambition by comparison. Not only do the concepts leave a lot to be desired, but the stylistic flair that once defined these movies is simply nowhere to be seen. The more conventional camera work, modernised visual effects and toned down costumes detract from the aesthetic that so defined the original Matrix trilogy.

Ultimately, the grand finale drains you like a human battery, ending on a bizarre note that reads like yet another confrontational message to studio heads rather than an honest attempt at a satisfying denouement. If this was indeed her intention, one can't help but pay respect to Lana Wachowski for standing up to the powers that be, even if there's little entertainment value in it for us.

The Matrix Resurrections is released in UK cinemas on Wednesday 22nd December. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.

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