Directed by: Lana Wachowski || Produced by: James McTeigue, Lana Wachowski, Grant Hill
Screenplay by: Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, Aleksandar Hemon || Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Jada Pinkett Smith
Music by: Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer || Cinematography: Daniele Massaccesi, John Toll || Edited by: Joseph Jett Sally || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 148 minutes
If there was ever a dictionary definition of a “one-hit wonder” among high-profile Hollywood filmmakers, the Wachowskis (Lana and Lilly Wachowski, formerly Larry and Andy Wachowski, respectively) would be my picks for that derisive moniker. Every film they have written, directed, or produced outside the original Matrix (1999), perhaps the most influential genre blockbuster since the original Star Wars (1977, 1980, 1983) films, I have found either disappointing (The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, The Animatrix [all 2003]), unimaginative (Speed Racer , Jupiter Ascending ), or overrated (V for Vendetta ). You’ll find contrarian defenses of most any feature within the Wachowskis’ filmography, sure, but I can’t help but liken the tone and structure of those diatribes to cringeworthy “re-evaluations” of the Star Wars prequels (1999, 2002, 2005) in order to suck up to George Lucas, defend one’s kneejerk childhood nostalgia, flex one’s debate skills, etc.
To be sure, I don’t think the Wachowskis are mere directors for hire (e.g. Brett Ratner) or overindulgent corporate hacks (e.g. Adam Sandler, Michael Bay); they’re true-blue auteurs with real artistic talent beyond access to massive Hollywood studio budgets, but the ultimate execution of their films leaves much to be desired, as is evidenced by most all their movies’ box office grosses, critical reviews, and long-term post-release evaluations. None of their films have rebounded the way, say, John Carpenter’s underappreciated classics have, nor have they been elevated to the status of influential trendsetters a la Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1984). The only feature of theirs to stand the test of time is… The Matrix.
The initial part standalone, part dual-installment Matrix sequels that released in 2003, Reloaded and Revolutions, started this trend of the Wachowskis’ failure to take advantage of the massive popular cultural goodwill that exploded from their 1999 magnum opus. I have rewatched these two films multiple times since their theatrical release and have appreciated all I could from them, including the awesome freeway chase sequence in Reloaded and the insane post-apocalyptic artistry of Revolutions, but conclude with the general fan and critical consensus that they underwhelm and bore as much as they entertain. Sadly, I also conclude that 2021’s Matrix Resurrections, co-written and directed by Lana Wachowski alone, is of a similar if not lesser mold.
Resurrections‘ problems are threefold: (1) Its poorly paced ~2.5 hour runtime shifts between comedic, action, and dramatic tones from act to act, and sometimes even scene to scene; (2) its bloated supporting cast are a waste and distract from the heart of the story, which is Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss’ relationship; and (3), the action scenes, save for a neat final chase sequence, are shot in medium-frame with lazy choreography and little to no narrative tension.
While the latter problem may be the most shocking for a Matrix film, the former two weaknesses are what undercut any serious viewer’s emotional investment in the greater narrative. Resurrections feels like it covers as much narrative material as Reloaded and Revolutions combined, meaning that it feels both rushed and longwinded at the same time; its first act plays like a darkly comedic metacommentary on franchise sequels, spinoffs, and nostalgia, a not so subtle 4th-wall break by Lana Wachowski about how her and her sister’s careers have been defined by the 1999 original. Act Two, however, transitions into traditional sequel territory a la the 2003 features, expanding on the Matrix’s post-apocalyptic iconography in somewhat interesting but often superfluous details. The movie’s final third focuses on the love story between Reeves and Moss, established since the series’ inception but somewhat glazed over in the first 2/3 of Resurrections, which is the most satisfying, straightforward portion of the film despite its lackluster setup.
Perhaps most frustrating of all is the movie’s bland, overextended supporting cast, a feature of modern blockbusters I have come to detest (see also Rogue One ). Aside from our main leads, the only characters necessary to this story are Neil Patrick Harris as our newest main antagonist and, to a much lesser extent, Jessica Henwick and Priyanka Chopra, who aide Reeves’ “reawakening” from the titular Matrix. (Hey, The Matrix Reawakening! How’s that for a title?) Everybody else, from Yahya Abdul-Mateen to Jonathan Groff to Jada Pinkett-Smith to Christopher Lambert add nothing to the film other than throwaway filler references.
As far as I am concerned, The Matrix saga is best appreciated as a standalone story, meaning that any science-fiction newbies should wonder at the 1999 film and stop there. The sequels have grown increasingly convoluted and contrived, as if the Wachowskis internalized the cliched Hollywood urge to go bigger and blander with every additional franchise installment, overthinking what made their original intellectual property special in the first place. Like the Terminator (1984, 1991… 2019) and Alien (1979, 1986… 2017) series, the Matrix films ran out of gas a long time ago. This latest and perhaps final sequel, Resurrections, feels so misguided, sloppy, and ultimately cynical that it recalls Shane Black’s The Predator (2018) in terms of sheer directorial shitposting, trolling the franchise’s audience and legacy for a longwinded joke that’s not funny.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: The Matrix Resurrections plays like a verbose epilogue to Reloaded and Revolutions, detailing a complex, obtuse continuation of unsatisfying plot threads instead of tying them off or taking the franchise in a new direction. Both newer supporting and legacy castmembers are forgettable and, in some cases, pointless with regards to the greater story. Fans who expect memorable action sequences at the very least will leave disappointed, which means Lana Wachowski should’ve either committed to them or excised them from the film altogether.
— However… Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss’ chemistry, when allowed time to breathe, feels genuine and tugs at your heartstrings. Neil Patrick Harris is a fun primary villain and the first act’s metacommentary is funny.
—> NOT RECOMMENDED, save for maybe a quick watch on an already purchased HBO Max subscription; take the blue pill, instead.
? Who sings that awful, awful cover of Rage Against the Machine‘s “Wake Up?”