I am going to start by saying it right off the bat: The Matrix Resurrections is a bad movie. It doesn’t matter how you look at it, it’s a bad movie. While the movie has a few good ideas in it, it’s still bad.
Unfortunately, this time I have to tap into the “politics” and “ideological motivations” behind the making of The Matrix Resurrections, not because I want to do it but because the creators were very vocal about it and those motivations are very visible in the movie. Ironically, I didn’t need to talk about the subject when I reviewed Dune, because, even if Dune is a very politically-charged, there was no ideological push behind the making of the Dune. However, I am not going to devote time to discuss the politics and ideological motivations because it’s not my point. Rather, I’m just going to draw the parallels between them and the final result in the film.
This paragraph is going to feel very off-topic, but stay with me. There is a scene in the movie “Misery” where Annie Wilkes, played by Kathy Bates, is telling Paul Sheldon, played by James Caan, how she hated it when she saw a serial where her hero drives off a cliff and apparently dies, but the next episode shows how he managed to get out of the car just in time, and while the other kids cheered she kept saying the serial cheated on them. You can see the scene below for reference.
The Matrix Resurrections is basically that. Neo is back, even though he died. Trinity is back, even though she also died. Smith is back, even though he was destroyed. The movie tries to “explain” how they are back, but it feels more like an excuse to bring them back (even if one of them now has a different “skin”).
The setup of The Matrix Resurrections is very simple: Thomas Anderson is back in The Matrix, this time not as a software programmer but as a video game programmer that created a trilogy of games called The Matrix as a way to fool his memories into thinking that, whenever he remembers past events, he assumes he’s simply thinking about the story in his games. During this setup, you see Agent Smith is now another Smith (who is in fact Anderson’s boss) because it’s The Matrix so we got to have Agent Smith in the movie somehow, and we also have a sort-of Morpheus, because, again it’s The Matrix so we have to have Morpheus in it.
And, to me, this is the biggest flaw in the entire movie and causes a cascade effect throughout the rest of the film. The first half of the movie is very “meta.” For example, the first time we see not-Smith is in a meeting scene where he is looking out the window and says “Mister Anderson” and then we cut to a scene of the real Smith saying “Mister Anderson”. If this scene was supposed to be a parody, then it’s perfect, but if it was supposed to be self-referential then it’s done poorly because both scenes have a completely different context and it serves more as a way to say “Hey, kids! It’s Smith! *applause*” than anything else. The movie has a lot of these, and it doesn’t take long for it to become constant reminder that the original movie is far superior than what you are watching.
There’s even a very poorly executed scene where the “studio focus group” in the game development company are discussing what The Matrix “really” is about, and different “pitches” are thrown to the table, like “it f-s with your mind!” or “it’s philosophical porn”, “it’s bullet time”, “it’s guns, lots of guns”, “it’s questioning your reality” and so on and so forth. Above I mentioned I needed to “tap” into the “politics” and “ideological motivations” behind the making of the movie, and this is the part where I do it. This scene is the most “meta” scene in the movie and it is clearly a desperate attempt from the creators to distance itself from “the fans they don’t want” because it makes a very clear divide between what the “right” and “wrong” answers to the question “what is The Matrix?” Unfortunately, as on-the-nose as they were, the scene doesn’t work because nobody in The Matrix fanbase reduces The Matrix to “only” bullet time, “only” mind-twisting reality games or “only” whatever other “pitch” they threw in that scene.
Not only that, a decent amount of the movie is devoted to be very “ugh, video games and geek culture” to keep distancing itself from “fans they don’t want” but the problem is that The Matrix legacy is built on the “geek culture” it is trying to distance itself from. Remember The Animatrix, pushed by The Wachowskis themselves with the help of anime creators? The Matrix comics, published by Burlyman Entertainment, the company created by The Wachowskis themselves just to publish Matrix comics? Do you remember Enter The Matrix and Path Of Neo, two games that had direct involvement of The Wachowskis? The Matrix is not a series of 3 (now 4) films, but rather a transmedia franchise that wanted to touch every aspect of late-90s and early 2000s geek culture. The same geek culture it’s now trying do distance itself from in this fourth movie by making a very “meta” movie that retcons its own legacy and story. Even Epic Games released The Matrix Awakens one week before the release of the movie. Nothing says “we're not for geeks” more than releasing a short next-gen video game to promote your movie, one week before the movie release.
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a cringe scene with a returning character, where he goes on and on about how his next Matrix sequel will have more action, more explosions, more guns and more fireworks because “that’s what fans want.” The movie wants to make fun of the whole “sequelitis” going on in Hollywood, while being an unnecessary sequel itself, ironically.
Rewriting its history is not the only thing this movie does. The Matrix Resurrections also tries very hard to retcon quite a few things that were already established, not only in the movies but also in the comics, games and animations. For example, apparently now 01 (the Machine City) has a board of directors since The Analyst, the one that takes the place of The Architect, refers to his bosses as “the suits”. Oh, and “the suits” really care a lot about maximizing electricity production. I guess they are now exporting electricity to other countries to maximize their earnings and report record earnings the next fiscal year. The whole movie is about “ok, this is how things work because we say so” and you’re just supposed to say “oh, ok” and continue watching the movie, no questions asked.
And The Analyst can be killed. Don’t ask me why, don’t ask me how, but somehow the guy that created the seventh Matrix made it so he can get killed in his own version of The Matrix.
Some people will consider these retcons a “bold” move to take the franchise into another direction, but I will have to disagree. A bold move would have been to use the creation of the seventh Matrix as an opportunity to create completely new characters. But that’s not the case, because in another meta-self-reference, the seventh Matrix tried to rely on Neo and Trinity to power The Matrix and maximize electricity production, just like this movie tries to rely on Neo and Trinity to maximize the sales of tickets. The worst of all is not-Smith. I am glad Hugo Weaving didn’t return because not-Smith just shows up out of nowhere, and then disappears into the void, no explanation. He was like those cartoon villains that say “I will be back!” and then disappear in a smoke bomb (except this time there was no smoke bomb, he just went out the front door).
And the new characters are barely given any attention. At the end of the first Matrix movie, you knew all the characters from the Nebuchadnezzar because they were all given a time to shine, but in Matrix Resurrections we have Bugs “and the rest of the forgettable crew.”
The worst part is that the story has some really good elements that could have created a far superior movie. For example, from The Matrix Revolutions you learn there are programs that can be good and can collaborate with humans. That idea is revisited here, and now you have not only programs but also machines working with humans, which is a logical outcome of the truce that was reached between the humans and the machines in Reloaded. Another example is how Neo doesn’t have his powers, and that hints to a story far better to what we got, if the writers had had a basic level of competence. Even at the end of the movie something happens that could have been a good concept if treated correctly, but unfortunately, the movie is too careless to really take the time to do that and it simply happens “because the writers say so”.
I have beaten this movie a lot already, but I am not done!
Above I talked about that cringe scene about the “focus group”. Now I’m going to delve into two other things. Even if The Matrix Resurrections doesn’t want The Matrix to be known about the action, visual effects and kung fu, those are an integral part to The Matrix just like The Force is an integral part of Star Wars.
The action in this movie is pretty bad. I don’t want to sound mean but, when the first movie came out, Keanu Reeves was 35 and now he’s almost 60, and it shows. He lacks the agility and flexibility he had in the previous movies, and that decreases the quality of the fight sequences. On top of that, these fight sequences now have the “Marvel editing style” with the fast cuts that you get nowadays, meant to hide how bad actors are at fighting. There’s even a scene in the movie where you can clearly see that the actress “starts” the movement from a “kick-pose” position just to make the sequence easier to film. If you watch the clip above, you see a great care was devoted to create the fight sequences. It is clear the same care was not put in this movie because, apparently The Matrix was never about kung fu.
The same goes for other action sequences in the movie. The sequences are nothing different to what you have seen in Marvel movies. While this is not inherently bad, it makes the sequences nothing special. In fact, some of these things actually feel like a downgrade, which is ironic considering this is the seventh version of The Matrix. Before, agents could “possess” anybody and that made them very dangerous because, as Morpheus says, “anyone they haven’t unplugged is potentially an agent”. The “upgrade” this time is something called “swarm mode”, that turns people into mindless NPCs that run after you and try to beat you up, but they have no special abilities (for example they can’t dodge bullets, and they don’t have super-strength, like agents). I can’t help to think this downgrade is also a deliberate change to prove The Matrix was never about action.
As for the visual effects, there isn’t really anything groundbreaking here. Personally, I don’t think The Matrix Resurrections needed groundbreaking visual effects to be a Matrix movie. However, if the movie had been created with care, they could have done a lot more creative things with the effects. While the first movie needed to create new technology to give birth to Bullet Time, Reloaded and Revolutions didn’t really invent anything new. Things like digital doubles and digital environments had already been created for other movies like Star Wars Episode II or even Episode I. However, those techniques were used to create very nice and unique set pieces. On the other hand, you can take any action sequence from Matrix Resurrections and stick it in a Marvel movie and it fits perfectly because they are all very standardized action sequences.
There is a particular scene that I think was a big missed opportunity. At some point, The Analyst “bullet-times” Neo by rewinding time and then making everything run very slowly. I say it’s a missed opportunity because they could have done something visually amazing by “bullet-timing the bullet-time”. Instead, all they did was snap Neo back to a previous position and then make everything run slow while The Analyst moves like he’s “frame-skipping”. There is a movie back in 2010 that did some pretty interesting time-warping effects: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The creative level from the original Matrix crew could have taken that and “bullet-time the bullet-time” in a way never seen before. But instead, all they did was press the pause button.
But I guess it’s because The Matrix was never about Bullet Time either... Even though they literally created new technology just for that. The clip below shows the level of dedication and passion that was devoted to create the Bullet Time for the original movie.
On top of that, as I watched the movie at some point, I realized I was not even feeling the score. I still can play a lot of Matrix tunes in my head, but I can’t really remember any of the tracks from this movie. I am now wondering if the soundtrack was so forgettable, or if it was even in the movie. Overall, the entire quality of the movie feels like a complete downgrade from the previous ones, and again, I can’t help to think this is just following the idea given to us by that super-meta focus group in the first act of the movie.
So, should you watch The Matrix Resurrections? I am going to be kind and say “it depends on what you expect.” If you want to just go see a subpar Hollywood movie, you can enjoy the movie. If you are willing to take the blue pill and accept all the retcons and changes, no questions asked, you can enjoy the movie. If you want to see “the new installment” in The Matrix franchise, then avoid this movie like the plague (or covid). As we were told 20 years ago: “Everything that has a beginning has an end”, and The Matrix ended 20 years ago.
Go watch Spider-Man No Way Home instead. Or, if you have HBO Max, watch Dune.