“Why use old code to make something new?”
Asked in the opening scene of The Matrix Resurrections, there’s little doubt that this question is meant as a meta-look at the franchise. And it’s a fair question. After 18 years, The Matrix films have long lay dormant in pop culture. So why bother revisiting the ‘old code’?
The answer is simple: Redemption.
Resurrections is an apt title for a film seeking to bring life to a franchise that has been dead for almost 20 years. After sequels failed to live up to expectations, the Matrix franchise has been a series long overdue for a proper follow-up. Filled with nostalgia, action and the franchise’s trademark innovative special effects, Resurrections is a return to form for the Wachowskis’ legacy. While it may not reach the heights of the original film, it is easily the most entertaining of the sequels and serves as a solid refresh for the series.
In The Matrix Resurrections, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is man who feels like his life is somewhat stable. The founder of a lucrative video game company, Anderson has achieved success yet still struggles with his mental health. Meeting regularly with his therapist, Anderson is working hard to process his repeated nightmares and flashbacks that plague him. However, when a visitor from his past appears, Anderson must once again decide whether or not to follow the white rabbit into the digital construct of the Matrix and rediscover his persona as the ever-powerful Neo.
Unlike other recent cinematic revivals, Resurrections doesn’t ‘ignore’ the events that happened in lesser films but chooses to build upon them. Old characters and new faces (and some old characters with new faces) help bring the reboot the world without betraying what came before. Anchored by fun performances by Reeves and Moss, the film’s cast seem genuinely engaged with the new direction and show that they still have the necessary chemistry to keep the franchise moving forward. Often stealing the film though is newcomer Neil Patrick Harris who proves to be an incredibly welcome addition to the cast. Although he’s not exactly an action star, Harris is an absolute joy to watch as the mysterious Analyst who twists Neo’s mind with his boyish but maniacal grin.
There’s little question that Resurrections is acutely self-aware of the assignment at hand: help the audience to feel the chills they once did without becoming slavish to the nostalgia. While it sounds simple, this is a very delicate line to walk. Other franchises have attempted to do so yet have been less successful. The Force Awakens essentially rewrote the entire first Star Wars film in order to please the fans. Indiana Jones, Jurassic World, Ghostbusters and more have all attempted to revive stale properties by leaning into the past. (Even the latest Spider-Man film earns much of its marks based on the nostalgic use of its older characters.)
Certainly, Resurrections leans heavily into its history, however it does so in a very different manner than the aforementioned properties. Whereas some of these other reboots try to hide their similarities to the original, Resurrections fully leans into the moments that are intentionally retreaded. Using film clips as memories and engaging meta-conversations about the importance of the Matrix itself, Wachowski uses the film’s legacy as a launch point for its latest chapter. (After all, Morpheus states, ‘what brings more comfort than a little nostalgia’?) Conversations about fate, duality and purpose fit very neatly into the franchise’s vernacular. Action sequences recognize the need to update the famed ‘bullet time’ style which left its cultural mark. To her credit, Wachowski knows that the fans have certain expectations and she’s more than willing to offer them yet still manages to remain self-aware.
At the same time though, Resurrections also takes the franchise in a new direction. In every aspect of the film, the rules have been changed. For example, while the machine world still remains a threat, the lines of that threat have been blurred. Rather than fighting for human survival, this generation’s war has more to do with individual freedom than it does about freedom from one particular entity. Despite the war that raged in the original trilogy, this film never spits in the face of technology but suggests that there’s a necessary relationship between the two forces so long as both sides feel validated. Whereas once this was a battle between man and machine, Resurrections is much more about man versus control.
However, the greatest change lies in the story’s use of Neo himself. Once fueled by learning what’s ‘real’, Neo has found a certain complacency within the Matrix that makes it more difficult for him to leave. He is comfortable in his new life and (almost) appears to care little about such things. Although he absolutely still asks bigger questions, he is more willing to accept his dream world as truth because it feels authentic.
In Resurrections, truth has been replaced by feelings.
When he finally does ‘take the red pill’, the true terror of the Matrix is being separated from the one he loves. Community and relationships have become the most valuable commodity in a world of digital separation. As a result, instead of ‘being the One’, Neo appears more interested in ‘saving one’. In doing so, Wachowski refocuses the film’s understanding of hope away from one man sacrificing himself for the world. Instead, Resurrections is about finding hope in rebuilding the world together.
Although there will undoubtedly be those who won’t be interested in revisiting this version of the Matrix, Resurrections remains a welcome return for the franchise. Featuring the series’ trademark wild special effects and action, Wachowski has managed to reboot the old code into something new that’s still enjoyable and engaging. However, most amazingly, she also has created a film that feels like a necessary next chapter of our relationship to our evolving digital world.
So, pass the red pill. I’m ready to go back to The Matrix.
The Matrix: Resurrections landed in theatres on Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021.