“Nothing comforts Anxiety like a little nostalgia” — Morpheus
We live in anxious times, and now more than ever we’re reliant on a steady stream of nostalgia to sooth and entertain us, all while fattening the pockets of studio heads. None of this is lost on Lana Wachowski, as she returns to the IP that made her and her sibling a household name, The Matrix. Being a fan of Keanu Reeves back in the day, I happened upon the original Matrix on opening night, sight unseen, just hoping for a fun riff off of Johnny Mnemonic. What I got was a cinematic obsession, that brought together my love of Anime, Hong Kong action flicks and comic books into a film that went on to infect the pop-culture zeitgeist with its cyberpunk aesthetic — which can still be seen today almost two decades later.
Resurrections has Keanu Reeves resurrecting Thomas Anderson, who is a programmer, again, and the creator of The Matrix. Here, it’s an iconic video game trilogy, whose cut scenes are essentially made up of the Matrix films we know in our world. In a very meta and on the nose fashion, he’s informed by his boss that a sequel is ordered by the studio’s parent company Warner Brothers, and would be going forward with or without its original creator. It’s a situation that no doubt was the real spark for the film we’re currently viewing. The bulk of the first act is Anderson struggling with the creative process of following up this property, which appears to be as important and influential in the film universe as it is our own.
This first act has a very autobiographical feel as Lana Wachowski uses the Thomas/Neo character as a cinematic avatar to explore her creative process and what were obviously some very real doubts and struggles she dealt with when tasked with making this film. There is also a psychological component explored I found fascinating, with Thomas seeing a therapist, who in a bit of stunt casting is played by Neil Patrick Harris. Their scenes while expanding on the narrative that Thomas feels he might be trapped in a simulation, also touches on some his struggles with depression and suicide after creating such an iconic piece of pop culture and living in its shadow. Once Thomas meets Trinity, who in this new world is “Tiffany”, and married to guy named CHAD, of course, we are then off to the races.
From there the autobiographical takes a back seat to the truer sequel portion of the film, without losing any of the meta bite you’d expect. The film answers the questions proposed at the beginning, while introducing us to some new friends, and bringing back some old ones as Thomas wants nothing more than to be reunited with his “Trinity”. Their love story is the narrative engine that gets the film to the finish line as Wachowski dangles the happy ending the original trilogy was denied, thanks to its baked-in Christ metaphor, which guaranteed Neo’s great sacrifice. But it’s how layered and self aware that the film tackles that, which is truly something to behold as the film offers up an action climax to end the story that’s surprisingly more George Romero than John Woo.
Given this isn’t the first resurrected IP we’ve seen recently to dig into its own nostalgic value, this has to be the smartest, and most authentic of the entries I’ve seen yet. Lana uses this opportunity to not only to revisit these characters and explore the requisite what if’s with them, but also to explore the film’s legacy, and the burden of a creator to the fans of said property. As a fan of the original trilogy, I found that bulk of the first act where Thomas is struggling with this burden endlessly fascinating as we got that peek into the creative process from one of the series creators, who tended to prefer to let the work speak for itself back in the day.
Keanu here is the best he’s ever been, delivering a somber performance that works, because it is no doubt filled with some very real reflection and regret. He’s a little bit older, a little less flexible, but it only intensifies his character’s drive to reunite with his love. Moss, on the other hand, adds a new dynamic to the stoic love interest Trinity, since the first time we meet her she’s a soccer mom with a foul-mouthed pack of Chad puppies. That motherly dynamic and possibly losing her “family” adds some real stakes to her meeting with the single Thomas, whom she shares an immediate connection with. That said, I would be remiss without mentioning the scene stealing/chewing Neil Patrick Harris, who injects a delightful self referential weirdness and unexpected humor into the film whenever he’s on screen.
My only negative, would be the film aesthetically feels very digital and smaller, compared to the previous films. The climax at the end, while ambitious, takes place at night, giving the filmmakers the ability to hide some rough edges. I mean this could be due to a conscious decision to go more video game and less cinematic, or I feel like it could be simply because of creative freedoms, which were a bit of a budgetary trade off. Like if this was a solid two hander, with Neo and Trinity and 2.5 kung-Fu fights per act, paired with an action set pieces set to whatever the kids listen to now it would be like a half a billion dollar tent pole. But this isn’t that movie, its weirder, denser, more intimate. It’s a love story and our filmmaker has changed a lot in the last 20 years as well, so that also factors in. If that is the trade off, I get it and am very thankful for it.
The Matrix Resurrections is many things, and this is nowhere near a deep dive into the half of it, since I am trying to not dig too much into the more spoilery second and third act. It acts as a look at the tortured creative process, getting older, legacy, nostalgia and how love can FINALLY conquer all. Lana approaches the film with a frankness and a sense of humor that while still reverent to the property also takes the piss out of it here and there. (Stay for the post credits for a big one) Its a small peek into her complex relationship with this “thing” she created and will be around long after she’s and her sibling are gone. As far as sequels go, its a masterpiece in how it does all of these things and still gives us a Matrix sequel that even the most casual fan can appreciate, with the door left surprisingly open at the end.
With that I leave you with the immortal words of Neo: “I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how this is going to begin.”