Deja Vu – Matrix Resurrections Review

At the end of the Matrix trilogy, Neo was given a choice — to reboot the Matrix and keep the cycle going or allow the machine army to wipe out the free humans living in Zion. The choice between assured mutual destruction or living in uncertain peace, it turns out, wasn’t really a choice after all, and the revelation that it had happened before, and that it would most certainly happen again, did little for fans hoping for some form of closure.

Enter Matrix Resurrections, the beginning — or perhaps beginning of the end — of the next cycle of the Matrix with a self-aware fourth-wall breaking recycled plot that would be akin to something like Star Wars: The Force Awakens if it also played with a narrative track from George Lucas going over the finer details.

Resurrections leans heavy into the concept of deja vu from the very first film, splicing in footage from the older films in case you couldn’t make the connections or were too young to get the reference. The first Matrix film came out more than 20 years ago, and that’s a long time in this digital age where everything moves at the speed of light. I once showed the Matrix to my computer science class, and none of them had seen it.

And a good number of them weren’t really interested to finally see it.

The Matrix’s cultural impact, though perhaps uncredited in the eyes of the newer generation of filmgoers, has its fingerprints all over modern-day pop-culture, and Resurrections’ self-referential scripting taps into the wake of the original trilogy’s gigantic influence on media by putting the Matrix into the Matrix.

Like, literally. Let me explain.

About 60 years after Neo gave his life to fight Agent Smith and save both humans and machines, a new generation of hackers is on the search to find Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) who they believe is somehow still alive and living in the Matrix. Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and her crew discover a modal, a program that trains artificial intelligence, within the Matrix that repeatedly recreates the scene from the first Matrix movie where Trinity singlehandedly takes out a room full of agents, complete with her gravity-defying wall-run and jump kick.

The only thing is — that’s not really Trinity, and the agents manage to somehow stop her before she launches herself to safety. Bugs is discovered by one of the agents who ends up saving her from the other agents and takes her to safety into a recreation of Neo’s apartment.

Apparently, the modal was created by Anderson who has been brought back into the Matrix and has no recollection of anything he ever did as Neo. Living the life as a famous video game designer, he is the creator of the Matrix video games, which shouldn’t be confused with our real-life Matrix video games.

No, apparently, the trilogy of the video games Anderson has created are imbued with graphics, or cutscenes, from the actual movies from our real world. Does that make sense? Our movies are the movie’s video games.

Anderson has subconsciously created the video games to deal with his inability to reconcile his vivid dreams and the life he’s currently living, and the modal is a cry for help. Also, the agent that saves Bugs is actually a recreation of Morpheus and Agent Smith combined into one character, and the program is then extracted into the real-world through 3D technology that gives programs some way of being brought out of the Matrix.

If you’re still with me, we’ve got 90% of the movie to still cover, but don’t worry — this is supposed to be a review and not a deep dive.

The rest of the movie tries to find some way of making Neo relevant to the plot and the reason for a new movie, let alone another possible trilogy (it hasn’t been announced, but I wouldn’t doubt it).

Turns out, the Matrix’s real sin wasn’t in bringing Neo and Trinity back to life — it was keeping them separated. Knowing that Neo had considerable power both in the Matrix and in the real world, the Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) rebuilds their physical bodies and figures out their “source code” in order to make them into super batteries. Having seen the effects of Neo and Trinity in tandem, the Analyst discovers the best way to harness their electricity is to keep them in distant orbits by giving Trinity a new name, Tiff, and a family with a husband and three children. Neo and Trinity both visit the same cafe, but have kept a safe distance from each other.

Once Anderson is extracted from the Matrix, the dial goes to 11 on action as Neo begins his quest to persuade Trinity to leave the Matrix and join him in the real world. Personal human conflicts, a good dose of explication to bring audiences up to speed, and about a million bullets fill out the second half of the movie to a finish that left me feeling really, really confused.

Did I like the movie? That’s sort of a complicated question that’s difficult to answer because the Matrix Resurrections doesn’t feel like one cohesive movie. It feels like a discussion between 10 people with different opinions of the trilogy shouting over each other after being asked, “What was the plot of the first three Matrix movies?”

In one way, I was reminded of what made the first Matrix movie such a delight when I first saw it in the theaters. I went with a group of friends with no idea of what I was getting into. I had seen no trailers and had no idea what bullet-time was. It was mind-blowing and surreal, and it ruined action movies for a while because I didn’t want to sit through another movie where good and bad guys sat behind rocks and took potshots at each other. I wanted cool camera tricks, slick martial arts choreography, and special effects along with a brilliant concept that made you think while paying homage to cinema.

What I’m not so keen with this new movie is how it forces the old into the new. I wasn’t ready to see Yahya Abdul-Mateen II replace Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus or Jonathan Groff replace Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith. Not that either of them did a terrible job or that the concept itself was a bad idea. The problem was in the execution — Morpheus is a concoction created by Anderson, and while it’s nice to see a familiar character return, it wasn’t really Morpheus. As for the new Agent Smith, the Matrix for some reason decided not to purge him and instead turned him into the CEO of the video game company Anderson works at.

The last act also felt a little anti-climactic. Those who loved the final action sequences in the first Matrix film won’t have anything that will come close to comparing with it as Resurrections turns into a zombie flick as Smith takes control over the city’s bots. Swarming the heroes and throwing themselves out of skyscraper windows as bombs — it was pretty unsettling for me — the bots try to keep Neo and Trinity from… being alive? Under more scrutiny, a good amount of Resurrections doesn’t make sense, like a helicopter completely disappearing during a scene in order to let Trinity and Neo kiss.

The only other returning character who is still their original character is Jada Pinkett Smith who was given the task of playing someone 60 years older than original self. Playing the hard-nosed General Niobe, Smith has her work cut out for her under some lackluster make-up.

And that’s pretty much what the Matrix Resurrections is — it’s a rehash of the original trilogy with some new bits thanks to current technology. What’s missing is that feeling of seeing something groundbreaking, both in concept and in technology, and while the nostalgia feels warm and comfortable, the movie just looks like something shedding its skin. It’s fascinating to see what comes out of it, though we’re not getting anything exactly new.

Maybe a better analogy is this: Matrix Resurrections is New Coke. It leaves you wanting what came before — the classic.

Matrix Resurrections (2021)
Directed by: Lana Wachowski
Screenplay by: Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, and Aleksander Hemon
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jones, and Christina Ricci

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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