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‘The Matrix Resurrections’ lives on

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Funny thing about art – more often than not, you get out what you put in.

Consuming a creative work, whether it be a book or a painting or a film or a play or a song, is in many ways a means of looking at oneself. The best art holds up a mirror to life, offering a reflection that is specific to the one gazing upon it.

So I suppose it makes sense that mirrors are a major motif in “The Matrix Resurrections,” the years-later sequel to the trilogy of films that began over two decades ago. This film – directed solo this time, by Lana Wachowski, from a script she co-wrote with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon – is the product of years of self-reflection, a return to a morally and philosophically complex sci-fi universe constructed on a foundation of perception versus reality and whether we can ever actually know the difference.

It is a gloriously messy film, one that tells the story that Lana Wachowski wishes to tell … and that has relatively little regard for the expectations others might hold for it. The underlying metaphor – the idea that the world we see is not necessarily the world that is – remains intact, but altered; “The Matrix Resurrections” is a movie driven not by logic, but by emotion. For all its intense action trappings, it is, at its core, a love story.

Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a video game designer, creator of a universally beloved video game series called “The Matrix.” These games are inspired by dreams (or are they memories?) of his time spent as the one known as Neo, the savior of the “real world.” But was that world real? Thomas has spent a lot of energy and effort to prove to himself otherwise, engaging in ongoing therapy with an analyst (Neil Patrick Harris); this therapy – along with the blue pills prescribed to him – helps Thomas stay grounded in reality.

But there’s a part of him that’s still unsure.

Thomas’s business partner, a tech bro named Smith (Jonathan Groff), is pushing him to work on a sequel to the game trilogy; meanwhile, other programmers treat Thomas with a degree of hero worship. And all the while, he finds himself drawn to certain places where he can expect to see a woman named Tiffany (Carrie Anne Moss), a stranger to whom he finds himself drawn.

We also get a glimpse of a looped segment of code operating within the framework of the game – code that leads a woman named Bugs (Jessica Henwick), captain of the real world ship Mnemosyne, to discover a program that has been coopted to embody Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) … and to learn that Thomas – Neo – still lives.

From there, Bugs, Morpheus and the rest of the Mnemosyne crew take it upon themselves to bust Thomas/Neo out of this new and improved version of the Matrix. Neo wakes up in a pod; as he’s being rescued, he sees Tiffany – Trinity – in a nearby pod, but is unable to rescue her in the moment.

And just like that, we’re off again, with Neo enlisted to serve as the de facto leader of mankind’s battle against the machine overlords that rule the Matrix. But while Neo engages with these allies, both familiar and new, he’s also confronted by upgraded enemies – some who are new versions of old adversaries and others who prove quite surprising.

(There’s obviously a lot more, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, we’ll call it good here.)

“The Matrix Resurrections” is an interesting phenomenon. It is a sequel to a long-ago piece of IP that was incredibly lucrative, yet it also opts to largely eschew many aspects of that which came before it. The choices being made by the filmmakers feel almost deliberately at odds with the previous work – or at least, at odds with many of the perceptions of that previous work.

In many ways, the original film (and to a lesser extent, the entire trilogy) serves as a cipher of sorts, the sort of film onto which the viewer can project their own fears and yearnings – so much so that parts of its imagery and ideology have been co-opted in myriad and largely contradictory ways by vastly different subsections of the populace.

To the extent that “The Matrix Resurrections” engages with that coopting, it does so dismissively, choosing instead to embrace a much more meta perspective with regard to the previous films – often doing so in a manner so overt as to read as openly challenging.

As you might imagine, this has proven and will likely continue to prove quite divisive with regard to how the public engages with the film. It has been a while since we’ve seen a blockbuster of this magnitude hit screens in such a polarizing fashion – plenty of people are being extremely vocal in their dislike of the choices that have been made across the board.

For the record, I am not one of them.

Lana Wachowski chose to make a movie that places love at the center of the frame. Many of the superficial trappings of the previous films are present – the free will/predestination conflict, the elaborate action, the hero’s journey – but all are secondary to the love story dynamic. All of it revolves around Neo and Trinity, the dead returned to life, those who lost everything being given a second chance.

Honestly, it’s romantic as hell and I am here for it.

There are nits to pick. The narrative occasionally gets tangled up in its own self-reference, which slows things down considerably. The pace at the top of the film is a bit too leisurely. Some of the action sequences are a touch muddy, lacking the kinetic crispness of previous installments. But ultimately, those are minor issues.

The cast certainly delivers. Reeves and Moss haven’t missed a beat – it doesn’t hurt that neither seems to age at the rate we normal humans do. Their chemistry remains electric. Newcomers Abdul-Mahteen and Henwick both deliver at a high level; Groff and especially Harris to remarkable work as well in their contributions to the overarching Matrix mythos.

Lana Wachowski has shaped and shined the mirror that is “The Matrix Resurrections” to the precise specifications that she sought. The reflection we see is what she means us to see. How we feel about that vision? Well … that’s for us to consider.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 December 2021 07:59

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