Director – Lana Wachowski – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 148m
One of the original directors returns for a fourth film in the popular franchise – available to own on Digital Download from Monday, March 14th
Helmed by one of the directing duo behind The Matrix (1999), this is the fourth feature film in the popular franchise. Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is now the designer of the popular computer game The Matrix and being asked by owners Warner Bros. to make a fourth game, something he’s always decided he wouldn’t do. But under pressure from his boss, he capitulates. Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) frequents his local coffee shop, but they don’t know each other. The hero of his game Neo is loosely modelled on himself while Tiffany reminds him of its heroine Trinity.
With these two stars of the original film and its sequels returning, this fourth film starts off like a rerun of the original with different or substitute characters: the feisty Bugs (Jessica Henwick) as a Trinity substitute fleeing a series of suits in dark glasses, running into a man claiming to be Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who states, “I have to find Neo”.
And this is where The Matrix: Resurrections’ problems start to occur. Henwick is a great find, bringing the needed level of charisma to her role. And although a major character here, she isn’t actually Trinity: Carrie-Anne Moss is on hand to play that role. And that works well enough. However Abdul-Mateen II really is supposed to be Morpheus, and try as he might he can’t quite match Laurence Fishbourne’s realisation of that role in the previous three films. If he’d been set up as a similar character with Fishbourne returning as the real Morpheus, that might have worked. But he isn’t and it doesn’t.
A similar issue occurs with Agent Smith (Jonathan Groff); the actor lacks the charisma of Hugo Weaving who originally played the role.
As if in admission of the problem, when these two characters appear there are often quick cuts to the original actors. At first, this entices you into thinking Morpheus and Smith are substitutes and that the actors who originated them will turn up later. But they never do, and their absence is notable.
That said, Jessica Henwick is a definite asset and so too is Neil Patrick Harris as Anderson’s analyst, constantly advising him that his recurring dreams about The Matrix aren’t real.
At the centre of the franchise’s mythology is the choice between the blue pill and the red pill. Do you take the blue pill and buy into the dreams that keep you imprisoned within The Matrix? Or do you take the red pill which strips off the illusion and shows you The Matrix as it really is so that you can fight against it?
The same question should be asked of this fourth film. Do you take the composite elements of the first film and regurgitate them in order to achieve another money-spinning hit? Or do you defy expectations to deliver something special? Sadly, in both cases, the new film – even more than the two sequels which preceded it – feels like someone has taken the blue pill again. The plot and images for the most part merely reinforce our memories of the first film and bolster what we already know. Which may well bring in the required box office returns, but completely fails to produce anything as groundbreaking, exciting or engaging as the original.
So, there are lots of action sequences and incredible visuals – you can see the vast amounts of money on the screen – but you’ll hardly ever care in the way that you did with the original. There are even digital characters – part of or produced by The Matrix itself – who seem both solid yet dissolving into the ether at the same time. These visual effects are state of the art, breathtaking even, but – again – you won’t care.
There are moments – or scenes – that work: the interplay between Reeves and Moss is nicely done, and there’s a whole very clever sub-plot about bullet time, yet such elements are swiftly lost between interminable fight sequences and pointless, state-of-the-art effects. At two and a half hours, the whole is far too long. That’s a shame, because occasional flashes of brilliance suggest that this could have been very good indeed. In the end, it’s little beyond a dull retread.
The Matrix: Resurrections is available to own on Digital Download from Monday, March 14th..
UK cinemas: Wednesday, December 22nd 2021.