Matrix Resurrections

Before the film had even started, the span of opinions were pouring in. Text messages, tweets, assorted social media reactions before the stream even began, added to the array of reviews from critics in cities that actually got to see the film before its simultaneous theatrical/HBO Max launch. Wachowski Cinema from the beginning has been about refuting the idea of humanity and its response to art as something monolithic, so it stands to reason that The Matrix Resurrections would emphasize this. Working for the first time as a director without her sister Lilly, Lana Wachowski has made something bright and sincere and maddening and absolutely certain to fuck with people’s expectations.

The memes that emerged following its first screenings could not have been more perfectly designed to snag me like a wide-mouthed bass. Lana Wachowski’s New Nightmare alone could have done it, but comparisons to The Last Jedi and Robert Zombie’s Halloween II sealed the deal like a fried egg on top of a pad kra pao; spicy, delicious and provocative.

The first third of The Matrix Resurrections is the kind of metatextual experience that allows for the dual feat of expanding the story in unexpected directions while simultaneously talking shit about real (and surreal) life situations, which is deeply satisfyingVideo game designer Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) has been living off of (and been imprisoned by) the success of his legendary game The Matrix, accumulating fan boys and fame as well as the unyielding gaze of the public. The fact that the alternate world he envisioned sprang from a psychotic break is something he keeps secret from friend and foe, only letting his psychiatrist (Neil Patrick Harris, who is exceptional, and also I want his glasses because they let the viewer know from the jump that this movie’s accessories game is strictly not to be fucked with — likewise Morpheus 2.0’s incredible array of suits) in on the times when his grip on reality seems less than firm. He’s on a regimen of blue pills and mental exercises to keep his shit together, and he’s clinging to stasis like a life preserver.

Until, that is, his company Deus Machina’s corporate overlords, Warner Bros., decide they want a Matrix sequel to build off the original trilogy, with or without his involvement. So then quicker than Saint Kylie Minogue can talk about better the devil you know, Thomas Anderson is on a collision course with destiny. And then things start getting weird. We know from the very beginning of the film, a riff on the 1999 original’s opening sequence, that there's a whole new generation of folks infiltrating the computer-generated alternate reality we’ve come to know over the past couple of decades and change. More so, these people know the stories of Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, the Oracle and all of your favorites. So yes, this film does the legacy-sequel obligations of reckoning with how the new generations process the texts of the past.

As for the plot, it’s a bit labyrinthine, and Wachowski (with help from her co-writers David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon) does a good enough job of explaining why dead characters live, why some characters are played by different actors now, and why the parameters of The Matrix (both within the film and as a cultural concept) have shifted. The Matrix made its impact due to conceptual rigor, visual élan and quality characters, not narrative clarity or innovation. (Let’s be real — eXistenZ was the true GOAT of 1999 sci-fi, and there are some nice and subtle acknowledgments of that going on in TMR’s early parts.) So some of the sweatier story beats slide away without derailing things. If anything, I wish things had veered more into the full-blown operatic space fantasy of 2015’s Jupiter Ascending. If society survives, it will eventually come around on that one.

MVP in Resurrections is Carrie-Anne Moss, who rightfully snatched wigs in 360 degrees in 1999, offering an iconic portrayal that led to heaps and heaps of roles in films that had no idea what to do with her unique presence and skill set. Here she breathes new life into a series that seemed consigned to the past tense, and she makes the film (and viewer) feel defiantly alive, bringing out emotions that more often than not get ignored or downplayed by most mainstream cinemaThat’s been the hallmark of the Wachowskis’ work since 1996’s Bound, and it’s deeply present here. I’ve seen all sorts of visions and creatures and phenomena at the movies this year, but nothing compares to the feeling of recognizing iconic actress and singer Telma Hopkins as a genetic scientist in this. I shouted out loud and tied an emotional yellow ribbon ’round the old oak tree; sometimes nostalgia is a puppet show, sometimes the field where Before and Now cross-pollinate and craft wilder futures.

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