When it comes to The Matrix Resurrections’ plot or how they managed to get Keanu Reeves back as Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss back as Trinity, considering their demise at the end of The Matrix Revolutions (2003), the less you know the better. Let’s just say the title of the movie is somewhat revealing.
Director Lana Wachowski — she co-wrote and co-directed the first three Matrix movies with her sister, Lilly Wachowski, but took directorial duties solo here and co-wrote the script with frequent collaborators David Mitchell (Sense8) and Aleksandar Hemon (Sense8) — has pulled off the almost-impossible task of taking a beloved science-fiction franchise and delivering a fourth installment that will satisfy fans and critics in a way Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions didn’t.
You have to be aware of certain aspects before diving back into the virtual reality universe of the Matrix 18 years after the conclusion of its original trilogy though. The Matrix Resurrections, which debuts simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max on December 22, is not a standalone movie. You can’t just enjoy it casually if you have an overall idea of what happens in the first movies. Actually, I’d advise rewatching the trilogy before watching this movie, especially if you haven’t taken a second look at the films since they were first released in theaters. Conveniently, the whole trilogy is available on HBO Max.
Similar to what J.J. Abrams did with Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens’ structure mimicking A New Hope, The Matrix Resurrections draws from the first movie of the saga. The fourth Matrix even kicks off with a sequence that parallels the beginning of The Matrix (1999): digital green rain, telephone ringing, a female character clad in tight-fitting black clothes, police agents who believe they can “handle a little girl,” rooftop chase and all.
The Matrix Resurrections is full of constant call-backs and references to themes, characters and elements of the trilogy that only make sense — or will get you to smirk — if you catch them. The film is so meta that it even has a character joking about how Warner Bros. — the studio behind the franchise — pushed for a fourth installment.
Besides the action sequences, hand-to-hand combat and a good amount of bullet time usage (that feels both faithful to the aesthetic of the original franchise but also timely and adequate to 2021’s CGI standards), the movie packs a lot of ruminative dialogue. “The choice is an illusion. You already know what you have to do,” one character says when offering another one the choice between the customary red and blue pills. And it made me wonder, once again, which one I would take if offered the chance. I’m still not certain I would take the let’s-get-out-of-the-seemingly-perfect-virtual-reality route. Without being dogmatic or contrived, the writers pack a lot into their characters’ conversations. They talk about free will, how a story never ends, the limits of reality and the many theories one can have about what The Matrix represents.
There’s also romance. And that’s one of the reasons I’ve been a fan of the franchise from the beginning. Neo and Trinity still have all the chemistry that made for the best part of the otherwise very uneven The Matrix Reloaded (2003). The actors who play them look even hotter now than they did in their thirties. Leave it to Lana Wachowski though to dare to keep a couple of fifty-something-year-olds as the main protagonists of a tentpole R-rated franchise installment.
In a way, The Matrix was always pushing the envelope; unlike other films of its time, it boasted a very diverse cast. That is still true here. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays a character called Morpheus with a penchant for bespoke colorful suits. Jessica Henwick is the rebellious and somewhat Trinity-like Bugs. Jada Pinkett Smith returns as Niobe. Priyanka Chopra Jonas is Sati. And you’ll be able to recognize half the ensemble of the Wachowski-co-created show Sense8 with Eréndira Ibarra, Max Riemelt, Brian J. Smith, Toby Onwumere, Freema Agyeman and Michael X. Sommers all appearing throughout the film.
I’m not even done mentioning all the famous names with varying degrees of participation in this movie. Christina Ricci plays an executive with a lot of insight. Neil Patrick Harris is a judgy therapist who never stops taking notes. And Jonathan Groff deserves more awards attention for having so much fun with the twisted and very full-of-himself Smith.
But even if The Matrix Resurrections boasts a lot of LGBTQ+ talent and Lilly Wachowski has talked about the first movie as an allegory for the trans experience — both Lana and Lilly Wachowski are trans women — I felt the studio was still looming high behind Lana Wachowski in regards of what she could and couldn’t show with this fourth installment. And even though a couple of same-sex relationships among women are hinted at here and there, I’d love to see what The Matrix Resurrections would have looked like had Lana Wachowski taken a more explicit approach the way she did in Netflix’s Sense8.
But other elements that define the Wachowskis are on full display here. There’s a stylized musical montage sequence, which shows us Neo’s numbing routine, that’s set to the beats of “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. (Side note: He has the most adorable rubber duck and set of plaid pajama pants.)
Even though The Matrix Resurrections is a nostalgia-filled homage that wouldn’t work without the franchise’s three previous movies, this new installment still manages to be fresh and original in its own way.
Make sure to stay until the very end of the final credits. You’ll probably get a laugh — and something to ponder — from the closing post-credits sequence. I got the feeling with this movie, and the virtual recreation that is the Matrix, that Lana Wachowski mirrored our contemporary society more than ever.
As with previous entries in the director’s filmography, the movie is also a love letter to San Francisco, a city that is shown at night or during magic hour with arresting takes of the Golden Gate, the fog and the skyline. It was almost eerie to leave the movie theater and be on the same downtown San Francisco streets where the film was shot. For a moment there, I almost wondered if I too was inside of the Matrix. I imagine that’s precisely what Lana Wachowski was aiming at.