‘Choice is an illusion.’ It’s hard to give away plot points for a film you’ve barely understood, but I guess spoilers apply for those who don’t want their card marked at all; the takeaway is that the fourth Matrix movie is more of a reboot than a sequel, and probably the most cohesive movie in the sequence since the first. When I saw the first movie on opening weekend, I was as impressed as everyone else by the high concept (our reality is not reality) and the huge, kinetic, crowd-pleasing action sequences. But over parts two and three, it became apparent that the makers of the Matrix were more into quasi-religious pretentions, black-leather raves, mad machines, verbose monologues and robot jellyfish. The second time around, it was just about bearable, the third outing not at all. Fortunately, the fourth Matrix chooses to go down a different rabbit-hole…
In an arresting start, Lana Wachowski’s film sees John Anderson (Keanu Reeves) working as a games designer in San Francisco; he’s the author of a successful IP known as The Matrix, and which has provided a successful games trilogy. Warner Brothers force him to consider a fourth Matrix, and send him to focus groups to discuss what made the original Matrix trilogy work, during which he meets Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) in a coffee shop and finds her…familiar. That’s a playful, post-modern start for a film about questioning reality, and the first hour or so, Resurrections gets the right balance of self-aware humour and glitzy, colourful action; an RPG fight on a Tokyo bullet-train has a breezy sense of outrageousness. Things always drop a notch in Matrix films when we slip through the mirror to the robot jellyfish land, and the technobabble monologues start in earnest. But there’s still a couple of spectacular action set–pieces to savour, a brawl in a church and a motorbike to skyscraper finale, and it all feels like an upgrade; as Bugs (Jessica Henwick) says, ‘We don’t have to run to phone-booths anymore.’
Having junked most of the trilogy’s deadweight, some new ingredients click; purists, if they exist, may scoff at recasting Morpheus and Smith, but recasting key actors isn’t against the rules of the Matrix conceit, and Jonathan Groff, like fellow Broadway star Neil Patrick Harris as Anderson’s therapist, has just the right other-worldly quality for such initially inscrutable roles. Reeves is always an ideal centre for this kind of loopy story; he’s eternally cool AF as Neo. And Moss makes something tender of the key role of Trinity, now named Tiffany due to her father being an Audrey Hepburn fan. Such florid details may incense those just here for the guns and ammo, but Resurrections certainly takes the franchise in some fresh directions before coming to a conventional but satisfying climax.
The Matrix offered up a unique sandbox in presenting a realistic, everyday world which was a simulation, a conceit which allowed for action on a fantastic level, and that’s what makes a Matrix film work; even Reloaded has a snazzy car chase and some smart action amongst all the pretentious muck. It may not be rocket science, but The Matrix Resurrections wins at Matrix-ing by keeping the focus on the Matrix itself, returning to the love-story of the first film and revelling in the requisite fantasy action.
The Matrix: Resurrectionsns is out now in cinemas in the UK and UK, and on HBO Max in the US only.