“After all these years, to be going back to where it all started. Back to The Matrix!”

Misanthropy and ‘90s nostalgia: The Matrix Resurrections

The Matrix Resurrections, directed by Lana Wachowski; written by Wachowski, David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon; based on characters created by Lana and Lilly Wachowski

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix Resurrections

The Matrix Resurrections is the fourth feature film in the Matrix franchise, which began with The Matrix (1999), in which humans are enslaved by artificial intelligence hundreds of years in the future in order to generate power and are kept pacified by being plugged into a virtual reality. Its sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (both 2003), concluded the trilogy with a peace between man and machine and the death of the two main protagonists, Neo and Trinity.

But for the desire of Warner Bros. Entertainment to profit from ‘90s nostalgia—and the evident willingness of director Lana Wachowski to go along with it—so it would have remained. Instead, audiences have been treated to a transparent cash-grab that sacrifices plot, pacing and characterization in favor of winking “meta” references to the fact that the movie is essentially a reboot of The Matrix.

The film begins with a nearly shot-for-shot replication of the opening of the first movie and does not get much better from there.

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reprise their roles as Neo/Thomas Anderson and Trinity, respectively, the main characters from the trilogy. They both find themselves unknowingly back in the Matrix, the machine-controlled alternate reality that keeps the human “batteries” placid. Thomas is the designer of the popular Matrix trilogy of video games, while Trinity (called Tiffany) is a housewife.

The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

Thomas’s business partner Smith (Jonathan Groff) tells him: “The market’s tough. I’m sure you can understand why our beloved parent company, Warner Brothers, has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy.” When Thomas protests, Smith says: “They informed me they’re going to do it with or without us. … I have to say I’m kind of excited. After all these years, to be going back to where it all started. Back to The Matrix!”

What follows is perhaps the most interesting part of the film: a montage set to Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” of Thomas in interminable meetings with market analysts and idiotic game designers reducing The Matrix trilogy (clearly both the fictional video games and the actual films) to explosions, the “bullet time” special effect, “effing with your mind,” “trans politics” or “crypto-fascism,” interspersed with Thomas taking his psychiatric medication (the “blue pill”) and going about the drudgery of daily life.

Following the pattern of the first movie, Thomas is freed from the Matrix, again, by a crew, this time consisting of Bugs (Jessica Henwick), Seq (Toby Onwumere) and a new version of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), created by Thomas in a subconscious attempt to free himself from what he suspects is not reality, despite the assurances of his therapist (Neil Patrick Harris), who is really a program called The Analyst controlling this new Matrix.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in The Matrix Resurrections

Back in the real world, Thomas (now going by Neo again), sees what has become of humanity in the 60 years that have elapsed since the events of the trilogy. Humans and machines now coexist, and humanity is beginning to prosper after centuries of war. But, of course, Neo must save Trinity, his love interest, from the Matrix, and, after some back and forth, is given the support of General Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith, also reprising her role from the trilogy) to do so.

This sets up the finale where, of course, Neo convinces Trinity that they belong together, there is a special-effects-laden shoot-out, and they literally fly off into the sunrise.

What can one say about all this? For starters, of course, this movie should really not have been made. For years, Lana Wachowski and her sister Lilly, with whom she co-directed the trilogy, agreed that it was unlikely that they would return to the world of The Matrix. It seems that Warner Bros. decided to do so anyway in 2017 (according to the Hollywood Reporter ), perhaps presenting the Wachowskis with a fait accompli along the lines of that presented to Thomas in Resurrections.

Though Wachowski gets in plenty of digs at the expense of Warner Bros., that does not change the fact that she has directed this movie. One gets the feeling that she wants the audience to be in on the joke, so to speak, but it ultimately feels like the audience itself is the butt of the joke.

The Matrix Resurrections

There is also a certain misanthropy in The Matrix Resurrections, to a greater degree than the other Matrix films. The Analyst explains to Neo: “Did you know that hope and despair are nearly identical in code? … You [humans] don’t give a shit about facts. It’s all about fiction. … What validates and makes your fictions real? Feelings. … Turns out, in my Matrix, the worse we treat you, the more we manipulate you, the more energy you produce. … And, the best part, zero resistance. People stay in their pods, happier than pigs in shit.”

None of this elicits a peep of protest from Neo, and there is hardly an implicit argument against any of this in the film. Even at the very end, when Trinity and Neo return to let The Analyst know they will use their powers to change the Matrix, he says: “The sheeple aren’t going anywhere. … They don’t want freedom or empowerment. They want to be controlled.”

Their reply is that they will “show the world what a free mind can do.”

Perhaps this conflict will be taken up in a fifth Matrix movie, although its being done well seems unlikely.

A few final points are worth noting. While they are freeing Thomas/Neo from the Matrix, Bugs et al. end up on a train in Japan. As they attempt to escape, it turns out that most of the passengers are bots, who proceed to attack them, resulting in a fight. While prolonged gunfights are rarely integral to good films, there is a disturbing quality in this particular fight, given that the antagonists in this case are unarmed, normal-looking Japanese people (including apparent schoolchildren), rather than armed police officers or federal agents, as elsewhere in the film.

And, while no doubt Wachowski did not intend this, armed “rebels” shooting up a train full of Asian people, in the midst of a sustained campaign against China which has resulted in acts of violence against Asian Americans, is sickening.

Beyond this despicable imagery, one is left with a plethora of new characters who are barely fleshed out, uneven pacing, plot holes galore and a lot of pseudo-philosophical discussion of the meaning of “choice” and how limiting binary conceptions of the world can be.

Without glorifying the original movie, The Matrix, in addition to the gunfights, “bullet time” and goofy plot, had something of a rebellious streak. It spoke to the idea, in a limited fashion, that all was not right with the world, all was not as it seemed and perhaps we were being conned by the powers-that-be. There is nothing of that left in The Matrix Resurrections, leaving us only with the (considerable) weaknesses of the trilogy .

To make a truly rebellious film requires more than setting the end credits to a Rage Against the Machine song.