The Matrix: Resurrections — How to do a Legacy Sequel

Image retrieved from TMDb

I can tell you now that having only seen The Matrix: Reloaded and Revolutions for the first time a week prior, I never would have expected that The Matrix: Resurrections would be one of my absolute favorite movies of the year. But it totally, without a doubt is. I loved it so much after my first viewing in a theater that I immediately went home and watched it again on HBO Max. I’ve never done anything like that before. But dang if there isn’t just something about this movie that’s incredibly appealing to me. 

What I think it is most of all, like its predecessors, is the variety of interpretations that have and will continue to come out of it. I had one — which I think is the most obvious and textual — that I immediately latched onto. But after having discussions, scouring Twitter, and reading social media, I found so many others that were just as valid, if a bit more under the surface.

This legacy sequel is, at face value, in the same vein as the likes of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, or Ghostbusters: Afterlife, but as soon as you begin watching it, you realize that it’s something completely different altogether. It’s a send-up of this type of film, all while being one of the absolute best of its kind. Only one Wachowski sister, Lana, is back to write and direct this time, but you can feel the way she begrudgingly made one of the best legacy sequels ever. 

Amidst a vast sea of meta-commentary in the first 45 minutes, you in a way find that Warner Bros. was ready to move ahead with a Matrix sequel sans Wachowski. Here, Neo (Keanu Reeves) is the stand-in for the directing duo. About 60 years after the events of Revolutions, he’s still alive and is now a game developer. He’s made three Matrix video games, and it’s made him a minor celebrity. But something still doesn’t feel real about his life and he wonders whether it’s real or fake… again. In the stand-in for an agent or business partner, we have Jonathan Groff’s character, who’s the one to tell Neo the studio (explicitly named as Warner Bros. in the film) was ready to move on without him, and that if he wants to maintain ownership of his own ideas and intellectual property, he must reluctantly make the fourth installment he never meant to make. Wachowski basically took the reins to this film as a screw-you to the idea of even making a fourth Matrix and showed why it’s a bad idea.

But when I say it’s a bad idea, it doesn’t mean the movie is bad, because as I mentioned, it brings up so many ideas. It asks what you’re supposed to do when you’ve achieved what you meant to achieve, yet still feel like there’s more to do. When you’ve reached a certain place in life, it doesn’t mean your life is over, and there’s an anxiety that comes with that. What are we supposed to do about it? Well, in Neo’s (and Wachowski’s) case, you go back to the thing that made you successful. As Neil Patrick Harris’ The Analyst puts it, Neo is “Quietly yearning for what you don’t have, while dreading losing what you do… Just give the people what they want, right?” Wachowski is being self-reflexive to no end, and not giving into being predictable. The Matrix films were never predictable, and she refuses to be here, either. 

She’s not meeting fans’ expectations, which is more slow motion, punching, and rain-soaked battles with Agent Smith. The filmmaking in this installment is noticeably different from the previous films from the jump. That green-black tint in the color grading is absent, and the action is much less stylized. Instead, Wachowski focuses on the emotion behind every single action that takes place. In a world full of blockbusters mostly intent on giving people exactly what they want visually and showing them what they know so that can feel satisfied emotionally and nostalgically, Wachowski challenges her audience. She brings something fresh while still including the recognizable faces and terms that we’ve come to know from the world of The Matrix

And true to form, Reeves and his longtime co-lead Carrie-Anne Moss are at the top of their games here. They manage to find something that was somehow missing in the original three films in their relationship and channel something deep, true, and sincere in their characters’ relationship. They’re not just here for a paycheck — they fully buy into what Wachowski wants to do and they bring the earnestness, sincerity, and optimism that is an emotional through line in all of the Wachowski films. And our familiar faces are complemented by some franchise newcomers, including Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who plays Morpheus. Recasting the role that for so long iconically belonged solely to Laurence Fishburne was as jarring as it was intentional. There’s a contrived story reason for the switch, but it works because of the commentary it’s making. Years ago, there were rumors that a script was being written for a Morpheus prequel, so Wachowski gave the execs what they thought they wanted, while showing it never would have worked. This isn’t to say Abdul-Mateen is bad — in fact, he’s quite excellent and full of charisma — but it’s still a glaring hole without Fishburne’s presence.

Among all of the subtext of The Matrix being about trans politics, crypto-fascism, and capital exploitation (all of which are explicitly named in the film, during my favorite sequence set to Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”), this is undeniably a movie made by someone who is angered by the trivialization of once-important and profound ideas. Bugs — another newcomer, played by Jessica Henwick, who steals every scene she’s in — tells Neo, “They took your story, something that meant so much to people like me, and turned it into something trivial.” If you go on the internet, there’s a nonzero chance that you’ve heard people talk about being redpilled, but not in the sense that the Wachowskis originally meant it to be (if you don’t know, The Matrix is a transgender metaphor). Lana Wachowski is determined to take back her creation, which is being co-opted for the worse, to make it good again.

Wachowski could very easily have responded to her palpable anger and disappointment with a hit piece of a movie, but she decides to stick to her roots and the core ideals that have always permeated Wachowski pictures. She infuses Resurrections with hope, optimism, earnestness, sincerity, and most importantly, love. Even though the story sometimes doesn’t make sense and there are plot contrivances, it doesn’t really matter because that’s not the point. Wachowski dedicated the film to her late parents, stating that love goes above all. You couldn’t ask for a better epilogue to this saga. This is a Wachowski movie through and through — no one else could have made this. But I’m eternally grateful that she did. 

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