In theaters and streaming on HBOMax on Dec. 22
This fourth installment of the franchise follows Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), who is a legendary game designer struggling with trying to live a normal life in San Francisco. He sees a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris), who prescribes him blue pills. Flashes of his past and mind-bending dreams are clouding his reality.
Then, an encounter with Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) offers him the red pill and takes him back as Neo, where he knows choice is the only way out of or into the Matrix, which is now stronger, more secure, and more dangerous than ever before.
It’s déjà vu all over again in the very meta “The Matrix: Resurrections,” where we return to a dark cyber-world of manipulating minds, time, and space that messes with our blurred reality. And could be a game where we are all actors watching, not participating. Or a dangerous part of either the past, present or future – or all three.
Those expecting another redefining genre film won’t get it in this nostalgic and oddly comforting version of the mythology, but the human element at the heart of this sci-fi action-adventure is worth the reconnect, and yes, there is still more to the story that ended 18 years ago.
Free your mind to accept the new world order – or just enjoy that city by the bay view and some full throttle action again playing with gravity and reminiscent of “Bullet time.”
Visionary writer-directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski started this ground-breaking trip down the rabbit hole in 1999, and Lana returns to lead us into a glossy self-referential fourth chapter.
The electrifying original won four Oscars for editing, visual effects, sound, and sound editing, and the trippy trilogy earned more than $1 billion globally at the box office.
The two murkier sequels in 2003, “The Matrix: Reloaded” and “The Matrix: Revolutions,” finished the machines vs. man war, but neither Neo, although he saved the world through sacrifice, nor Trinity, who died, fared well.
In “The Matrix Resurrections,” we return to a world of two realities – everyday life and the one that lies behind it. Is reality a physical or mental construct? And can we really know ourselves?
Resurrected indeed – this messianic variation of Neo and his cool renegade soulmate Trinity, as played by Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, gives this addition a heart-tugging emotional thread because their characters don’t remember each other — or their pasts. And I guess if we’re in the Matrix, we don’t really die?
Wachowski doesn’t want to dazzle this time as much as make a point on how connection matters in a very cold, calculating, chaotic and cruel world. After all, it’s a very different real life in 2021 than it was in 1999 – and none more so for the Wachowskis, who transitioned from brothers Larry and Andy to sisters in the years since.
Cinematically, superheroes rule the box office and we’ve survived the ‘blip.’ Visual effects are a computer-graphic images quantum leap from the way things were pre-Millennium. Do the problems that existed in The Matrix still need solving, or has that ship already sailed?
As we brace for year three of a global coronavirus pandemic now in the fourth or five wave, let’s refresh to a simpler universe – before smartphones, voice assistants Alexa/Siri/Cortana/Bixby and social media disinformation.
While today there is no peace on earth and goodwill to men is but a memory – however, in a twisted way, our heroes renew our faith in humanity and offer a cup of kindness and kinship.
Perhaps this zig-zagging “Matrix” is about reinforcing its brand and why, yes, it still matters. It does take awhile to find its rhythm, and hone in on its message.
In the sly script co-written by Wachowski, David Mitchell and Aleksander Hemon, former computer programmer Thomas Anderson is now head video game designer at Deus Machina.
Embodied by a classic and comfortably shaggy Keanu who understands his purpose, the grungier Anderson is a deeply troubled soul who thinks he is in a bizarre version of waking life and can’t stop being haunted by dreams. He wants desperately to be hopeful in an increasingly nihilistic world.
The workplace scenes are a hilarious riff on Silicon Valley techno-nerds, with hipsters and geeks jockeying for position to be the next Thomas Anderson. They may be condescending, but he is after all, the game-changing legend in the field who invented The Matrix, the GOAT, the gold standard.
The everyday workplace travails ground “Resurrections” and provide a sprinkling of humor among very serious philosophical questions. The boss gathers his geek squad to brainstorm because Deus Machina’s parent company, Warner Brothers, wants another Matrix, with or without their involvement. Alrighty then!
Why Anderson must be tortured further is part of his growth process and how he remembers exactly who he is. One of the funnier lines: “I still know kung-fu!” Indeed.
Co-writers Mitchell and Hemon wrote for the 2015 Netflix sci-fi mystery drama series “Sense8,” created by the Wachowskis about people linked mentally who are being hunted by those who see them as a threat to the world order.
More sinister shenanigans mark this upgrade, and they embrace the mindful new age speak. Anderson fights against the “sheeple,” this latest example of desensitized conformists who succumb to sleepwalking through life like those pod people of earlier sci-fi themes. (The Wachowskis did a rewrite on “The Invasion,” a 2007 remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” fyi.)
Full disclosure: While I admired the mind-bending goals of ‘The Matrix,” the two sequels were confusing and lackluster. I only remember a bunch of multiplying Agent Smiths (Hugo Weaving). With this franchise, I struggle with figuring if we are in or out of the Matrix, and all that concentration makes my head hurt.
But really, aren’t we just in a riff on Rod Serling’s genius seminal work “The Twilight Zone,” the 1959-1964 television series that took place in the middle ground between light and shadows, a new dimension of space and time?
That said, I appreciated the flashbacks to the previous films to help clarify (or justify) this piece.
The core relationship of Neo and Trinity is the most appealing aspect, and Reeves and Moss still have “it” together.
Trinity is “Tiffany,” or “Tiff,” as she says. She’s a wife and mother, who still retains a rebel edge by working on motorcycles.
And the interesting Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is a slick commanding presence as mentor Morpheus, stepping into Laurence Fishburne’s shoes with authority. Mateen, Emmy winner for “Watchmen,” deftly commits to the illusions.
The cast additions enliven the proceedings, most noticeably Jessica Henwick as Bugs, a rebel cyber-punk and the two gay musical theater icons Neil Patrick Harris as The Analyst, smarmy know-it-all, and Jonathan Groff as Smith, the unctuous self-absorbed boss.
Henwick is no stranger to fantasy – a veteran of “Game of Thrones,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Iron Fist,” and she excels at the explaining the before and after as well as intense combat.
The cast includes Jada Pinkett Smith, Lambert Wilson and Daniel Bernhardt in familiar roles and new characters played by Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Christina Ricci.
More evocative than cutting edge, “The Matrix Resurrections” appeals to our intellect and comments on where we are as a society, ever-observant in whatever dimension we’re in (or think we’re in). At 2 hours and 28 minutes, it’s a lot to unpack, but worth the step back in time if you are curious and want to free Sad Keanu.