The Matrix Resurrections (Long Take)

In case you’d prefer a much shorter analysis, click here.

It’s a bad sign when the title card of Resurrections foreshadows what the rest of the movie we’re about to see will end up being.  The soundtrack fills with the orchestral theme of The Matrix while the instantly recognizable stream of green characters cascade down the screen to form the title of the movie.  Hold on, some of the characters stream up instead of down to form “Resurrections”.  Whoa.  Prepare yourself for more of what came before, only with slight variations that end up not being interesting.

The movie begins with a shot of a blinking cursor on a monitor and the sounds of a connection to an old computer modem.  Two people who call each other Bugs and Seq discuss a strange program they refer to as a modal.  Bugs says she’ll check it out, and Seq warns her that their signal may have been traced.  (Did I mention that this movie is filled with constant callbacks to The Matrix?)

Bugs (Jessica Henwick) enters the Matrix to find a simulation of the opening scene from The Matrix, when Trinity, dressed in a leather jumpsuit, defeats a team of cops and narrowly escapes several Agents.  Things are slightly off, though.  Trinity isn’t being played by Carrie-Anne Moss, and the lead agent is Black (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).  Fake Trinity is unexpectedly taken down, something that definitely doesn’t jive with The Legends.  Bugs’ presence is detected and she flees, fighting with the Black agent along the way.  She’s later grabbed by the Black agent, who takes into a recreation of Thomas Anderson’s old apartment.  Bugs quickly susses out that the Black agent isn’t aware that he’s a program (or “digital sentience”).  He, in turn, admits that he’s had an awakening of sorts.  A “free your mind” moment in the bathroom (after a shower, not something else, fortunately.)  He realizes that his name is Morpheus (or  New Morpheus), and he must find Neo.  Bugs offers to extract New Morpheus from the Matrix, and the two evade the agents with some Inception-inspired moves.  Cornered, Bugs and New Morpheus crash through the windows at the top of a highrise.  Whether they are successful in their escape is left in doubt, because the movie cuts to Thomas Anderson (a.k.a. Neo) sitting in an office, typing at a keyboard.

At this point, the movie is only at the thirteen minute mark.  Resurrections, regardless of its overall entertainment value, has an incredibly dense plot, which is (almost) neatly divided into two halves.  The first half of the movie basically serves as table-setting for the second half.  The second half is when the movie sends its hero (Neo) on a mission and reveals the conflict at the heart of the story, as well as the mystery villain behind it.

The first half of the movie, which takes up 1:15 of run time, focuses on explaining that:

  • Bugs and Seq are two next-gen rebels who have been looking for Neo for sixty years.
  • New Morpheus is a program Neo created that is an amalgamation of Old Morpheus and Agent Smith.  Neo placed New Morpheus in the “modal” program Bugs and Seq stumbled upon.
  • Neo (Keanu Reeves) is somehow alive after dying in Revolutions.  He’s now a famous video game designer who created a trilogy of games focusing on what we know to be The Matrix movie trilogy.
  • Warner Brothers is forcing Neo and his Agent Smith-loving boss (Jonathan Groff) to create a sequel to the trilogy.
  • Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who also died in the previous sequel,  is also alive.  She goes by the name of Tiffany, is married, has two sons and builds Ducati motorcycles as a hobby.
  • Neo suffered a nervous breakdown after creating his Matrix game trilogy, and deals with any residual trauma by seeing an analyst (a blue-rimmed Neal Patrick Harris) and taking a steady diet of blue pills.
  • What happened to the real world after Neo died (at the end of Revolutions).

Re-extracting Neo from the Matrix is really what the first half of the movie is about.  Bugs and her crew want to bring Neo back to the real world because he means so much to so many people.  Basically, they want to upend his world so that they can thank him profusely for changing their lives.  Unfortunately for them, a second spin in the Matrix has turned Neo into a shell of his former self who doesn’t believe the Matrix was real anymore.  The essential conflict of the first half boils down to getting Neo back to where he was before, three movies ago.  Everyone in the audience knows this will happen but it takes almost an hour for the movie to accomplish.

Along the way, the movie interjects snippets of scenes from the previous movies throughout the action.  This narrative tic is completely unnecessary, because anyone seeing the fourth entry of a series would already be familiar with what has come before.  The movie also has new characters regularly quote iconic dialog delivered by characters in the previous movies, a self-referential tick that: 1) trivializes those lines, 2) makes the performances by the actors suffer in comparison to the original performances.

The first half of the movie does have a few bright spots.  Wachowski includes some cheeky dialog that directly addresses the feelings she probably had when approached to make this sequel (conscripted, trapped, etc.).  She also takes a few shots at the obsessive fan base of the proceeding movies, who offer ridiculously trite descriptions for why they were so successful.  (“It effed with your head”, “big guns”, “mind porn”, “trans politics”, “crypto fashism”, “capitalist exploitation”.)  There’s also a brief cameo by Wachowski alum Christina Ricci (Speed Racer) who, upon reflection, would have given the movie some much needed energy if she had been given a larger role.

The first half also has two nice scenes where Neo and Trinity get to know each other at a coffee shop named Simulatte (one of the few genuine touches of cleverness I noticed).  Reeves and Moss definitely had some earth chemistry in the previous movies that somehow survives in this sequel.  Moss has always been a solid actress, and she shines here, finally able to shed the subdued, minimalist acting style she was stuck with in the previous movies.  Her character is the only one I ultimately cared about, which was surprising, given that Neo is the movie’s primary focus.

Reeves’ Neo has none of the confidence and determination we remember him having.  Instead, he’s fidgety and unsure of himself.  He’s shown early on getting drunk and flailing around in his hotel room alone, which seems odd for someone who would probably be worth millions (or even billions).  The movie forces us to wait until Neo becomes his former self, an experience akin to watching someone tread water.  The first part of the movie comes across as a long stretch of filler material, the cinematic equivalent of a rain delay while the movie figures out what to do with Neo.  (In the first movie, Neo was extracted from the Matrix in a little over thirty minutes.  In Resurrections, it takes almost an hour.)

The first part of the movie reminded me of one of those “clip shows” I saw as a kid.  If you don’t know or remember what those were, it’s when a television series would pad out an entire episode with clips from previous episodes.  Usually this was done near the end of the season, when the creators were running short on ideas and needed to come up with an episode that required minimal effort to produce.  Resurrections comes across as a movie that goes out of its way to remind us how good the first movie was.

Even after Neo is finally brought back to the real world, the movie has more ‘splainin’ to do.  Jada Pinkett-Smith returns as Niobe, sporting granny makeup.  She spends ten minutes telling Neo what’s happened since he sacrificed himself to save both worlds.  Aside from a brief 2-second shot of the Machine War, it’s all Niobe telling and Neo listening.  The one visual we do get is a shrine dedicated to Old Morpheus, where his statue is surrounded by a thousand candles.

The second half of the movie begins when Neo decides to free Trinity from the Matrix, at roughly the 1:15 mark.  Up until that point, there hasn’t been a reason to engage with the story other than to mentally tally all of the self-conscious references.  However, even when Neo (and the movie) now has a goal, it’s such a small-stakes goal that, in the end, only takes about ten minutes to accomplish.  Having a Matrix movie wrap up in an hour and a half would have been interesting.  Unfortunately, even with a straightforward goal in mind, the final hour is padded with even more exposition, completely superfluous action sequences and several labored instances of villain monologing.

Before we get to the (modest) payoff of seeing Trinity emancipated from the Matrix, the movie delves into:

  • What became of the band of misfits in Reloaded (Merovingian, anyone?).
  • Another fight between Agent Smith and Neo.
  • Revealing who the villain is.
  • Explaining how and why Neo and Trinity are still alive.
  • Explaining why Priyanka Chopra Jonas is in the movie, and how her character ties back to the Matrix mythology.
  • Explaining why Neo and Trinity are alive in even more detail.
  • Explaining how the New Crew will extract Trinity from the Matrix while she’s still in it.

The second half of the movie kicks off unpromisingly by introducing “The Exiles”, programs introduced in Reloaded who were purged when the new Matrix was brought on line.  (The Merovingian, my least favorite character in this series, is on hand as well, and I’ll deal with him later.)  New Agent Smith doesn’t want Neo in the Matrix because Smith wants to take on the Analyst by himself.  Since the Analyst is all-powerful, a team-up between the two sworn enemies would be the logical (and obvious) solution to taking him down.  This eventually happens in the big finale, but for now, the movie manufactures conflict for the sole purpose of delivering a battle royale between the New Crew and the Exiles, and a mono-a-mono fight between Neo and Smith.   Given how irrelevant the outcome is, this ten-minute sequence only serves to kill time.

When the movie’s big bad is revealed to be Neo’s Analyst, I figured that was better than it turning out to be that annoying coworker, Jude.  As a villain, Neal Patrick Harris is more annoying than threatening.  He’s 100% smarm, and I longed for the days of Hugo Weaving’s delicious misanthropy.  His explanation for how the new Matrix works is essentially the same explanation for the power of social media.  The more it rials you up, the more engaged you are.  For the Matrix, this means more energy.  I agreed with the movie’s rationale, but again, none of this is ever shown.  It’s another explanation in what has become an unending series of explanations.

Back in the real world, New and the New Crew are called on the carpet by General Niobe who grounds Bugs again.  A Sentient named Kujaku (that looks like a cross between a dolphin and a devil ray) calls Niobe and Neo to visit a program named Sati.  I figured Mrs. Jonas wasn’t in this movie just to wink at the camera, and I was right.  She plays the adult version of a young girl program Neo met in Revolutions.  Folks who know their Matrix lore frontwards and backwards probably were probably tickled over this reveal.  I would have been more impressed if the movie had found a way to include her husband as well.  It would have been an inspired meta reference in a movie with a lot of tired ones.

Even though the Analyst had monologued his evil plan not long ago, Sati provides some additional explanation about the technical nature of said plan.  She explains his explanation, in other words, telling Neo about the Anomaleum, how it fuels the new Matrix, how Neo’s escape will cause a reset, etc., etc.  Things were far simpler back in The Matrix, when the explanation was a straightforward “we’re all Copper Top batteries”.  What’s happening in Resurrections is so convoluted in comparison.

Thankfully, Sati wants to do more than explain things.  She wants revenge on the Analyst for killing her parents, and has a plot that hopefully will do exactly that and free Trinity in the process.  The plot to extract Trinity from the Matrix is part heist, part prison break.  Either way, it’s a welcome pivot from all of the explanations and self-referential material.  If only it had arrived sooner than the 1:45 mark.  With about a half an hour left, the movie finally begins to become interesting.

The showdown at the Simulatte has several good things going for it.  There’s another heartfelt meeting between Neo and Trinity, and Smith’s decision to align himself with Neo and Trinity was a nifty turn of events.  It should have happened an hour ago, but better late than never, I guess.  Rooting for the smug New Smith to beat the crap out of the smirky Analyst was something I never expected.  

After Trinity is successfully extracted from the Matrix, the movie finally gives us a completely new action sequence.  Having the heroes desperately try to outrace the bots may be a crib on zombie movies, but I’ll take it.  Before the movie concludes, Neo and Trinity confront the Analyst so that he can deliver one more monologue.  I guess the previous half-dozen monologues weren’t enough.  Neo and Trinity tell the Analyst that they’re going to change the world.  I hope they do.  Revisiting the past has been exhausting.

Resurrections is a rare movie that is more fun to dissect than watch.  There are so many choices that just don’t work for various reasons.  Ultimately, they were all intentional on Lana Wachowski’s part.  I can try to guess at her motivations, but I’d probably be wrong.  Ultimately, even though the movie fails as entertainment, it is an intriguing failure nonetheless.  Fans and critics will spend years trying to answer the film’s many odd decisions. For example:

  • If the point of the movie is the liberation (or emancipation) of Trinity, why didn’t the movie put her at the center of the story instead of Neo?  Why force the audience to wait forever for Neo to get his mojo back?
  • Why spend so much screen time revisiting the past?  Did Wachowski dislike the idea of “fan service” so much that she overloaded the movie with it so that the fans would choke on it?
  • Why replace Old Morphius with New Morpheus, only to wrap up his character arc in the first ten minutes?
  • Why have Grandma Niobe at all, but then reduce Old Morpheus to a statue?
  • Why are the action sequences shot so chaotically?  Does Wachowski loathe action sequences so much now that she wants them to be unwatchable?  (Any action sequence in the previous three films is so much better than the ones in Resurrections.)
  • Why force the audience to sit through the entirety of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” playing over a dull montage, which includes seeing Neo on the toilet with a tuba accompaniment?  The white rabbit references were only a few seconds in The Matrix.  Resurrections belabors it for two minutes and thirty-three seconds.  To borrow from what one of the characters says early on, why not “eff with our heads” and play Jefferson Starship’s “Find your way back” instead?
  • Why are the names of the new characters so boring?  Bugs, Sequoia, Lexy, Berg and Ellster.  Snore.  Even the name of the new ship, the Mnemosyne, sounds inferior to the Nebuchadnezzar.  Zion has been replaced by Io, as in Input-Output?  Yawn.
  • Why do the new synthients look like children’s toys and like to be petted?
  • Why do the externalized programs look like huge pin art boards?
  • Was Neo’s visual representation in the new Matrix as a balding, gray-haired middle-aged man a thinly-veiled jab at the typical Matrix fan?
  • Is Neo brain damaged?  He acts so strangely in this movie, repeating what other people say, his speech halting and labored.  Anyone who apologizes to a statue is definitely not right in the head.
  • What is the timeline of this movie?  New Morpheus says that they’ve been looking for Neo for sixty years.  A plaque on the Mnemosyne states that it was built in 2274.  That would mean a gap of 271 years.  Regardless, why does everything look exactly like today sixty years from now?
  • Why is the revelation that the Machines can bring dead people back to life treated with a collective shrug by everyone?

I could go on, but you get the idea.  Resurrections offers no end of bad decisions to analyze and debate.

Before I wrap this up, I wanted to spend time addressing the return of the Matrix character I could live without: the Merovingian.  His reintroduction in Resurrections doesn’t serve any useful purpose, in terms of the story itself.  I think Wachowski’s use of him serves an ulterior motive, however.

Resurrections is proof that Wachowski’s heart just isn’t into making action movies anymore.  As I mentioned above, the movie’s action sequences are so confusingly shot, it’s impossible to tell who’s winning and who’s losing.  (I feel Wachowski included them so that the audience wouldn’t think they were watching a Mumblecore movie by mistake.)

Wachowski’s disinterest (contempt?) for the trademark action scenes that made her famous is clearly on display in the scene where Neo and the New Crew face off against Smith and the Exiles.  While everyone else is Kung-Fu fighting, the Merovingian shouts his grievances to Neo about everything he detests that has come into being since the last movie.

As the scene cuts back-and-forth between the combatants and Merv (Smith’s nickname for him), the purpose of the juxtaposition becomes clear.  Superficially, Wachowski is giving the audience what it wants, namely righteous fighting sequences.  However, she effectively neuters the effect of the action by prominently including Merv in the scene, one where he never throws a single punch.  She effectively states that the fight and who ultimately wins it is pointless, and that we should instead be paying attention to one of her favorite character types: the pompous windbag

Throughout the Matrix series, Wachowski has shown a fondness for pompous windbags. This includes the Merovingian and the Architect from Reloaded, but, to be fair, would also include Old Morpheous.  (Only an actor of Fishburne’s calibur could make pontificating cool.)  The Merovingian definitely is my least favorite Matrix character.  (Your mileage may vary.)  I’ll never forget his interminable scene in Reloaded where he spouted pseudo-intellectual baloney while everyone else on screen (and in the audience) waited for him to stop talking so that the movie could get on with things.  Somehow, Wachowski managed to make Merv even more annoying in Resurrections.  Not only has he been transformed into a filthy bum, but what he says comes off as an Angry Old Man diatribe.  During the fight, he actually spouts this bit of dialog:

“You gave us Face-Zucker-suck and Couch-flix-climatey-Wiki-piss-and-shit!”

If Merv is in any way a stand-in for Wachowski, she definitely has some strong opinions on the state of art and commerce today.  She’s certainly entitled to her opinions.  Regardless, the fact that Wachowski regularly interrupts a big fight scene to focus on a character talking crap only proves that she really doesn’t care about action scenes anymore.  She’d much rather be spending time with a person shaking their fists at the world.  To be clear, I’m perfectly fine with a director playfully subverting my expectations.  If she didn’t want to do action scenes, I would have rather she just didn’t do them, instead of doing them passively or rendering them completely meaningless.

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