‘The Matrix Resurrections’ review: Smart enough to know it’s redundant

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For years, Warner Bros. dreamed of making another “Matrix” movie, but the Wachowski siblings – architects of a cyberpunk classic whose appeal lies largely in bending the rules and questioning authority – have withstood the pressure, insisting that they had said whatever they wanted. with the three original films. Let’s not forget: at the end of the trilogy, Trinity passed away, Neo sacrificed himself, and the humans were freed from their virtual chains, meaning anyone who hoped to continue this story had their work cut out for them.

This explains a clever moment of self-awareness at the start of “The Matrix Resurrections,” a welcome but unmistakably foreign fourth installment – more of a fix than an upgrade from the previous franchise, reframing already seen not as a bug but as a hallmark of the brand. In this scene, employees of a San Francisco video game company sit around a corporate conference table, thinking about how to build on the Matrix saga. “Our beloved parent company, Warner Bros., has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy,” one explains, explaining that the studio plans to do so “with or without” the creators.

Well if you can’t beat them join them, that’s what director Lana Wachowski seems to be telling us, slyly stepping back from the dazzling Infinity Mirror featured in previous films to reveal one more layer: the real world in which we, the audience, reside. Sadly, it’s about as wild and / or meta-savage as “The Matrix Resurrections”, while the rest could be described as more or less the same: more time and gravity-defying action, more pointers. Goth-geek fashion plus “free your mind” gibberish.

Essentially a blockbuster gig and cover version in one (with flashback clips of highlights from previous installments), the new film is slick but considerably less ambitious than the previous two sequels. Where these films aimed to break down sound barriers in our brains – how ‘bullet time’, highway footage and Neo’s final battle against a seemingly endless number of Agents Smith did. – this largely avoids innovation. Rather, “Resurrections” takes solace in the familiar, fleshing out the emotional core of a world that has always felt a little hollow.

In short, Wachowski doesn’t add much to the rich mythology that she and her sister Lilly have established, but she’s careful not to spoil it either.

By reviving Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and a handful of other key characters (some, like Agent Smith and Morpheus, requiring the intervention of new actors), “Resurrections” ties in its final iteration to the “simulation hypothesis” – the theory, given to Oxygen by Elon Musk, that video game technology is advancing to such an extent that there’s a good chance you are already living in one. The difference, compared to “Matrix 1.0”: The new world movie “sheep” have this potentially liberating information, and they always choose to sleepwalking throughout their lives. Just like you?

It has been more than two decades since “The Matrix” sounded the alarm. So what do you do chained to some career / family / hobby that numbs you to what really matters? Like the fanboy audience – who passively watch the heroes disrupt the system, observing rather than participating in social reform – the humans in this latest simulation remain blind. Neo has returned to his Thomas Anderson identity, only now he is chief designer for game company WB Deus Machina and described as a “bald nerd”, although audiences still see Keanu sporting rock star bangs and a surfer guru. beard.

It would have been much more daring to present Reeves as an aging incel with balding hair and a dandruff-speckled turtleneck – or better yet, a self-deprecating version of himself, like the one he played in comedy. Netflix romantic “Always Be My Maybe. The storytelling has evolved in leaps and bounds since 1999 and as futuristic as the” Matrix “franchise has already felt, everything looks rather quaint today, with the advent of the” reality TV “(consider Paris Hilton’s recent claim that she plays a character all along) and ontological series such as” The Good Place “and” The OA “(the latter ended with the characters walking through a new dimension, where they’re all actors in the show we watched.) “The Matrix” may have made 1982’s “Tron” look primitive in comparison, but even that franchise evolved, leaving this one behind. in the dust.

That’s not to say the sequel is simply “The Matrix Recycled” – although the title is just as apt as the more biblical title they went with, teasing (but never directly addressing) the messianic dimension of the Neo’s previous arc. Offscreen, Lana Wachowski has completely reinvented herself in the meantime, sharing much of that journey through Netflix’s astonishing “Sense8,” while Thomas Anderson is stuck in brainwashing mode, grappling with questions of relatively mundane midlife crisis.

His doubts aside, Anderson drags his feet when Morpheus (now played by “Candyman” star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) opens a door and tries to offer him the ancient illumination of the Red Pill. Meanwhile, her shrink (Neil Patrick Harris as an analyst) has her regularly prescribed blue pills. And then a brave young cyber-anarchist named Bugs (Jessica Henwick) shows up, having narrowly escaped an obvious ‘modal’ trap, or training exercise, where she rescues the new and improved Morpheus (Abdul-Mateen is awesome but looks green vis-à-vis sage and sorely regretted Laurence Fishburne).

Speaking of green, the phosphorescent glow that defined the trilogy (extrapolated from old-school CRT monitors) has been all but banned here. Yes, a flood of green glyphs spells out the opening titles, and the human survivors of Zion (many played by members of the “Sense8” cast) look for signs of Neo and Trinity on outdated screens. But compared to the grim and grimy “real world” spared by a Sentinel attack in “Revolutions,” the dimension where Anderson reunites with Trinity – now married with children and named Tiffany (but still played by Moss) – is rich in color and detail. Strange then that it looks so cheap, obviously lacking in a striking visual signature.

A far cry from the grim film noir vibe of the original, it’s easy to imagine humans being wowed by such a setting, especially when it’s featured in the magic hour of recent Marvel movies – and against which the grungy post-apocalyptic realm of spaceships and pods of people look less attractive than ever. This has always been the problem with the “Matrix” films: they insist that waking life is much worse than illusion, asking us to worry about the fate of a dumping ground where brained humans serve as the source of Energy to Machines.

Of course, we prefer to spend time in San Francisco – or Berlin, where filming has changed. These days, instead of fighting against the square-jawed man in black of actor Hugo Weaving (the original Agent Smith only appears in a flashback), Anderson works for a well-dressed human Ken doll. also named Smith (Jonathan Groff, whose beauty reinforces the idea that everything has gotten a major aesthetic upgrade). Once Neo begins to question his reality, it is again Smith that he must face. The ensuing showdown feels overly choreographed, stuck in late 20th-century Hong Kong fashion, compared to the brute-force style of fighting we’ve seen in the Bond films since. Even Neo’s ability to stop bullets and detonate energy waves from his hands has nothing to do with so many superhero abilities we’ve been desensitized to.

The great irony of “The Matrix Resurrections” is that a property that was once so attractive to be state-of-the-art is now being tapped for its nostalgia value – what a screenwriter friend of mine dubbed “CuisinArt”, in which the studios forgo new ideas in order to rehash everything the public loves from the past.

Lana Wachowski said she agreed to do a sequel to “The Matrix” after her parents died, taking comfort in reconnecting with the fictional Neo and Trinity family. Many viewers will agree, although it would have made more sense to restart with a whole new cast of characters. But in a world where “Space Jam” can hack the “Matrix” IP, this far from radical add-on seems distracted concerned with justifying its own existence, rather than finding a way to take fans to the next level.

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