The latest chapter in The Matrix Saga rises on the power of Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, who return as Neo and Trinity, and made intriguing by a clever meta self-awareness.

*** out of ****
Rated R
(for violence and some strong language)
Released: December 22, 2021 in theaters and on HBO Max
Runtime: 148 minutes
Directed by: Lana Wachowski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahaya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Lambert Wilson

It’s apropos that The Second Coming of Neo would be rooted in his connection to (the) Trinity.

After nearly two decades since the original Matrix trilogy came to a close, The Matrix Resurrections brings the saga back to life. Equal parts sequel and reboot, Resurrections continues the story following the messianic events of Revolutions while also reduxing very familiar beats — all by intentional design.

The final result is a meta-Matrix narrative that, in commenting on itself, ends up commenting on the state of franchise culture, from the crass capitalism by studios to the sentimental aspects that make it so appealing for audiences. 

In a sense, Resurrections has its cake and eats it, too, drawing metaphors between the franchise universes in our world to the mollifying A.I. code of its own, and how both keep humans trapped inside a fantasy.

And yet Resurrections isn’t a slight hypocritical cash-grab, but neither is it some subversive, damning critique. Instead, it’s a genuinely non-judgmental meditation on the reasons why we find comfort in story over reality. Plus, it has a lot of stylish fun while contemplating it all.

It’s also rooted in something meaningful: the connection between Neo and Trinity, the two star-crossed soulmates whose romance is one of the greatest in movie history (if also among the most under-appreciated). With groundbreaking bullet-time visual effects and dense philosophical debates taking up so much of the oxygen around the Matrix mythos, the Neo / Trinity love story is often overlooked. 

But a fresh rewatch of the previous films reveals how vital it is, and not simply because of the potent, palpable chemistry between stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss. Rarely has such a deep soulmate connection been tested by so high of stakes, or have two characters looked at each other with such genuine intensity that it felt as if their hearts might actually burst. 

Neo and Trinity share the electricity of Fate — as much as any movie couple ever has — and each would clearly die for the other. And here, fittingly, the fate of everything swirls around the literal energy that exists between these two.

In Resurrections, a new updated iteration of the old code is alive and well, a product of the truce drawn between the machines and humans at the end of Revolutions. This fake new world even reflects the more colorful, warm hues that were seen emerging during Revolutions’ final scene.

Neo’s alter ego Thomas Anderson is alive and not-so-well, and older. While the ingenious details of his life should be left spoiler-free, a good nutshell pitch to characterize him would be to say, “What if Neo had chosen the blue pill instead?” This Neo has, over and over and over again.

To reawaken him to the truth, returning writer / director Lana Wachowski (now working solo without sibling Lilly) structures this reboot with familiar (at times exacting) callback beats from Neo’s original awakening. Think of it as an alternative timeline in a multiverse where things are both different yet familiar, except that this multiverse exists on a single, linear timeline rather than being in simultaneous parallel.

This actually makes sense within the logic of a recycled program, and Wachowski elevates it to something beyond fan service. This is a sharp, intelligent and (at times) comic piece of 21st Century pop culture deconstruction; provocative but not pretentious. And for Wachowski, it also works as a knowing confessional from an artist who’s also an entrepreneur. 

Several original characters return albeit in newer or different forms, along with a new crew of real world rebels inspired by the legend of Neo and Trinity. From the latter, Jessica Henwick’s Bugs is the standout, a passionate yet intelligent fighter tempered as much by her mindfulness as she is driven by her heart and soul. 

Jonathan Groff is another highlight, adding a playful, sly smirk to the calculating, relentless disposition of Hugo Weaving’s original Agent Smith. Neil Patrick Harris’s Analyst — i.e. Thomas Anderson’s matrix psychologist — is also utilized in exceptionally clever ways.

For people who loved the original Matrix but were let down by the subsequent sequels, the primary gripe for Reloaded is that it chose to unpack way too much while Revolutions left us nihilistically wondering if anything that anyone did actually mattered. Personally, I loved the density of Matrix 2 but was left cold (even angered) by how Matrix 3 essentially negated free will.

Depending on your mileage, if you hated Reloaded then Resurrections may test your patience, too (given how some scenes play out like dramatized Reddit threads), but per the nihilism of Revolutions, Wachowski makes concerted efforts toward affirming self-agency — and does so without apologetically retconning the trilogy’s themes or ideas, which were meant to challenge.

Yet regardless of where you landed on those sequels, The Matrix Resurrections should serve as a fun re-entry that, in its best moments, is also a redemption of the first film’s promise. 

Even though this reboot is ultimately more of a riff than an original, Resurrections is consistently satisfying and often inspired, if not exactly innovative. You won’t be able to make sense of it all, often left thinking “Wait, run that by me again” only to be denied such clarity. But even as details and intricacies get lost, the essence is there in the broad strokes — and that’s all you really need to understand.

It’s great to be back in the Matrix again, and now it’s a program reborn with new, exciting possibilities.

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