In “The Matrix Resurrections,” it’s clear that the Wachowski sisters (“The Matrix”) did not want to make this movie. They made a trilogy of successful sci-fi action extravaganzas, which created some of the most highly influential elements not only in cinema, but throughout popular culture. Naturally, financier and IP-owner Warner Brothers wanted to continue this success and probably begged the Wachowskis to mastermind a fourth film. This prodding is brought to life in the first act of “The Matrix Resurrections,” and, in typical Matrix fashion, it is not subtle. Only after a slew of personal tragedies did Lana Wachowski (without Lilly) want to return to the franchise, mostly as a comfort to herself.
I don’t think I’ve seen a popular IP movie released in the last decade (other than 2017’s divisive “The Last Jedi”) that had such a singular voice as “Resurrections.” With the creative freedom for the story she wanted to tell, Lana made her movie as she saw fit, devising what a fourth “Matrix” would mean to her. Throughout “Resurrections,” it is overwhelmingly clear that Lana rejects the reduction of her and her sister’s narrative into its various discrete parts and doesn’t care how anybody else views it. Concepts like “bullet-time” and the messianic tale of Neo (Keanu Reeves, “John Wick”) as the chosen one do not concern her, nor her view of the story. What she envisioned is a love story between Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, “Memento”), and that’s what she wanted to bring to life in the fourth installment.
This movie has been the subject of constant derision online. Many fans, and even some critics, focused their attention on how the action scenes are poorly shot or how the visual style is missing the franchise’s signature green tint. But I assume this is precisely the reaction Lana predicted. The film spends the opening half-hour mocking people who think they understand what was special about what she and Lilly envisioned. Having seen the original many times, I watched the second (“Reloaded”) and third (“Revolutions”) installments of the franchise right before watching “Resurrections.” I can certainly understand how many audience members fixated on the superficial and aesthetic choices, especially since the action scenes (particularly in “Reloaded”) are some of cinema’s most dynamic and meticulously choreographed. It also doesn’t help that much of the story in both “Reloaded” and “Revolutions” is so overly complex it becomes banal and uninteresting. Because of this, the series’s legacy has often been defined by its aesthetic and kinetic contributions to cinema at large, rather than the emotional center at the core of the story.
Looking past the heady sci-fi expositions and unwieldy dialogue, the love story between Neo and Trinity is omnipresent in all three of the original installments. “Bullet-time,” the war with the machines, the city of Zion: These are all just context. In its purest, most stripped-down sense, “The Matrix Resurrections” argues for the way the Wachowskis view this story as a whole. The fact that Lana had to make this so glaringly obvious in “Resurrections” speaks to her contempt for the commodification of her story — not only by Warner Brothers and executives trying to cash in on an established property, but by us, the audience, who have warped the concept of what “The Matrix” is far from what the Wachowskis originally intended. And audiences’ reaction to this — to looking beyond the superficial and straight into the true narrative — is rejection and disgust.
This fan reaction to “Resurrections” is curiously ironic. Many in various Internet communities are essentially echoing statements from the villainous Cypher from the original film. They wish to purge this movie from their memory and go back to a reality where it never existed, just as Cypher would have rather stayed ignorantly blissful in the comfortable, simulated world of the Matrix than be exposed to and stranded in mankind’s true squalor. If Morpheus had offered up the red and blue pills to the audience of “Resurrections,” they would have picked the blue pill without hesitation and remained content with their unwavering interpretation of the original “Matrix” trilogy. But even Neo rejected actuality for a sizable period of time before accepting the truth. In our case, that truth is that “Resurrections” and the franchise as a whole is more corny, flexible and personal than its legacy. The content in and existence of “Resurrections” doesn’t need to be validated by audience opinions. The story is the Wachowskis’ and will always be theirs. Those who don’t realize that are stuck in a viewpoint that isn’t reality. I think it’s time for them to unplug and wake up in the real world.
Daily Arts Writer Alvin Anand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.