Can you really get away with ‘selling out’ simply by revolving the opening third of your cash-in sequel around a wry mockery of studio pressure? Not likely. Certainly, this fourth entry to The Matrix franchise hardly serves as conclusive evidence for the defence. Lana Wachowski directs, for the first time without the input of her sister, and is co-writer to novelists Aleksandar Hemon and David Mitchell. The result is an overlong feature that’s deftly bonkers starting stretch slowly – painfully – gives way to something more familiar. Something generic. When asked after her absence, Lily Wachowski lamented a lack of interest in retreading old territory. Lana had no such qualms and does just that, largely failing to justifying why in the process.
If the original Matrix was a trend setter in 1999, Resurrections is far more a la mode in the nostalgia drenched contemporary. It follows hot on the heels of Space Jam, Halloween and Ghostbusters in repackaging old hits for cheap wins and preempts the optimism of Top Gun and Legally Blonde in the months to come. As such, the bare bones of Resurrections are much the same as those conceived twenty-four years ago.
Keanu Reeves plays Thomas A. Anderson, our computer savvy hero who finds his tired existence uprooted when a mysterious woman (Jessica Henwick’s Bugs in this case) leads him down the rabbit hole of no return that is the truth. Once again, the towering figure of Morpheus (inexplicably, albeit well, recast as Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) offers him a choice. If it really is a choice, of course. Take the blue pill and live forever in contented denial. The red pill changes everything.
Just two factors save the set up of Resurrections from total collapse by deja vu. The first is the film’s curious contemplation of the passage of time. Released in rapid succession, Reloaded and Revolutions had no such transition to notice. Breathing space is the birth of perspective in this case. For all his muscular prowess as John Wick, Reeves excels here in in portraying the experience of being lost and left behind in a youthful world. It could be his haggard appearance. Or perhaps it’s the way his posture and expression belie Anderson’s desperate tussle with the monotony of life. As things progress, the perils of middle age – and those of seniority thereafter – enjoy further exploration and in ways more satiating than gags about creaking joints. Transition has always been important to this franchise. Resurrections may be an action thriller but it’s stronger as a wrinkled romance.
The second saviour of Resurrections is the film’s deeply meta relationship with its predecessors. As we meet him, Anderson is a video game inventor, hailed for creating the popular ‘Matrix’ trilogy. Try as he might to move on, Anderson is told early on ‘our beloved parent company Warner Bros. is going to make a sequel to the trilogy’. The message is clear, this one’s going ahead with or without his involvement. Clips from film’s one to three are inserted into the story, framed as extracts from Anderson’s games, while an action figure of Carrie-Anne Moss’ Trinity sits on his desk. The real life Moss, meanwhile, sips daily cortados in an espresso bar named – wait for it – Simulatte. Except, here she is called Tiffany – a nod to Blake Edwards’ Breakfast, itself a tale of artifice – and comes with kids and a husband in tow. Hilariously, he’s played by Chad Stahelski, who was Reeves’ stunt double in the original.
Abdul-Mateen brings flamboyance to proceedings, as does a scene stealing Jonathan Groff, taking on the mantle of a hip Agent Smith. Neither quite have the gravitas of Laurence Fishburne or, indeed, Hugo Weaving. It’s a real flaw in Resurrections, where little has the feeling of great consequence. While the film betters the likes of Blade Runner 2049 in its handling of gender – women here are permitted to age, without losing their power – it is a pity to find Moss sidelined until late in play. Henwick is an excellent foil for Reeves but one yearns for the version of the film in which Trinity leads from the off.
Only rarely does Resurrections boast effects so dazzling as to widen the eye and there is nothing so jaw dropping here as all that came before. Which is strange, given the heritage. Once Neo pops his pill, the meta foreplay dissipates and there’s little left to surprise.