Both The Matrix Resurrections and Spider-Man: No Way Home use nostalgia heavily. However, nostalgia in The Matrix Resurrections is better executed.
The Matrix Resurrections uses a heavy dose of nostalgia to drive the sequel in ways that Spider-Man: No Way Home cannot. The fourth installment of the Matrix series premiered in theaters and on HBO Max on December 22, 2021 while No Way Home—the third movie for the Tom Holland-Jon Watts era of the MCU—was released exclusively in theaters one week prior. Both films give audiences nostalgia and fan service, but for entirely different reasons.
Both are continuations of popular franchises. No Way Home picks up from Far From Home’s post-credit scene featuring Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio revealing Spider-Man’s identity to the world, thus kick-starting the movie’s events. No Way Home fixes this Spider-Man storyline by having Peter ask Doctor Strange to wipe his identity from the minds of everyone in the world, thereby closing the destructive rift in the universe that he had accidentally created. In The Matrix Resurrections, Keanu Reeves’ Neo is once again oblivious to the fact that he’s trapped in a simulation, having sacrificed himself in the final scene of The Matrix Revolutions. While this premise sets up a possibility of retreading on previous plot points, Resurrections avoids this through a critical, deconstructed approach to the franchise’s material.
Even though The Matrix Resurrections and Spider-Man: No Way Home both deliver nostalgia for their preceding films, Resurrections sends a message with its use of nostalgia while No Way Home’s nostalgia motivates the plot and provides fan service. Despite The Matrix Resurrections’ mixed reviews in comparison to No Way Home’s overwhelmingly favorable reception, the former’s use of nostalgia gives it a slight leg up in that it challenges and engages with its material in a much better way. note: Annette (2021) Stream auf Deutsch [HD]
How The Matrix Resurrections Uses & Challenges Nostalgia
Understanding and questioning one’s identity in relation to reality is a prevalent theme in the Matrix series. The Matrix Resurrections’ use of flashbacks and overt references from the previous films conveys Neo’s reignited war with reality after once again forgetting that he’s living in a simulation. The surrounding narrative context engages and challenges the nostalgic references, expressing that they’re not meant to be merely displayed to the audience. The flashbacks convey Neo trying to constantly convince himself that events reminiscent of scenes from the Matrix movies are either hallucinations or the video game he designed bleeding into his perception of reality. The Matrix Resurrections avoids sci-fi’s nostalgia problem that’s becoming more apparent in works like Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Stranger Things because it uses references as a tool to express its core themes, not as a way to mainly pander to audiences – even though Resurrections’ references are unapologetically forward. It’s clear that Resurrections takes a critical approach to its nostalgia, especially with moments like Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) stating not-so-subtly that “nothing comforts anxiety like a little nostalgia” in a room projecting iconic Matrix scenes.
The references not only show Neo waking up in the Matrix again, but they remind the audience to reflect on why the movie exists in the first place. Warner Bros. announced that Matrix 4 would be made with or without the Wachowskis, but because of Lana Wachowski’s heavy involvement, the movie expresses a good bit of outright criticism towards Warner Bros. using a Matrix sequel as a blatant cash-grab. Resurrections analogizes the Matrix movies to a video game series. When there’s demand for a game sequel, Agent Smith (Jonathan Groff) tells Neo, “I’m sure you can understand why our beloved parent company Warner Bros. has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy” – a line that almost feels like a fourth-wall break in its direct reference to the world outside of Resurrections. In addition to the movie’s ensuing nostalgia-fest, characters blatantly serving as industry mouthpiece metaphors that return in Matrix 4’s purposefully insulting end-credit scene serves as an underlying reminder to the audience that Resurrections is a sequel demanded by Warner Bros., and that the fan-service is added because of focus group data and box office numbers from other franchises.
How Spider-Man: No Way Home Celebrates Nostalgia
Spider-Man: No Way Home brings back fan-favorite villains including Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, and Jamie Foxx’s Electro. In addition, it brings both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield to reprise their Peter Parker roles alongside Tom Holland. Throughout No Way Home are also references like Norman Osborn’s “I’m something of a scientist myself” line serving as a callback to 2002’s Spider-Man that has since been heavily memed. Every character returning from separate Spider-Man universes also gets treated to a slightly grand entrance. In addition, the MCU takes advantage of the Maguire and Garfield Spider-Man Avengers-less universes after they partnered with Sony to claim their rights, making several references to things like Maguire’s Parker having back pain. note: Die Addams Family 2 (2021) Stream auf Deutsch [HD]
The returning characters in No Way Home like Doc Ock and the other Peter Parkers are instrumental to the plot and exist in the film to expand on the MCU’s growing exploration into the multiverse concept. They’re not just inserted in the film for reference’s sake. However, the fan service and nostalgia critique on nothing. While there are some moments that feel like straight-up pandering, No Way Home’s nostalgia mainly exists to help expand the MCU in a way that’s familiar and exciting to audiences.
Matrix Resurrections’ Nostalgia Is Better Than No Way Home’s
The Matrix Resurrections is more purposeful about its nostalgia than No Way Home. For example, Aunt May giving the “with great power comes great responsibility” line before her death confirms that the MCU never needed Uncle Ben in a way that feels more like fan service. While the iconic line is instrumental in forming Spider-Man’s moral compass, it comes well into the Tom Holland Spider-Man timeline. Holland’s Spider-Man entered the MCU past his origin point. His morality and values as a superhero developed through Aunt May and The Avengers, therefore making the line a redundant checkmark. Furthermore, the returning supervillains chosen for this movie are the ones with the most potential fan appeal – Doc Ock, DaFoe’s Green Goblin (as opposed to James Franco’s or Dane DeHaan’s), Electro, Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman, and Rhys Ifans’ The Lizard.
However, The Matrix Resurrections takes memorable Matrix references and elevates them beyond baseless fan service. From The Matrix Resurrections’ black cat-Analyst twist to its mockery of “bullet time,” the film’s nostalgia develops its characters and deconstructs its themes from multiple facets. Even if looking at the references as nostalgia-for-nostalgia’s-sake, Resurrections’ callbacks have an almost parodical tone added to their overall message. While No Way Home gives its nostalgia purpose by using it to fuel the plot —save for the occasional one-off references—The Matrix Resurrections sends messages about Hollywood’s current sequel drive and the Matrix series as a whole by deconstructing its nostalgia. note: The French Dispatch (2021) Stream auf Deutsch [HD]
No Way Home Could Never Do What Matrix Resurrections Did
Spider-Man: No Way Home has to comply with the massive Marvel brand – therefore, challenging and deconstructing it as brazenly as Resurrections does is out of the question. The Matrix Resurrections understands that there wasn’t much demand for a Matrix sequel in the first place—and nothing like The Matrix Resurrections’ box-office bomb enforces this more. In turn, Resurrections takes advantage of this fact by being as cynical about its nostalgia as it pleases. Unlike the Matrix franchise, the MCU has an intricately constructed future laid out for itself that No Way Home must ultimately serve. The MCU understands how wide its fan base is, and knows that nostalgia works as an effective tool in serving audiences. note: Die wundersame Welt des Louis Wain (2022) Stream auf Deutsch [HD]
Neither The Matrix Resurrections nor Spider-Man: No Way Home rely on nostalgia just for nostalgia’s sake, despite the blatancy of their references. However, Resurrections puts more value in its nostalgia than No Way Home. The multiverse could still in theory be explored in No Way Home without the Sony Spider-Man characters returning, but The Matrix Resurrections could not convey Neo’s simulation-reality conflict or biting criticism towards the Hollywood sequel boom without Matrix nostalgia. Even though the movie misses opportunities to go deeper – like Matrix Resurrections’ wasted Morpheus potential – it still makes an effort to use nostalgia as a tool to elevate its material. Furthermore, for Resurrections to ignore the messages its nostalgia conveys would be to dispel, or at least curtail, necessary themes in the Matrix franchise.
Why Spider-Man No Way Home Is More Popular Than Matrix Resurrections
Sometimes, nostalgia just sells well. Spider-Man: No Way Home gave quick nostalgia doses in its marketing, which fanned rumors and theories for what the movie potentially had in store. It used nostalgia to skyrocket the movie’s already-existing anticipation when fans began to wonder if other Spider-Man villains would appear, or if Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire would make appearances. A crossover from other superhero iterations was unprecedented in the MCU before No Way Home. Done correctly, nostalgia saves No Way Home-style reboots, which wasn’t as much the case for Resurrections. Other factors affecting viewership include Resurrections’ hybrid release in theaters and on HBO Max and a comparatively higher demand for a Spider-Man sequel. note: Nightmare Alley (2021) Stream auf Deutsch [HD]
Overall, The Matrix Resurrections and Spider-Man: No Way Home recognize the importance of nostalgia in their films. Even though No Way Home’s use of nostalgia feels a lot more exciting and exists to build upon the growing MCU, it doesn’t challenge the audience. However, The Matrix Resurrections’ nostalgia is very much in line with the series’ themes. Also, while it’s blatant, The Matrix Resurrections doesn’t use its nostalgia to unapologetically please fans, unlike Spider-Man: No Way Home.