This is a spoiler-free review of The Matrix Resurrections, which hits theaters and HBO Max Dec. 22.
Nostalgia naysayers are often quick to trash remakes, reboots, or long-lead sequels. They call them blatant cash grabs or cheap tentpole vehicles solely meant to play into decades-old excitement. Statements like those can be easy to dismiss but, unfortunately, fans who were skeptical of another Matrix sequel are proven right when it comes to The Matrix Resurrections.
There are good parts, of course. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss returning as Neo and Trinity is a dream come true, and the new players make delightful additions to the cast. Jonathan Groff eats up every scene he’s in as Smith, and Jessica Henwick’s Bugs might actually be the best part of Resurrections. And the weird version of Morpheus portrayed here probably wouldn’t even begin to work if it were anyone other than Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in the cartoonish suits.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that The Matrix Resurrections is made up almost entirely of good ideas. The problem is that it’s not a good movie. It’s a bunch of individually neat ideas stacked in a trench coat like a bunch of kids trying to buy a ticket to an R-rated film. Cleverness is met with laughably bad execution at nearly every turn here. note: “I don’t want to be alone” Movie
Let’s take the story’s metaness as an example. It seems to agree with those aforementioned nostalgia naysayers, and you can tell it wants you to know that because The Matrix Resurrections straight-up tells you that it thinks reboots are silly at an impressively obnoxious clip. What’s meant to be self awareness becomes this kind of metaphorical Kool-Aid man. Enjoying your scene? Let me burst through the wall and let you know that I’m not like other sequels; I’m a cool sequel.
This attempt at “deep” meta commentary seems to come at the expense of the fight scenes — something that the franchise was, up to this point, known for. We know Reeves still has the chops given the impressive fight choreography of the John Wick franchise, and all of the new players added in Resurrections have proven on-screen fight abilities. Why, then, is this huge chunk of The Matrix’s DNA missing from its sequel? The combat scenes that are present are either short-lived, laden with messy effects, or replaced with shock-and-awe antics.
The original cost $63 million, and both sequels came in at $150 million apiece. That in mind, it’s hard to imagine that a pretty penny wasn’t spent on Resurrections. That is to say that it is truly inexplicable that The Matrix Resurrections final scenes look the way they do, especially in comparison to the much more impressive-looking original that hit our screens over 20 years ago. Not only is there some incredibly terrible animation and effects taking place here, but there’s a moment in a warehouse where Neo is meant to be talking but it’s Smith’s mouth that’s moving in the background while Neo has his back to the camera. Movies like this go through teams of people before they reach our screens, so something so glaring making it into a major franchise sequel is impressive – but not in any kind of complimentary way.
Overly meta scenes and flashbacks take up so much of the runtime.
Perhaps the only truly successful plot points within The Matrix Resurrections are Neo and Trinity’s undying love story and the film’s expansion to franchise lore. The future that the couple sacrificed themselves for in Revolutions was clearly worth fighting for, even if Neo has a hard time believing it at first. Trinity gets an opportunity to shine at the very, very end, but Resurrections makes it very difficult to celebrate this win given how terrible its final act looks and just how long it took to get to what’s meant to be a celebratory moment.
Speaking of long — long movies can be great! Provided, of course, that they justify their length. The Matrix Resurrections does not do that. Overly meta scenes and flashbacks take up so much of the two and a half-hour runtime. Fans concerned that they didn’t have time to re-binge the franchise before heading into the theater needn’t worry: You’ll be shown everything you need to remember. And then you’ll be shown stuff that you definitely do remember. And then you’ll be shown the same thing again, on a loop! Maybe director Lana Wachowski wanted this to feel like a trapped in The Matrix vibe, but it was mostly just tedious.