There is a lesser-known song by The Beatles that is written by George Harisson called Only A Northern Song. The story behind it tells of the label pressure Harisson felt to write another hit like Taxman. In response, he wrote a sea-sick song that regularly calls itself out of tune. It is a rebellious song that is both something you respect and something you recoil from. There is a reason it isn’t on any of The Beatles Greatest Hits compilations. The Matrix: Resurrections is that song as a film.
Early on, the film we learn that Neo is back to just Thomas Anderson. He is now a game developer who made a successful trilogy of video games called The Matrix. It is one of many meta references the film deals in. Warner Brothers is called out directly as the one forcing a sequel to the trilogy. It is clear right from the get-go that this sequel isn’t going to court fan service. While Spiderman: No Way Home is a trough of fan service, a film that hands out nostalgia like free kittens, Resurrections is a jagged little pill that sticks a middle finger up in the air. Fans shouldn’t expect what the trailers are selling.
There is a part of me that wants to fully embrace the punk spirit of the film. In an age where IP rules and we get variations on the same stories told over and over again, I applaud a big-budget studio film that refuses to play by those rules. It is clear Lana Wachowski has a lot to say about the franchise she helped create. However, The Matrix: Resurrections throws out compelling storytelling. It reminded me of that art piece a few years back that was just a banana duct-taped to a canvas. While the statement is clear, the art is crap. From the poorly staged action to the lack of adding anything narratively to the original trilogy, the film is not enjoyable to watch. It is an angry film whose key elements feel disingenuous.
As mentioned, Neo is no longer a powerful prophet. He is stuck back in the Matrix as a sad video game developer who regularly pines after Trinity or rather Tiffany (Carrie Anne Moss). He is unsure if the events in the original trilogy happened or were just a figment of his imagination. What he is certain of is his connection to her and the relationship between them is almost enough to drive the film. Soon hackers and a new Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) help to get Neo out so he can…well no spoilers here but narratively it isn’t totally clear what the point of anything here is other than to serve the aforementioned critique on franchises.
The film centers around a mission to free Neo and Trinity. Along the way, we see countless scenes replayed from the original trilogy, whether it be reenacted or literally projected onto the environment the characters inhabit. The new characters who are helping free Neo and Trinity don’t make a big impression aside from Bugs played by Jessica Henwick. Bugs is a compelling character who genuinely wants to engage with the lore of Neo and Trinity. The villains here are surprises and full of campy verve. The real issue with the mission is the lack of stakes. It feels like only a handful of people will be affected if Neo doesn’t succeed.
The Matrix: Resurrections is packed full of ideas and criticisms about the franchise. Fans are likely to be disappointed as the movie rejects any catering to their expectations. Moss and Reeves still have incredible chemistry together and the film is at its best when they are together on screen. Lacking memorable action and a sense of driving momentum, the film is more concept than story. While I appreciate the spirit Wachowski has here, wanting to dismantle the machine that keeps driving sequel after sequel to get made. I too want original ideas to get funded into major studio tentpole movies rather than have the only thing in theaters be Marvel films. However, I wish she could have woven that spirit into a more compelling narrative.