So we're doing a Matrix sequel, within which Neo is now a videogame developer who made a three-part series of action games called The Matrix, and is being forced by the parent company, Warner Bros., to make a fourth, even though he knows that he's out of ideas and making the first three almost broke him. So, why is this only Lana Wachowski returning to the director's seat then? 🤔
Somehow, though, that insanely meta plotline kind of works. I mean, this is the Matrix we're talking about, being meta is part of the franchise's DNA. And they did need some plausible reason for Neo and Trinity to still be alive, for there to still be a Matrix, etc. etc. and to that end, the story works. It's not mind-blowing, but it's serviceable. In some places, it's actually kinda clever. I really liked how Morpheus 2.0 is a subliminal attempt by Neo at breaking out of his reality, writing a subroutine into the Matrix itself that imbues all of the characteristics of both the original Morpheus mentor figure, and the Agent Smith that helped Neo finally see the truth about his supposed reality. That's fun, it gives us a good excuse to recast the character, and, from what I understand, means that the tie-in MMO remains canon, which is all pretty neat.
But then they also recast Smith, for no apparent reason. I mean, I enjoy watching Jessie from Glee play a villainous, VC-CEO douchebag, but his inclusion is never fully explained or even concluded. We learn that the Architect needed to trap Smith, so creates a new facade to keep his actual programming locked away, but we don't learn why. Neo and Trinity are resurrected (badum-tsh) by the machines because their permanent state of emotional yearning is somehow beneficial to the whole human-battery productivity thing, but Smith was a rogue program that almost took complete control over the entire machine network. He's the definition of a virus. Why not just delete him? And if we're following the same logic of Neo's in-Matrix disguise (that he only looks like Keanu Reeves to himself, but the rest of the avatars see him as a balding nerd stereotype) then Smith would only look like Jessie from Glee until he snaps out of his imprisoned state. At that point, he could remake himself however he wanted. Now maybe Smith prefers his new look (he does sort of mention something along those lines), but this is Agent freaking Smith. He's the definition of an ego run wild. There's no way that he thinks anything the Architect (sneer) could make would be better than his own chosen image.
What I'm trying to say is that they should have had Hugo Weaving back, even if it was just for a scene or two where they show him trying to take on his original form and then handwave away some reason why he can't. But that would have relied on giving Smith some real character development, or needing him in the plot at all, neither of which is necessary.
There are other weird little decisions scattered throughout. At one point, the gang are attacked by "Exiles". We're never really told what Exiles are, but apparently they're something to do with the Animatrix spin-off series? We also get to meet up with the small girl from the third movie, now all grown up, via some kind of machine-based portal. She tags along on the rescue mission for Trinity, but does so as some kind of floating aura. It's never really made clear why, given that there's a whole plot point about the fact that programs (like her) are able to take on "physical" form through some kind of nanotech mesh network. Alison pointed out that a lot of the "ghosts" talked to throughout are likely just a filmmaking device to make it clear who is talking to whom when inside the Matrix, but that doesn't explain this bit and just seems slightly strange. Oh, and Neo doesn't really ever do kung fu. There's a moment where he says he still knows kung fu, which is a nice callback, but then he spends the whole movie force pushing everyone away. Basically, for a Matrix film, the actual fighting is surprisingly dull and lacklustre. Heck, even the big showdown with the Architect just abuses the idea of bullet time (and don't think too hard about why the in-Universe characters now refer to time dilation using a phrase that describes the IRL filming technique used to create the necessary effects, kthnxbai) without really doing anything that interesting with it. I mean, it's interesting, it's just not corridor-scene interesting.
Which all sounds like I think Resurrections is a bad movie, and that's not the case. I actually think it's a good movie, and a pretty solid Matrix movie too. It doesn't quite live up to the OG film, but it's likely better than both sequels (it's been a while so hard to say for sure) and certainly far from a bad film. I think it conclusively ties up several of the loose ends in ways that feel meaningful and it introduces some really fun new characters and lore. I mean, the whole machines working with humans bit is fascinating and ensures that the original trilogy have a distinct and immense level of impact on the world that the new film is set in. Neil Patrick Harris is excellent and I'd love to see him return to this role in any subsequent spin-offs. I also thought they did the whole "white rabbit"/Bugs Bunny thing well; the fact they managed to naturally work in the phrase "What's up, Doc?" made me chuckle, quite a bit.
Plus, people have long argued over what the original films were really about. When you strip out all the Buddhist/Hindu colour science and philosophy, the clear Christ imagery, and the whole meta-narrative around reality, you find there are still several layers to that story. Personally, I always subscribed to the group that thought that Zion was just another layer of the Matrix itself; a world within a world, all digitally simulated. That Agent Smith's dialogue about how some humans always rebelled against the system if they made it too perfect was a subtle hint that "real world" was just another layer, the final fantasy trick for those minds who could see through the initial illusion. I'd say this movie puts that take to bed, as much as I like it. Instead, unsurprisingly, I feel like the Matrix franchise is best viewed as an allegory for being Trans, and within that light, having Lana return to direct a sequel in which the good fight still needs to be fought, but where, in all areas, you can see that the fighting that has happened has resulted in progress and hope; a story wherein rebirth is given further exploration, and particularly where medication against a perceived genuine truth is problematic; and a story which centres Trinity as, at the least, an equally important part of the "One" mythology, if not actively seeing her be elevated above Neo, becoming even more powerful in doing so, but critically without negating his legacy or own capabilities (they're both flying around at the end, after all), well that feels really right. In that context, this doesn't feel like sequelitis or a cashgrab. It feels like a necessary, modern update on the story already in motion, and that's kind of cool. The fact it does so in a way which is enjoyable, entertaining, and pays a huge amount of respect to the lore that came before it, is even better.