This is a bad film.
And there you have it: the world’s pithiest, professional film review. But since we have space to elaborate — even though The Matrix Resurrections doesn’t warrant it — let’s delve into the details of the ‘bad’.
For starters, Resurrections begins with the lame possibility that the past did not happen at all. Tom Anderson, (that’s right, not Thomas, but Tom) who you might also remember as the fabled ‘One’ called Neo (Keanu Reeves), is a very calm emotional wreck. A multi award-winning game designer, Tom made a popular video game trilogy called ‘The Matrix’ decades ago, however, it’s been a while since he did anything else, including shaving or getting his hair cut.
One day his boss, Mr Smith (played by Jonathan Groff, replacing Hugo Weaving) drops a bomb on him: Warner Bros, Smith tells Tom, has decided to make a sequel to the Matrix game trilogy — and they’re going to make it with or without their consent.
“Things have changed. The market’s tough,” Smith explains with a barrage of expositions that double as writer-director Lana Wachowski’s sympathy card, legitimising her decision to finally make this film.
“I know you said the story was over for you, but that’s the thing about stories... they never really end, do they? We’re still telling the same stories we’ve always told, just with different names...faces,” he adds, clearing the recasting decisions of the film.
“I have to say I’m kind of excited,” he exclaims without any excitement. “After all these years, to be going back to where it all started. Back to The Matrix!”
The timbre of Smith’s salesman pitch isn’t convincing — probably because, for the longest time, the Wachowskis (once brothers Andy and Larry, now sisters Lily and Lana) weren’t really buying the prospect of making another Matrix as well.
Lana — one half of the Wachowski duo directing Resurrections — should have stuck to her guns. As the conversation drones on, you realise that the Matrix should’ve never been re-entered.
“I’ve spoken to marketing,” he adds, exemplifying the problem all film and television professionals face; the pressure of adding universal appeal based on statistics.
In the connecting scene, a woman named Gwyn de Vere (Christina Ricci, who seems to be enjoying her cameo as a marketing executive), forces the keywords “fresh” and “original” on to Tom and his team — as if keywords can magically manifest freshness and originality on to products. According to Gwyn, the game, not yet thought through, is already destined to have sequels.
There is no other way to say it. The Matrix Ressurections is a miscalculated, cruel and brutal assault on the senses
Tom works with geeks and nerds who discuss the cultural significance and philosophical connotations of the Matrix games. One of them is solely interested in Matrix’s cool, explosive action and little else. Rather than give his two cents, Tom mostly listens and makes zoned-out faces.
Unhappy and perpetually uneasy with the world around him, Tom takes a blue pill every day to keep his sanity in check, visits his psychiatrist regularly (played by Neil Patrick Harris) and secretly peeks at a married woman named Tiffany (Carrie Anne Moss) who frequents a coffee shop with her kids. When they eventually talk, both feel a familiar spark between their souls.
That sense of familiarity doesn’t stop with these two — the audience feels it too…with regret.
In revisiting one of the many altered scenes from The Matrix (Resurrections repeats key moments from the first film like a bad case of déjà vu), the new Agent Smith — a computer programme named Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who breaks free of his code early in the film — introduces himself to Tom in a men’s room. However, even this new Morpheus dressed in an atrocious orange suit and shooting punchlines knows that his introduction — and his role in the movie — will be seen as a parody that will not evoke laughs.
The film’s tenor is miscalculated and, in her heart, I believe Lana knows this too.
The incessant, annoying replay of scenes from the original Matrix trilogy also confirms the obvious: this is a legit continuation of the original timeline. Alas, the story plays out like fan fiction — a “What If?” movie, written by unskilled, immature amateurs who just got their hands on a cinema camera and the budget to really mess things up.
What we’re seeing is a cruel and brutal assault on the senses.
The framing and composition — right out of routine American TV shows — is crude and clumsy (it wasn’t shot by the trilogy’s maverick cinematographer Bill Pope; in his stead is two-time Oscar winner John Toll and Daniele Massaccesi). The not-so-special visual effects, the uncool Kung Fu action, the bland, contrast-heavy production design and colour grade — unlike the original, there is no distinction in the real-world and the simulated realms’ color-tone — the performances, the screenplay (by Lana, David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon) et al leave a decomposing feel in their wake. One can almost taste the film going sour.
Reeves and the logic of his return after The Matrix: Revolution, are explained away after an hour of dilly-dallying, dialogue-heavy yammering and pathetic action sequences featuring Bugs (as in Bugs Bunny; the new ‘White Rabbit’ played by Jessica Henwick) and her crew who have been searching for Neo since he disappeared decades ago.
In the latter half, when the story pans out but doesn’t go anywhere, Resurrections nosedives into the asphalt, and one wonders: am I watching bad television or a bad video game?
The answer: it’s bad everything — a sorry excuse of a story by a filmmaker who may have channeled her inhibitions, fallibilities, angst and existential issues into an unconvincing, practical joke masquerading as a sequel to a groundbreaking original film series.
At one point, during a fight sequence, a villain who goes by the moniker of Analyst, mentions “Bullet Time”, the slow motion bullet-dodging move by name, praising its pop cultural influence. The whole act feels as if a geek is self-congratulating himself for creating something unique.
The thing is, “Bullet Time” is the visual effect’s name; in the realm of the Matrix, the action move doesn’t have a name. Neo just bends the Matrix’s programming and moves as fast as any Agent.
Here’s another trivia: “Bullet Time” was actually conceptualised in a Smirnoff commercial directed by Michael Gondry two years before the first Matrix. In any case, the reference breaks the reality of the film and adds to the kill count on one’s senses.
So much of Resurrections is off that one loses count of the missteps. The only way to keep your sanity, and the love of Matrix alive, is to either walk out of the cinema or log-off from HBO Max, or if you have bought a copy, delete it, burn the hard drive, and then throw its dead carcass off a cliff.
It’s best to fool oneself into thinking that this ‘Resurrection’ never existed at all. Like the fake simulated world Neo lives in, consider Resurrection a false fantasy, a bad memory, or a stupid dream, that should be forgotten as quickly as possible.
Released by Warner Bros, HBO Max and HKC Entertainment (in Pakistan), The Matrix Resurrections is rated R, for Restricted/Adult audiences.
Word of caution to the wise: this film will likely impel you to cancel your HBO Max service
Published in Dawn, Icon, January 2nd, 2022