I guess I should make one of these now, huh? Four films is the bare minimum of movies in a franchise that I want in order to make a list. Three films ends up feeling too small for it, and I did the Airport movies, a franchise with four. So, here goes.
For a lot of people, the franchise begins and ends with the first film. They see it as a perfect movie to some degree, beginning and ending a tale in great style that the sequels never match up to. I am not so hot on the first film, finding the narrowed scope of its final act discordant and the love story element unpersuasive, and I get a fair bit from the first two sequels that found a way to expand the story in interesting, if not always emotionally engaging, ways. No, Neo and Trinity is not some grand romance of cinema. It’s barely passable, if that.
Then Resurrections came, and I think I understand what a lot of people have been saying about the sequels for a long time: it was unnecessary. There are neat ideas and Neo and Trinity at their best as a romance, but it’s so bogged down in substandard world-building, expository dialogue at some of its worst, and an awful structure that I just can’t get into it.
Oh well, here’s that list. May the listicle gods be appeased. And do check out my other lists and bathe in the definitiveness of them all.
#4 in my ranking of The Matrix franchise.
That was disappointing but not entirely unexpected. I like the original Matrix trilogy pretty evenly, finding its pretensions thin but the overall entertainment value of the hero’s journey inverted fairly consistent. There was always room for the story to continue in some way, but when Lana Wachowski finally took up the offer to make the sequel, leaving Lilly who didn’t want to be part of visiting their past, Lana did it out of a sense of loss for the pair’s parents who died within a few months of each other. Deep emotion is an interesting place to begin the storytelling process, but it really needs to be molded with great care. The end result feels like a therapy session, filled with memories, deep emotion for the person telling the story that the one listening probably doesn’t share, and all over the place at the same time.
The Wachowskis have been telling the story of The Matrix for a while now, and they haven’t limited themselves to just the films. Beginning with The Animatrix and Enter the Matrix, they’ve pushed the edges of storytelling in the world well beyond the cinematic incarnations, ending with The Matrix Online, an MMORPG that advanced the story well beyond the end of The Matrix Revolutions. I never played it, but I’ve read enough to know of some of the bigger events, and The Matrix Resurrections picks up the story from there. And a lot happened that the audiences need to catch up on, including the fact that Morpheus died and was…reborn as a program. This stuff is getting weird from the beginning. I’m largely okay with weird, but never trust a Wachowski to deliver weird information elegantly or all that interestingly. The opening of the film is the exact kind of mess of ideas that really dominates the film for about its first three-quarters until it becomes a purer action spectacle.
Bugs (Jessica Henwick) is the captain of a ship that’s hacking into a modal, looking for Neo (Keanu Reeves), and they find a recreation of the events that began the first Matrix movie, but things are different. Trinity doesn’t get away, she gets pinned down by several agents and killed. Also, one of the agents is Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who saves Bugs and they have an information dump that’s supposed to get us caught up. And then we get to Neo, who is living in the Matrix as a game developer who had made a trilogy of games called The Matrix, a ploy by the machines to keep Neo controlled without completely wiping him out because he somehow is the source code of the new version of the Matrix that was uploaded over the old version of the Matrix. The lore of this whole thing is a mess, and so little of it ends up feeling necessary.
One of the major things going on early in the film is Lana’s efforts to figure out what a sequel to the original trilogy actually is. So, there is literally a scene where Neo and his game design team sit around and talk about what people actually liked about the first Matrix “game” (i.e. movie). It’s self-referential at a level that feels like an idea in a first draft that would get discarded later. By having to have characters in the movie figure out what a sequel to the originals would be, we’re getting a writer’s room discussion in place of anything like drama, and none of it ends up mattering.
Bugs and Morpheus manage to get Neo out after a failed attempt that turned into an action scene that got wiped out from Neo’s memory by Neo’s Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris). Bugs and Morpheus get Neo into a train in Japan, and the worldbuilding of the new version of the Matrix begins in earnest, and it’s never either all that clear or, really, all that important. The operators being visible at times in the Matrix feels like an idea with no real thought behind it. The use of mirrors as portals instead of phones is neat. The inclusion of bots as enemies is also an interesting idea, but the movie ends up going far overboard with it to the point that you wonder if there are all that many real people in the Matrix.
And then the movie’s plot actually starts. At about the halfway point. This wouldn’t bother me if what had come before had been interesting, but the Wachowskis have never been known for interesting characterization or elegant writing. Getting mired in lore and bad worldbuilding hobbles this film, and the film isn’t even done with it. You see, Zion no longer exists, replaced by Io, a community of humans and machines that came together in the sixty years now being sort of ruled (maybe?) by Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) who is angry at Bugs for going in to get Neo against orders. More than halfway through this movie, we really didn’t need a re-introduction to something like Zion, internal Io politics, and the actual introduction of the central point of the film: Neo and Trinity reuniting.
Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) is alive in the Matrix despite her death at the end of the original trilogy, and, like Neo, she lives thinking that she’s someone else. Neo wants to go back in and rescue her because he loves her, and he somehow convinces all of Io’s ship captains to join him in a mission to help without even saying anything to them. Such is the power of the myth of the One, I suppose. They all meet with Sati (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), the little Indian girl program from Revolutions, who has already developed a plan to rescue Trinity because the Analyst (who is the new version of the Architect) had her father purged. All told in just straight up exposition because Wachowski.
So sets up the action climax finale, complete with philosophical drivel about choice that’s been on repeat since the first film with just enough variation to make it sound sort of interesting. I have to say that I was rather disappointed with the action in this film. It’s not bad, but it ends up feeling pretty consistently flat after the opening sequence where Bugs and Morpheus meet and they use backdoors to go in and out of the action, flipping here and there. After that, it feels rather uninteresting and kind of bland. There’s also a shockingly dearth of it as the movie really gets mired in all of this other stuff.
And yet the point of it all is the reunion of Trinity and Neo. For all the worldbuilding, philosophizing, and lore, the point is this central relationship that was always stilted at best in the previous films, leading to me suppressing giggles at Trinity’s death scene in Revolutions because it’s so earnest and flat at the same time. That it takes so long to actually get to the film feels like the result of an unfocused writing process. And that’s probably what it was. Lana has come out saying very explicitly that the movie was about the death of the Wachowski parents. It comes from a place of pain and sadness, and it seems like there was no other voice in the writing room trying to help mold the disparate ideas into something like a cohesive whole. There’s also this assumption that the romance between Neo and Trinity was anything other than filler in between action beats in the previous films.
No, this movie was not worth any wait. It’s a jumble of ideas and emotions that never come together into a single vision, toying with the ideas of sequels, remakes, and reboots along with a host of other things important to only the most die hard of Matrix fans while treating the whole thing like a therapy session.
Originally published here