½*/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras A-
starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Neil Patrick Harris
screenplay by Lana Wachowski & David Mitchell & Aleksandar Hemon
directed by Lana Wachowski
by Walter Chaw I guess I wouldn't mind that The Matrix: Resurrections (hereafter Matrix 4) is so stupid if it didn't spend so much of its bloat trying to explain itself. Just let it go. If you're riding with the same plot as Space Jam: A New Legacy, own it--run with it, for fuck's sake. Exposition is always a delicate if necessary evil, but here it's particularly undignified. It's Glen from Raising Arizona explaining his Polack jokes. The plot of Matrix 4 is essentially that conversation with the guy who's way too stoned who has this great idea for a Matrix sequel. "Okay, okay, see, Neo is--haha--NEO is Mr. Anderson again and--haha, check it--he's like this programmer dude, real boring piece of shit, and he made a game back in 1999 called 'The Matrix', and yo, yo, yo, wait, wait... What if Trinity was The One, too?" You've heard of the concept of "raising all boats"? Well, an hour of deadening exposition devoted to explaining a plot this contrived, this smug and half-cocked, this simultaneously convoluted and simplistic, sinks the boat--sinks all fucking boats. Good poker players have confidence and chill; not only does Lana Wachowski have a real bad tell, she gives speeches about what she's holding. "Hi, I'm Lana, creator of The Matrix, and I'm drawing on an inside straight." Small wonder Lilly refused to participate in this boondoggle, leaving Lana to recruit their Cloud Atlas partner-in-crime David Mitchell as one of her co-writers. That either of these people kept their names on this is evidence of an almost majestic, feline confidence.
I wasn't kidding about the plot. Neo (Keanu Reeves) is back to being Mr. Anderson. This time, he's a game designer famous for a trilogy of video games that are, the film reveals, just the first three films in this series. How those films were video games is beyond me, unless this is Wachowski's idea of hilarious self-deprecation addressing the criticism that she and her sister's Matrix trilogy was just a bunch of video game cutscenes. I don't remember this criticism of the films, precisely--the original, with its green filter and "bullet time" manipulations, essentially changed the way we expect science-fiction/action pictures to look. Its influence is manifold and indisputable. I do remember how the sequels were criticized for being gasbags heavy with ponderous ideas, though I like that they damn the torpedoes, and I think time has revealed a comely madness to the Wachowskis' tale of messianic transmutation. These are some of the biggest movies ever made, and there is about them a sense of the personal that is affecting to the point of touching. Neo, an archetypal Chosen One-cum-omnipotent superbeing by the end, begins as a nebbish in search of an identity, trapped in a featureless existence he hates. Although the first film plays as a For Dummies guide to Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation and Cartesian philosophy whose most compelling images are cribbed from Oshii's Ghost in the Shell, its sense of our collective, mechanized dehumanization and its hope that we might be, for all our despair, special, lingers on.
While The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions may have muddied the waters considerably, they still manage to run on the overheated love story between Neo and woman warrior Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who gives her life for his painful emergence into his true self. The third spoke on this wheel is dour Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who initiates Neo into the truth: that an artificial intelligence is keeping humans plugged into a virtual reality, so the world as we know it is a simulation. In the original The Matrix, there is talk of how the machine intelligence created a simulation where everyone got what they wanted all the time, but people, like the gambler in that "Twilight Zone" episode who thought he was in Heaven but was actually in Hell, hated getting everything they want. Hence: the mess we're in. What the AI is hiding from us is that our bodies are being used as meat batteries suspended in amnionic sacs from birth to death--which is, in the final analysis, not a bad description of Capitalism. I wondered if Matrix 4 would be about a world governed by a beneficent God (Neo), and if the AI's warnings were correct that happy people, happily-provided-for, would be incredibly, unhappily discontent. Nope! The new manager of the Matrix is The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris), and he gives the same speech Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) gave in the previous films. And while we're on the subject of Agent Smith, he's now played by Jonathan Groff, who is more alien and affected as King George III in Hamilton than he is as a pitiless machine avatar in Matrix 4. Which is an incredible shame, because Weaving's outer-space performance was a huge part of those films' effectiveness as weirdo cult items of interest. Fear not: there are a lot of flashbacks to the first three movies to spice up the interminable monologuing.
Morpheus is recast as well in Matrix 4 with Candyman flavour-of-the-moment Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and the switch is similarly disastrous--this time less for performance reasons than for a script that has him vacillating between self-aware jokester "recycling the old hits" when he says Fishburne's lines in Fishburne's cadence, CGI construct comprising thousands of tiny robots in the "real" world, and Django Unchained dandy dressing himself for the first time. The script jumps around like this, indicating that it knows what it is, making a joke at its own expense, plodding along awkwardly like a newborn fawn with a bad habit of talking in uninterrupted five-minute chunks. The new F/X "innovation" for Matrix 4 is "bullet time." I know you're thinking to yourself, "The old man's gone around the bend at last, he already mentioned bullet time!" But now it refers to The Analyst putting Neo in slow-motion so The Analyst can blather on in peace. That's right: there are scenes in this film where Doogie Howser says words as Keanu Reeves does Marcel Marceau "frozen and walking against the wind." Does this sound ridiculous? Trust your instincts. Neo, once he's reminded that he's Neo, must "find his mojo" again for a new generation of cyberpunk ruffians led by sprightly Bugs (Jessica Henwick), who confirms that she's named after "Bugs Bunny" and later asks, "What's up, doc?" when inquiring as to Neo's status. Though I admire a lot of things about Lana Wachowski, I guess her sense of humour isn't one of them. None of the new outlaws are well-developed, but they sure do get a lot of words to drop. Imagine that the words in this movie are like corn chowder and that with mouths full of them, these poor people let their jaws go slack and plot plot plot dribbles out as viscous, yellow drool.
Basically, Neo wants to find and "wake" the woman he's been stalking (Trinity), and suggests they meet at a coffee shop called "SIMULATTE." He's a sadsack legendary game developer; she's a soccer mom who builds motorcycles in a Flashdance warehouse with metal grinders and shit. She asks Neo if he based "Trinity" in his "game" on her, and it's almost as stupid as how Neo, in his Spongebob Squarepants "Not Normal" incarnation of regular person, is working on a game called "BINARY" for his bosses, "Warner Brothers." It seems "Warner Brothers" (sheesh, what a stupid science-fiction name, how'd they even come up with that?) doesn't like "BINARY" and so encourages Mr. Anderson to reprise his "Matrix" franchise even though there will be accusations (like from Mr. Anderson's sister Lilly Wachowski, maybe) of pandering to nostalgia. No, seriously, I'm paraphrasing dialogue from the "brainstorming montage" sequence in which Mr. Anderson's "bro" buddy, Chet--or Chazz, or Drew, I don't know (Andrew Lewis Caldwell plays him)--challenges his team of hipster tech scumbags to "dig into what made The Matrix great." Lots of guff about how it's not all action, how it's a mindfuck and whatnot. This is a film written by children. Dull children. It stinks of desperation, and its inspiration is obviously, "I'm going to do what I want." Any single other human being on the planet pitching this story to a room full of producers wouldn't even get past "Neo is working on a game called Binary, but he hates it," because it's obvious and pathetic. Likewise obvious and pathetic? Having Trinity declare how she hates the name "Tiffany" and is willing to abandon her kids to go on a poorly- choreographed and -filmed motorcycle chase where Neo uses the Force and The Analyst possesses ordinary people and forces them to jump off buildings at them. Okay, that last part's kinda cool, I'll give you that. If the rest of Matrix 4 were as nihilistic as a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film, I'd be all in.
Here's the truly disappointing thing about this terrible movie: the action sequences are all shot in extreme close-up and more or less unintelligible. It's like how John Badham wanted to shoot all of Saturday Night Fever's dancing in close-up and reduce it to montage whereas Travolta wanted to do it in medium and wide shots so you could, like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly (and Jackie Chan) preferred, fully appreciate the dancers and choreography: Here, Badham wins that argument. The action in The Matrix trilogy is landmark. That highway chase in the second film? Still amazing. Compare that to how there are three or four separate instances in Matrix 4 where Neo puts up his hands to stop a barrage of bullets. It's boring. So, so boring. Early on, Morpheus gets all dizzy and the screen goes blurry and the camera starts slip-sliding around and it looks exactly like my attempts to shoot video of my dogs with my cell phone. The "bullet time" effect that slows Neo down? Dreadful. For the latest entry in a series that revolutionized the American blockbuster--largely by pilfering stuff Hong Kong action cinema had been doing for decades, often under the guidance of those films' fight choreographer, Yuen Wo-Ping--to come up this short is frankly shocking. It's this sense of absolute arrogance in every facet of the production: a script that would suffer no notes; a final product that proves no woman is an island. I think what troubles me most about this picture is the same thing that troubles me about much of the Wachowskis' post-Matrix output: its unjustifiable optimism. There's a forced "happily ever after" to Matrix 4, a Pollyannaish declaration, made bluntly, that our new gods will right everything again that is at odds with not only the dirge-like pacing and gloom of the film, but also the first movie's wise and compelling notion that we maybe don't like when things are too easy--just as I think there's a repugnant disingenuousness to promising a second chance when all evidence points to the contrary. There's such a thing as toxic positivity, and The Matrix Resurrections, out of nowhere, saves its closing line to deliver a mortal dose of it. Originally published: December 21, 2021.
THE 4K UHD DISC
Warner brings The Matrix Resurrections to 4K UHD disc in a brilliant 2.39:1, 2160p transfer with Dolby Vision/HDR10 encoding, sourced from a 4K DI. The film is an aesthetic departure from the original trilogy, not just in dispensing with the green tint for the Matrix--er, modal?--scenes but also in embracing natural light (see below), and in 4K this translates to a vibrant image that gleams like chrome. Sunshine and specular highlights are delectably intense and the nighttime neon sizzles, though there appears to be a conscious effort to curb the dynamic range once the action shifts to I0, providing some of that same visual disparity that distinguished Oz from Kansas in the previous movies. Of course, this is a more digital-looking production than any of its predecessors, but it's cinematic in motion, and the hyper-gloss is, if anything, part of the story. Meanwhile, the wider colour gamut brings more depth to the coppery flesh tones of the 1080p version and adds a candy-coating to the city's sights that's not inappropriate. In short: eye-popping. For what it's worth, the clips from The Matrix and its sequels that we see in Resurrections look awful--certainly compared to how they do on their own 4K discs; not sure what's up with that. Almost as electric as the picture, the Dolby Atmos track (7.1 TrueHD core) features some of the most crystal-clear gunfire I've heard in a while, and those human bombs make a gratifying, explode-y plop that inundates us from all corners, like a truly hellish version of Magnolia's rain of frogs. If the mix lacks a bit of the impact to which fans of The Matrix are accustomed, blame it on the smaller scale of the production as opposed to anything technical.
All of the extras are on the Blu-ray. Although there's a lot of déjà vu as they start stacking up (perhaps glitches in the Matrix?), these are reasonably good making-of featurettes, particularly for something produced in-house in 2022. Kicking things off is "No One Can Be Told What the Matrix Is" (9 mins.), a low-cal, cutesy-poo attempt to summarize the original Matrix trilogy using soundbites from The Matrix Resurrections cast members, who are asked to summarize the original Matrix trilogy. Impressively, it feels longer than the first three movies combined. As it's doubtful that anyone purchasing a physical copy of this movie needs a recap, I recommend starting with "Resurrecting the Matrix" (31 mins.), in which Lana Wachowski appears on camera for the first time in any Matrix-related ephemera to discuss, quite openly, her private reasons for--and the therapeutic value of--returning to this world. (She was largely motivated by grief over the death of her parents.) A great deal of screentime is given over to the development of the screenplay. Co-writer Aleksandar Hemon says that early on he and co-writers Wachowski and David Mitchell agreed not to be overprotective of their individual contributions so as not to sow the seeds of disharmony. It's an interesting digression for the fact that content producers often treat scripts as if they grow on trees and ignore that whole agonizing part of the process. Later, Lana talks about how being in the closet as a trans person on earlier Matrix instalments is a big reason they show such rigid formal control, and how she no longer fears the uncertainty that comes with shooting in sunlight or without a shot list. It occurs to me that analyzing art from an auteurist perspective sometimes has the benefit of humanizing it, and that form follows not only function but the psychology of the creator, too.
"The San Fran Jump" (8 mins.) zeroes in on Resurrections' money shot: Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss taking a running leap for real off the roof of a skyscraper in downtown San Francisco. There were wires involved, natch, but that didn't put the studio or the insurance companies at ease. Moss offers a tidy summary of her and Reeves's complementary styles, saying that in order to do the stunt, Keanu needed to trust the equipment, whereas she needed to trust the people involved. "Neo x Trinity: Return to the Matrix" (8 mins.) is at its best honouring its central conceit of Reeves and Moss sitting face-to-face in a white room reminiscing about the past. As edited, Reeves listens far more than he speaks, allowing Moss to reveal insights into how she brought Trinity to life. It's pleasant, like those how-we-met interstitials from When Harry Met Sally.... "Allies + Adversaries: The Matrix Remixed" (8 mins.) is a roll call of new and returning cast members/characters that unfortunately offers no rationale for the absence of Hugo Weaving or Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix Resurrections--which, like the missing Wachowski (Lilly), becomes something of an elephant in the room. Apropos of nothing, I am in love with Bugs, who must be the most charming window-washer that ever lived. "Matrix 4 Life" (6 mins.) is the cast and crew being incredulous that there's a fourth Matrix movie and they got to be in it. And "I Still Know Kung Fu" (5 mins.) salutes the return of kung fu, Matrix-style. When new Morpheus Yahya Abdul-Mateen II said Reeves won his respect, I had to wonder what that's worth, considering Reeves has been doing this shit since Mateen was in kindergarten. I like the bit that shows Reeves and new Agent Smith Jonathan Goff so wrapped up in their fight scene that they keep throwing punches and kicks well after "cut" is called.
The remaining bonus features have been swept into a catch-all called "The Matrix Reactions." Comprising nine chapters--"Echo Opening," "Deus Machine," "Welcome to I0," "Morpheus vs. Neo," "Exiles Fight," "Neo vs. Smith," "Bullet Time Redux," "The San Fran Chase," "The San Fran Jump"--that run 49 minutes collectively, it contains a lot of crossover with the previous supplements and frankly left me feeling bloated. We learn that Lana Wachowski didn't refer back to The Matrix before recreating its opening scene, that costume designer Lindsay Pugh styled the Merivongian to be literal "techno-trash" (evidently without realizing she just made him Robin Williams in the first part of Jumanji), and that the meta runs so thick that Trinity and Neo escape on a bike Keanu Reeves's motorcycle company Arch built. I enjoyed Lana's head-spinning koans--"I0 is an evolution of Zion that is also a reduction of Zion," "The again is never again"--and the bit about the multi-camera rig used to shoot the new bullet time, which seems like an innovation that has not quite yet found its purpose. It's moving, too, when Lana is gifted with a RED Komodo camera in custom red-and-yellow casing to match her signature hairstyle. But I am definitely Matrixed the fuck out. The discs come with a digital copy of the film as well as slipcover art that differs from the standalone Blu-ray.
148 minutes; R; UHD: 2.39:1 (2160p/MPEG-H), Dolby Vision|HDR10, BD: 2.39:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); UHD: English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD core), English DVS 5.1, French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1, German Dolby Atmos, Italian Dolby Atmos, BD: English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD core), English DD 5.1, English DVS 5.1, French Canadian DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1, Portuguese DD 5.1, Hungarian DD 5.1, Polish DD 5.1, Hindi DD 5.1, Tamil DD 5.1, Telugu DD 5.1; UHD: English SDH, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, BD: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Korean subtitles; BD-100 + BD-50; Region-free; Warner