Let’s play some word association with The Matrix. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Leather jackets? Mr Anderson? Kung fu? Scrawling green code? Philosophical pondering? Lots of guns? Bullet time? Orgasm cakes?
What about…never-before-seen-mind-blowing-innovative action?
It’s not hyperbolic to state that the original Matrix, quite literally, transformed the action industry. It flipped the script. It hacked the Hollywood mainframe. Whatever cringy/on-the-nose metaphor you want to insert here, it wouldn’t be enough to describe the impact and legacy of the Matrix on popular culture and cinema itself. Laurence Fishburne (OG Morpheus) is quoted as saying that, “it was the first film to deliver on what comic books always promised“. A fusion of noir, cyberpunk fiction, tech thriller, anime, computer games, and yes, comic books, the Matrix is seminal action cinema and a quintessential redefinition of science fiction as well. Without the visionary and prescient work of the Wachowskis, we simply wouldn’t have Max Payne, Wanted, Inception, Zac Snyder, or most of modern action cinema.
I mean can you imagine a world without the Underworld cinematic universe? Or on a far more serious note, what if Chad Stahelski never flew to Sydney and doubled up as Neo for the fight scenes? We may never have known the glorious neon-lit, stylised violence of the John Wick series.
Imagine my disappointment then, when I reach the forty-five-minute mark of the latest entry in the Matrix saga and discover that the filmmaking team have a serious problem. They’ve forgotten their genre.
It’s an action film without action. Sure people hit and shoot other people (sometimes in bullet-time slow motion), but it is as blandly choreographed, as it is poorly shot and edited. Bill Pope’s widely shot, gorgeously framed cinematography and Yuen Woo-ping’s stunning and transcendent fight choreography are nowhere to be found. The ugly tight framing and shaky Bourne-esque camerawork undercut whatever sloppy choreography existed in the first place. It’s intentionally mediocre and the film’s incessant need to show clips from the previous three films, only further highlights the oddness of this choice.
It’s clear watching Resurrections that this sequel is completely disinterested in adding to, or upping the ante to the action genre the previous films helped reinvigorate. Instead, Lana Wachowski offers a slower, more reflective, science fiction think-piece that alludes far too much to what it once was, with only a modicum of something new to offer (although I did love the name of the coffee shop).
Mr. Thomas Anderson (haggard, lost), who we definitely saw die (complete with crucifix chest-bursting light), is back in “reality”. He is a highly accomplished and celebrated games designer and we learn the original Matrix movies were actually hugely popular, genre-defining video games, developed by none other than, Warner Bros. Wink.
The Brothers of Warner now want to make Matrix 4 (another wink) and we ride shotgun as they go full self-referential and meta on their famous IP, detailing all the reasons why fans loved the originals. The opening thirty minutes isn’t without merit, and this dissection of the cyclic nature of trends in popular culture is intercut with some intrigue surrounding Thomas’ current state of “being”. We’re being fed the lines, that everything we’ve seen before were video games, but Old Neo isn’t quite sure, and his reflections in the mirror are starting to echo this feeling of bewilderment and mistrust in the notion of reality.
However, once that red pill is chosen and the cards are sloppily revealled on the table, there just isn’t much left to justify this story’s existence. Outside of a few small narrative reveals and resolutions from Revolutions, the film prefers to triple down on much of the pseudo-intellectual posturing the franchise is known (and at times riddiculed) for, and focuses solely on reuniting Neo and Trinity. As a middle-aged love story, it’s OK, with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss providing enough warmth and cool, to make this particular pill easier to swallow.
There is some discourse floating around the interweb, that this new Matrix is an anti-blockbuster/anti-sequel aggressively positioning itself against what has come before it. A meta-commentary that loathes the Hollywood process and the very conditions that granted The Matrix its rightful place in cinematic history. And this may be Lana and writer David Mitchell’s intentions. Perhaps they do loathe the thousand or so copycats that aped the original’s style and cinematic techniques. But by intentionally downgrading many of the core filmmaking elements to scald the production company, especially if this is supposed to either bring closure to the original story, and/or launch a new series of films, feels misguided and unnecessarily cynical.
If your intention is to excoriate the Hollywood machine and lament the industry’s lack of originality, then why create a film that screams of Matrix fan fiction and looks like every other B-grade action emulator and imitator out there that is more than likely buried on a dozen or so streaming platforms.