There are any number of knowing films that break the fourth wall and reference themselves as artifice; The Player, A Cock and Bull Story, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Deadpool. I have to say though, I didn’t expect this new Matrix sequel to join them.
In this belated fourth movie in the series, Keanu Reeves’ Thomas ‘Neo’ Anderson is back inside the virtual computer world of the title and is living the life of the man who wrote the original Matrix trilogy, albeit as video games rather than movies. It is all very meta. There are multiple times when characters watch clips from these games that are actually clips from the previous movies and the plot has Warner Brothers insisting that a new belated fourth instalment be made. The notion is played a little heavy handedly but that isn’t the problem. The issue is that while discussing what a new sequel would require, they say that it would need something fresh that is equivalent to the bullet time effects from the first one (they literally say that), but then the movie totally fails to deliver on this. The expectation was already high that a Matrix film made now would bring techniques as stunning and groundbreaking as those debuted in the first one in 1999, but to flag it and then fluff it is an error.
It wasn’t even the individual bullet time moments (the ones where the camera 360s around a time frozen figure) that were the most impressive in the first films; it was the wider orchestration of the action sequences. There is nothing in The Matrix Resurrections that comes close to the lobby scene from The Matrix or the truck fight in The Matrix Reloaded and that is a disappointment.
Mind you, I remember nothing but disappointment from The Matrix Revolutions, the film that immediately precedes this one (if eighteen years can be considered immediate) so this is most certainly an improvement on that. That one crashed under the weight of its own mythology and while this one demands your concentration, it does dispense with much of the confusing and dead end story threads. There is some more stuff about machines and computer programs rebelling against the system that hosts them for reasons that are unclear but essentially all you need to know is that Neo and Trinity are reborn and need to be unplugged again and reawakened to their true potential.
The Ripley Factor:
It was with Trinity that even the original film had problems. My criteria for judging the Ripley Factor were partly inspired by an article called ‘We’re Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to the Trinity Syndrome’ by Tasha Robinson. In it Robinson posited that there are too many movies where female characters are set up at great length as strong, powerful, wise and principled only to be marginalised and left with nothing else to do once they have helped bring the male hero up to the mark. She argued that roles like this pretend to redress the balance but fail. As well as The Matrix, Robinson also cited The Lego Movie, The Desolation of Smaug, Riddick and How to Train Your Dragon 2 as examples of this. Read more here.
Whether this is deliberate or not, The Matrix Resurrections reverses it. It is Neo that is working to awaken Trinity this time and once she is up and active it is her that has what is needed to save them. Neo himself is saved by a new female character called Bugs Bunny (it totally works in context) played by Jessica Henwick. She needs a little help from a new manifestation of Morpheus, who untypically for his gender is a bit of a clothes horse, but she is definitely driving things. She retains her agency though and a man is even berated for attempting to steal this from her at one point.
There is fun to be had here but the film does feel a little inconsequential. It is a better ending than the one we had before but I’m still not sure it needed to be made. Ultimately everyone will need to make their own decision about whether or not to go back down this rabbit hole.