In 1999, The Matrix was released, pulling audiences deep into a rabbit hole of questioned existence and disturbingly powerful artificial intelligence. Though its sequels, released back-to-back four years later, were tepidly received, the concept still set the standard for a generation of science fiction and action, with its premise reworked in a number of projects and its awe-inspiring stunts and battle scenes copied and parodied in countless ways. The value of revisiting the original idea two decades later is a question mark, but there is definitely much that has impacted popular culture that is partially unpacked and, at the very least, showcased in The Matrix Resurrections.
Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a computer programmer made famous for creating a game called The Matrix. He sometimes believes that the world he invented is real and that he is its hero Neo, though he works closely with an analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) to keep his medication steady and his thoughts focused. But when Bugs (Jessica Henwick), a resistance fighter, unites with a new version of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), they set out to pull the veil off Neo’s eyes once again. As he begins to open his mind to the possibility that he isn’t crazy, Neo’s concern for saving humanity is overridden by his love for one person: Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who remains trapped within the Matrix with no knowledge of her true identity.
There are so many famous moments from the original film, and this sequel showcases plenty of them, both in flashbacks and actual projections of those scenes shown to Neo to remind him of what he has been forced to forget. It’s a helpful device to ground viewers back in a world they may not have visited for years, and also to introduce new actors, like Jonathan Groff, who take over the reins from their predecessors who have not returned, in this case Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith. Abdul-Mateen in particular has fun with it, trying to mimic Laurence Fishburne’s dramatic line readings as he embraces his destiny as Morpheus.
It’s possible to read the original trilogy as a straight sci-fi story and also as a metaphor for the way that people accept the things they’re told and would rather be tranquil than aware of what is actually real. Numerous other interpretations exist, including the trilogy’s co-director Lilly Wachowski’s expressed vision that it is a metaphor for being trans, but this film opts for a direct continuation of the straightforward narrative, switching things up only in that some machines have now joined forces with humans to help free more minds. But there is also an overt effort to parody the multitude of theories out there and work that into the plot, having game programmers speculate on the meanings of the Matrix and even cite “parent company Warner Bros” and the standards it has for the newest iteration.
There is a great deal of talent to be found in front of the camera here, with only a few besides Reeves and Moss returning from the original films. Henwick and Abdul-Mateen are excellent imports from other genre projects – Iron Fist and Watchmen, respectively – who fit this universe naturally, and Harris and Groff are superb as well. There are several actors from the cast of Sense8, the Netflix series director Lana Wachowski worked on that has a lot in common stylistically with this new film. Even if future installments are not produced, it’s refreshing to see a new generation of stars who could easily anchor what might come next.
To that original question of whether this film needed to be made, the answer is what tends to be most common with any remake, reboot, or sequel. It is fun to be reminded of the groundbreaking nature of the first film and the incredible discourse it has produced. This film, which runs nearly two and a half hours, takes its time getting back into its signature world, and some might have appreciated a quicker immersion back into the action while others would have preferred to spend longer debating its theology. Its mix of mind-bending concepts and physically impossible action still works well enough, and it’s definitely something worth diving back into even if there’s nothing all that new or conclusive to be found.
The Matrix Resurrections will be released in theaters and on HBO Max on Wednesday, December 22nd.