'The Matrix Resurrections' Is an Exhilarating Return to a Great Series
Mr. Anderson, welcome back. We missed you.
For some of us—a lot of us, as this sort of thing increasingly becomes the norm—the thought of yet another blockbuster franchise harnessing familiar IP to make a guaranteed buck results in more inward groaning than breathless fannish excitement. Take The Matrix, for example, the Wachowski sisters' cyberpunk masterpiece that rolled all of society's anxieties about the growing power of the digital realms into a martial arts action epic with an effortlessly cool late-'90s aesthetic. As fantastic as the 1999 original is, it was both inevitable that there would be sequels and also impossible that they would engender the same sense of wonder. To this point, the first two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, weren't particularly well received by critics or fans, though in the years since they've been redeemed in the eyes of both groups as we all discovered the errors of our ways. But still: returning to the Matrix? After all these years? The Matrix Resurrections is worth the trip.
It's difficult to write about what makes this movie as great as it is without spoiling all the good stuff, but we'll give it a shot: Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a brilliant game designer whose finance-minded partner Smith (a delightfully slimy Jonathan Groff) is pressing him to make a sequel to his seminal game The Matrix, and the pressure is weighing on his mind, causing him to have hallucinations and psychotic breaks. At least, that's what his therapist (Neil Patrick Harris in electric-blue glasses, har har) tells him. But when familiar characters from the world of his game show up, telling him it's all real and that, by the way, that gorgeous lady in the coffee shop he has a crush on (Carrie-Anne Moss) is crucial to his escape, Thomas has to make a choice between accepting the reality he was given and demanding to be shown the truth.
To say that this movie feels simultaneously like returning to a home you've always known and traveling to a place you've never seen before would maybe scratch the surface of what it's like to watch it. Lana Wachowski, directing solo this time around, has turned an already fantastic idea for a sequel into an often hilarious (and sometimes downright pissed-off) meta-commentary on the nature of IP-driven entertainment and on returning to places that once were familiar but have now evolved beyond anything you could have imagined. Warner Bros., the studio with which the Wachowskis have always had a tumultuous relationship, is acidly name-dropped. Chad Stahelski, Keanu Reeves' longtime stunt double and director of the John Wick films, appears as a Neo stand-in. Thomas Anderson's therapist owns a black cat named Deja Vu and routinely prescribes Thomas bottle upon bottle of shiny blue pills.
I can't get into how many other familiar faces return for this movie, or how many familiar characters appear with new faces, or what makes the completely new characters (Jessica Henwick's blue-haired gunslinger Bugs in particular, as well as Yahya Abdul-Mateen II's spin on a classic) such fantastic additions to a world that grows in complexity every time we visit, not unlike a runaway computer program. I also won't get into the ways in which Resurrections further examines the cosmic arm-wrestling match between choice and destiny introduced in the first Matrix, before turning even that on its head in a series of final twists. I won't talk about any of that because this is the sort of movie that begs to be experienced firsthand, as you grin in glee and disbelief at what the heck did they just do? Can they even do that?? Did that really just happen?? This movie finds joy in retreading old ground and picking out threads here and there to weave into new pathways, unexpected twists and turns, and an endless array of surprises—in other words, the Platonic ideal of a franchise sequel. Welcome back, Matrix series. We missed you.
The Matrix Resurrections premieres on HBO Max and opens in select theaters Dec. 22.