Verdict: 10/10 — Masterful!
The Matrix Resurrections is an absolute masterpiece that (nearly) lives up to the impossible standards of the original 1999 film.
This review is spoiler-free (for the most part) but assumes that you’ve seen the first 3 installments of the franchise.
I was very excited to learn of a new installment in the Matrix franchise, but also a bit nervous. I got more nervous when the reviews started rolling in. IGN gave the movie a 3/10 and tore it to shreds, and a friend of mine who managed to see it before release (somehow) said it was one of the worst movies he’d ever seen in his life.
Let me just rip on IGN for a minute: I think IGN’s review was pretty sad, and maybe they just didn’t get it because it was coming from an organization that seems to think that rehashing DnD for the 4,000,000th time is a great thing as they eagerly anticipate the release of “The Sword of Greybeard Dragonface VII – The Thunder Orb of Darkness” as if the title alone demonstrated any depth of creativity.
The Matrix Resurrections a.k.a “The Matrix 4” is a deep, meaningful, artful, entertaining, and masterful film. It is easily the best Matrix movie since the 1999 original.
Let’s talk about The Matrix 1 thru 3 first
You can’t review “The Matrix 4” without first talking a bit about movies 1 thru 3. The first movie was world-class…. legendary…. and emulated for decades following by nearly every movie maker in the business. The original movie, The Matrix (1999), is easily my favorite movie of all time. It is the movie I have watched more times than any other. It is the movie that reflected me back onto myself as if I were watching myself in a fantastical fantasy mirror. As a software engineer, growing up with a keyboard in front of me, socially isolated, misfit, dysmorphic… I always knew what it felt like to live in a world in which I didn’t belong. There was always something wrong with this world. I was never made for it. I don’t belong here and never did. I don’t belong in this body. I don’t belong among these people. Those feelings of not belonging are the emotional core of the original 1999 movie, The Matrix, and the fantastical excitement of the movie stems, not (just) from the revolutionary action scenes that hooked the general audiences, but from how Neo learns of his true identity and the true nature of the reality of the world… that the world is a “prison for your mind”. Neo uses the skills of his mind as a computer hacker, to hack into the matrix, and rewrite the rules, in essence making himself into a superhero while everyone else goes to work their 9 to 5 jobs content with mediocrity, pacified by the simulation. The original Matrix is a computer hacker’s cyberpunk dream… to be able to remake the world and find a place where you belong.
Although the original Matrix was legendary, the 2nd and 3rd installments nearly killed the whole franchise for me and a lot of people.
The 2nd and 3rd installments brought in heavier philosophical concepts… existential questions about the meaning of life, logic, time, choice, and destiny, mixed in with biblical undertones. But problems in the later films, in my opinion, are that they were overly focused on the idea that “The Matrix” had to be a proving ground for newer, fancier, digital effects and kung-fu styling…. in effect it had to be more of the same, just bigger.
I believe that the focus on action and effects negatively affected the story-telling, and dramatic styling… and that the big philosophical points the movies were trying to make were essentially glossed over and crammed into rambling dialogue from the Merovingian, Oracle, Architect, and others.
Despite the focus on new technology and special effects, you could tell that they struggled to fully achieve all they hoped to achieve. They tossed in a ton of new technology…. all at the same the time, yet even in its most iconic scenes fell flat in my opinion. In the famous “freeway chase”, the team literally built an entire freeway for the movie set… expensive… yet despite all the grandious feats of technology, new tech, and expense, the illusions of those effects often broke down. I was very much not excited by Zion’s mech battles, the viral Agent Smith battles (which looked like bad, cartoonish video game fight scenes), nor the weird albino twins (like what am I watching, Ghostbusters?)
Meanwhile, the story and styling suffered. There was the bad sex scene stuffed into the beginning of the 2nd movie, signaling immediately that the 2nd film was going to be a piece of crap… (like who puts a sex scene in the first 10 minutes of a film?) Bad acting, bad characters, bad styling. I didn’t like the character “Bane” or many of the other side characters. The mere existence of parts 2 and 3 made me not excited to watch the original for many years. The Wachowski’s proved that they were perfectly capable of butchering their own ideas in a horrible way. Needless to say, I went into watching “The Matrix 4” with low, low, expectations. Would Lana Wachowski butcher their 4th installment?
The Matrix Resurrections – The 4th installment
The Matrix Resurrections is an absolute masterpiece in my opinion that knocked my expectations out of the park. It is a mature story, a mind-bending story, about love and choice and the illusion of both, and despite some reviewers complaining it lacks “action”… I felt it had plenty of it. It had me in tears through nearly half of it as I reflected upon how my own life had changed in the 22 years since the original and how society seemed to have lost big pieces of itself, while also gaining other newer sensitivities. Social commentary is peppered throughout the film, sometimes directly, sometimes sideways… like when “The Analyst” is getting beat up by Trinity and looks to Neo and says “Can’t you control her!?”
Despite some reviewers thinking it is tacky, I love how it recursively references itself. After all, as it is revealed in the Matrix 2 and 3, the Matrix is a simulation that runs in a loop, and Neo and Trinity have been reincarnated many many times in the past as the AI attempts to “balance” the equation. The Architect was the program trying to balance the equation, whereas the Oracle’s purpose was to unbalance it. In this installment, there is a new program, “The Analyst” who is trying to maximize efficiency in the matrix.
Keanu Reeves (Neo), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Morpheus), and Neil Patrick Harris (The Analyst), give absolutely stellar performances.
Johnathan Groff plays a new incarnation of Agent Smith, with fresh new depth and new dimension. Things have changed in the real and virtual world since Neo and Trinity’s sacrifices have brokered new understandings between humans and machines. Agent Smith has more autonomy and is no longer just a one-dimensional program with the sole purpose to kill Neo and destroy humanity. In fact, there are factions among the programs and even machines now, with some programs capable of manifesting themselves in the real world, becoming allies of, and assisting the humans in real life.
If I had one criticism of the movie, it isn’t that the action scenes are poorly choreographed, but maybe that the cinematography was, at times, too tight… the angles wrong. The original Matrix movie took stylized cinematography very seriously, evident not just in the fight scenes, but in every aspect of every scene. Take for example possibly the most iconic screen-grab of the original where Neo is offered the choice of a red pill or blue pill seen reflected through Morpheus’s sunglasses. True cinematographic genius.
I’ll be watching this movie again, and I’m sure there’s plenty of genius cinematography in it, but I think some of that didn’t make it into the fight scenes. Thankfully the fight scenes are far more exciting than anything we saw in the fake-looking 2nd and 3rd installments and the genius of the action scenes comes from how they play with your heart rather than how many particles are flying around the screen. Yet… there’s plenty of particles and explosions and impossible leaps, enough to make it a fun experience to watch… I particularly like the aesthetics of how Neo uses force fields to smash cars. But Wachowski really proves that she can find a new dimension in the action scenes, by toying with the hearts of viewers in the middle of it all. Without spoiling, there’s a great scene where Neo struggles in bullet-time to catch a flying bullet that is both aesthetically and emotionally masterful while we get the simultaneous pleasure of one of Neil Patrick Harris’s most powerful performances.
In conclusion. If you really were a fan of the original movie, The Matrix, for the right reasons, you’ll absolutely not be disappointed in The Matrix Resurrections. I give it a 10 out of 10 and will be watching it repeatedly on HBO Max.
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