Biggles said he wanted to walk out of the cinema after about quarter of an hour when he went to see The Matrix Resurrections. That’s the only snippet of critique I was exposed to, apart from an offhand comment from Corridor Digital‘s Nico in one of their YouTube videos, before seeing the movie last night on my TV. Now I’ve seen it and knowing Biggles, I can see why he would say that.
After an eighteen year gap since the pretty dire Revolutions , Resurrections continues to take the potentially awesome franchise in a downward trajectory. To be fair, I thought the second film Reloaded which closely preceded the third was actually okay – it wasn’t a show-stealing sequel like The Empire Strikes Back but it was an okay sequel to the 1999 original. And that original film? Well…
The Matrix was a stone-cold gold-plated classic which will thankfully survive any possible tarnish Warner Brothers might carelessly cause it by their seemingly shameless attempts at a cash grab. The original film remains in my ever-shifting Top 10 favourite films – something I’ve never written down because there will always be movement as new movies appear (e.g. I am happy to include Blade Runner 2049) and old ones slip out of favour (e.g. I’m not sure Highlander would make it in anymore). So it’s fair to say that I was ready to be angry and disappointed by what I saw as an unnecessary sequel which for brevity I will refer to as M4 in the rest of this post. And I will concede that I have a habit of really moaning about a film on the first view and then mellowing out after the initial knee-jerk has happened (like I did with The Force Awakens and Dune).
By the way there will be major spoilers in the rest of this post. You have been warned.
You might say well at least Lana Wachowski was at the helm as director, but then look at the Wachowski’s projects since M1, M2 and M3. With the obvious exception of V for Vendetta and Speed Racer, it’s generally been quite floppy, with Jupiter Ascending and the TV show Sense8 managing to turn some good ideas into disappointing viewing. There are glimpses of brilliance in everything they do, but these glimpses are becoming rarer and rarer.
To my mind The Matrix stories were held together by a trinity (excuse the pun) of characters – Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). Take one out of the equation and it falls down. In fact you could also argue that the binary system of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and Neo was the backbone of the story, but I think that’s more applicable to the two original sequels which really explored Smith’s character and relationship with Neo far more than the first film.
So, without Fishburne and Weaving, can this really be a Matrix film to satisfy die-hard fans like me? Would I have rather they recast everyone or write another story altogether based on different characters? Well after seeing what they came up with, maybe… It’s a tricky one because it was great to see Reeves and Moss back in their roles and for the story to be centred around their enduring love for each other which transcends the reality they’ve been inserted back into after being resurrected by the machines. Maybe if the reboot master Denis Villeneuve had been given the project and brought along cinematographer Greig Fraser then we’d have another film for my Top 10. But instead we get M4 without any charisma and without any truly unique ideas or breath taking action sequences that made M1 so brilliant.
First of all hats off to the story writers because it’s actually pretty good in that respect with a middle-aged Thomas Anderson working at a games company having created the award-winning Matrix game trilogy which bears an uncanny resemblance to the film trilogy. He struggles to tell reality and the fictional world of his game apart, and sees a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) and takes blue pills to keep him sane. The owner of the games company (Jonathan Groff) wants them to make a sequel to the game and this allows the writers (including David Mitchell who previously helped out the Wachowskis on the messy movie adaptation of his novel The Cloud Atlas) to throw in lots of meta references in an attempt to Teflon-coat the movie from criticism, in much the same way that Kevin Smith made the whole thing about doing an unwanted sequel a joke in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. The guys at Honest Trailers compare this to the makers using bullet time to dodge criticism – a brilliant metaphor. Actually the first half hour where they are establishing Anderson’s new role in the matrix and setting up all the questions that need answering is actually really good. Bizarrely it’s when the action kicks in that the movie starts going off the rails.
The heavy use of clips and references to dialogue from the original films is supposed to provide connective tissue to the trilogy but served the unintended purpose of making me think ‘I really want to watch those films again, they were great, not like this slop’. The biggest difference is the action. There is nothing eye-widening or jaw-droppingly cool about it.
The fight sequences are montages of almost disconnected clips much like those seen in Taken or Bourne. It feels like no shot is longer than a second and it’s a total waste of Reeves’ and Moss’s talents as trained martial artists. In fact Moss’s character Tiffany, the married woman Anderson sees everyday in the local coffee shop, doesn’t come out as Trinity until perhaps two hours into the film. It’s a diabolical waste. Even the dojo fight that Neo has with the new Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) – this time a sentient program / renegade agent with none of Fisburn’s charisma – carries none of the wide-angled choreographed artistry of the original. It’s almost like a metaphor for the whole movie which so heavily references the original but is a badly constructed imitation.
Are there any other good points? I’m picking over crumbs to be honest. There are some nice looking shots which emote the neo noir atmosphere of the original – silhouettes in the dark city streets with beads of rain reflecting the neon signs. But then it devolves into a stupid zombie film with hardly any kung fu, and why oh why did they think Neo saying “I still know kung fu” was a good idea. If he had to say it, then surely he should’ve said it in an earlier dojo scene when he first uses it, or am I perhaps mixing karate up with kung fu?
It was great to see Daredevil‘s Jessica Henwick, who I really rated in that show, with a big role as Bugs, but again I thought her fighting skills were not really granted a particularly clear spotlight. Jada Pinkett Smith returns as a much aged Niobe (since the story is set some 60 years after Neo’s original war with the machines) looking like a character from The Cloud Atlas, Sense8‘s Max Riemelt, Eréndira Ibarra and Brian J. Smith appear among the rebels, Sense8‘s Freeman Agyman and Speed Racer‘s Christina Ricci have blink and you’ll miss it bit parts inside the matrix, and Lambert Wilson returns as a sorry-looking tramp version of The Merovingian.
These latter three seem wasted in the film and indeed the return of M2 and M3’s The Merovingian seems pretty pointless and rather laughable given the crew of misfits he turns up with who look like extras from a musical who’ve stumbled onto the wrong sound stage at Warner Bros, perhaps along with Jonathan Groff (King George in Disney’s Hamilton). There’s probably a whole bunch of other cameos (e.g. the director of John Wick is Tiffany’s husband) but I was too busy worrying about where the film was heading to pay too much attention. When we get to the meat of rescuing Trinity from her pod there seems to be a bit of borrowing from the Rogue One character Jyn Erso for Sati’s story and motivations, and the escape from the prying eyes of the squiddies seems overly easy.
But there’s some cool VFX though right? Well hmmm… I guess there are but they’re so buried in the run of the mill ‘seen it all before’ sameness of the other effects that it’s hard to pick any particular one out. I guess when the dojo lake house explodes from Neo’s awesome power it’s pretty cool (but I’d already seen it on the trailer), or when the helicopter explodes that’s nicely done (also in the trailer), but nothing is really that powerful to etch itself into my memory – not like the door flying off into the camera after the bags of bombs explode in the elevator shaft, or the bullet time fight in the metro station, or neo bullet dodging for the first time, or going through the mirror, in M1. Nothing of particular note in terms of VFX in M4 happens for the first time. And there is some VFX jank that has been picked over by the Corridor Crew and which even put back in to the context of the whole film look dodgy – when the analyst exploits bullet time for his own purposes to freeze Anderson and during the fight on the bullet train to Tokyo.
And I missed Smith. The real Smith. Not Groff’s imposter’s attempt at being menacing. And the cute looking machines helping the humans, give me a break… Anyway here’s the bloody trailer… I’m done…