The Matrix Resurrections is the latest entry in the recent spate of flamboyantly self-aware re-treads of classic 80s, 90s (and now, it seems, early 2000s) films. Following in the footsteps of the third Star Wars trilogy, Blade Runner 2049, and Cobra Kai, Resurrections reminds us quite pointedly through the Jonathan Groff’s Agent Smith that stories don’t have permanent endings…there’s always a next chapter. Sometimes, such sequels exist simply and cynically because, in the words of Mel Brooks’ Yogurt from Spaceballs, of “the Quest For More Money,” and Resurrections treats us to some highly amusing fourth-wall breaking where the characters express their own discomfort with re-treading this ground “because Warner Brothers insists” and how the hell are they going to match the originality and ground-breakingness of their predecessor (The Force Awakens was pretty much entirely based around this theme, as I discussed in my review at the time) without just being derivative and flat. But Naobi gives us another take on this: there’s always a next chapter, and that the gains you thought you’d won for good are always in danger of being lost unless a new generation rises to defend them. In this and elsewhere, Resurrections stakes its allegorical ground (and proceeds to hit us over the head with it for the next two hours) for our times in America, as we watch victories once-thought secure (voting rights, abortion rights, you name it) under siege again. Morpheus’ flaw, she tells us, was his faith in the security of old victories…of the sacrifices Neo and Trinity made, in believing that the heroes and saviors of yesteryear could still be relevant and effective today (weirdly, even “the system” is dependent upon resurrecting the old rebels, seeing if they can be neutered and co-opted enough to be of use). Turns out, Neo resurrected can’t fly, and can’t save the day…we need new heroes, particularly women, who use their own voice and find their own power, and the Old White Dude’s mission is to help pave the way for them. Are you feeling the wokeness?
But intentionally or not, the movie also critiques woke-topia. Niobe’s world, Io, is an improvement over Zion in that it sees past binaries and black and whites, that it forms a cosmopolitan world where machines and humans can work in harmony…but its weakness is that it’s a little blue state enclave, a Cambridge or Portland, that thinks that somehow it can just hide and do its own thing, growing organic strawberries, while the mass of humanity remains enslaved. It’s given up on the big mission, and has just decided that most people prefer being enslaved and aren’t worth the effort to try and free from the Matrix. Their self-isolation and snobbery makes them irrelevant at best, and vulnerable at worst.
In that, they seem to share a philosophy with the villain, the Analyst, aka Darth Doogie Houser (I love NPH’s performance here). He’s far less Darth Vader than Steve Bannon, a smarmy wonk who reminds us ad nauseum that people aren’t persuaded by facts but by feelings, that emotional manipulation is the key to enslaving humanity, tantalizing people with desire for more but keeping them just comfortable enough to not want to risk losing what little they have in order to get it. It’s telling that the foot soldiers of oppression this time around aren’t sunglasses-and-suits, but anyone and everyone, swarms of ordinary everyday “sheeple” whom, disturbingly, the heroes seem to have no moral qualms about gunning down en masse. The heroes of this Matrix aren’t fighting the machines that are keeping people enslaved, so much as fighting the people themselves, and the movie’s big failure is that it never seems to adequately ponder, let alone resolve, this core conundrum. At best, we get Old White Male Hero, New White and (still in supporting roles only!) BIPOC Women Heroes, joined by Old Republican Establishment (Smith), teaming up to beat Doogie. Or do they?
At the end, we get Neo and Trinity, “stronger together” (cough cough), who are somehow going to “paint rainbows” (cough cough) and, um, change things, in some nebulous way? In the final scene they kick the shit out of Doogie for laughs, but never do provide an adequate refutation to his arguments. You can forgive a viewer for being left with the dispiriting feeling liberals have had for decades now, a sense that, ok, we can win victories (um, yay Biden?), but where’s the vision for something else? What are we offering that’s any better? Even the stinger at the end of the credits devolves into jokes about cat videos. That’s all we got, folks. “Whoah” indeed.
In that sense, this is the most nihilistic Matrix of the lot. Stories don’t end, sure, so maybe it’s fitting that we get a sort of non-ending, but the utter flatness and forgettability of every character except Neo and Trinity (can you name, or summon any degree of care for, a single member of Bugs’ crew? Or Bugs herself for that matter?) , the over-the-top set pieces that feel stale echoes of the artistry that defined the violent martial arts ballets of the first film, all makes what is otherwise a very wry and intelligent film seem hollow. The red pill, alas, seems about as effective as the COVID vaccine — it ultimately fails to deliver the freedom it promises.
In the end, the most significant and relatable character may be the Merovingian — the former powerbroker and sophisticate, now reduced to a raving vagabond, screaming from the sidelines of a battle about how his world use to have style and grace and artistry and now it’s been ruined by smartphones and Facebook. He may be the character the audience identifies with the most, the lunatic impotently cursing out Mark Zuckerberg, in much the same manner as Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes. Great for Neo and Trinity that they get to zoom off into the sunset, but the rest of us seem to have little recourse, and are offered little in the way of hope, from the epic fantasy movies of today, other than to cry out at each new depressing news headline, “You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”