In “The Matrix,” from 1999, Keanu Reeves performs Thomas Anderson, who pops a mysterious purple tablet proffered by an equally mysterious stranger and promptly discovers that his so-called life as an alienated nineteen-nineties hacker with a cubicle-farm day job has, actually, been a computer-generated dream, designed—I swear I’m going to get all this into a single sentence—to maintain Anderson from realizing that he’s truly Neo, a kung-fu messiah destined to avoid wasting a post-apocalyptic earth’s final residing people from a race of sentient machines who’ve hunted mankind to near-extinction. Neo spends the remainder of the movie and its two sequels bouncing forwards and backwards between the simulated world, the place he’s a leather-clad superhero more and more unbound by bodily legal guidelines, and the awful actual world, laid to waste by humanity’s lengthy warfare with synthetic intelligence. Like “Star Wars” earlier than it, “The Matrix” was basically recombinant, unprecedented in its joyful derivativeness. Practically each cool visible or narrative factor about it got here from another mythic or pop-cultural supply, from scripture to anime. And, like “Star Wars,” it rapidly grew to become a pop-cultural fable unto itself, and a main supply to be stolen from.
Chances are you’re already conscious of the unique trilogy’s legacy, even if you happen to’ve one way or the other prevented the movies themselves. “The Matrix” can be like “Star Wars” in that we are able to’t keep away from understanding about it, as a result of we now stay in a world that it helped form. The scene within the first movie the place Neo chooses the purple tablet’s impolite awakening over a blue tablet that can return him to obliviousness now appears like a turning level within the historical past of American thought, though “thought” might not be precisely the appropriate phrase. Online pickup artists and different message-board misogynists have been the primary subculture to applicable the notion of the purple tablet; if you happen to described your self as “red-pilled,” it meant you’d accepted the supposed actuality that the unfold of feminism had rendered society anti-male. The idea propagated throughout the Internet, taken up by white supremacists and militant players alike; by the Trump years, being “red-pilled” had come to connote nearly any epiphany resulting in a rightward political tilt on the a part of the pill-taker.
That’s humorous, after all, as a result of from the vantage level of 2021, it’s tough to see “The Matrix” as something however a wild leftist provocation draped in a shiny sci-fi trenchcoat—a movie written and directed by two trans ladies, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, about the way it’s generally essential to kickbox the cops, whether or not on the road or inside one’s personal head. Yet the particular ideological valence of “The Matrix” has stopped nobody, together with folks on the opposite finish of the political spectrum, from utilizing the concept of the purple tablet to imply no matter they need it to imply. It’s simply too rhetorically helpful a idea to depart alone. On May 17, 2020, the entrepreneur Elon Musk, reportedly the world’s richest man, tweeted, “Take the red pill,” in what was interpreted as both a veiled protest of the pandemic-era stay-at-home orders that had shuttered his Tesla manufacturing unit in Fremont, California, or probably a declaration of broader Trumpian sympathies. About an hour later, President Trump’s daughter Ivanka quote-tweeted Musk and added a cheerful reply: “Taken!” And then Lilly Wachowski replied to Trump’s tweet, writing, “Fuck both of you.”
Having possibly stated in 4 phrases all that she felt she wanted to say on this challenge, Lilly didn’t collaborate along with her sibling Lana Wachowski on “The Matrix Resurrections,” a new “Matrix” sequel whose first act is a barely metaphorical rebuke of the many individuals who’ve both willfully or simply obtusely misinterpret and misappropriated the concepts of “The Matrix.” In “Resurrections,” Neo is again to residing the lifetime of Thomas Anderson. He remembers the occasions of the primary three movies, however with assist from a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris, reliably untrustworthy as regular) and a few suspiciously color-coded psych meds, he’s satisfied himself that his life as Neo was a vivid delusion. He’s now wealthy and a little bit well-known as a result of he’s used these reminiscences as inspiration for an award-winning trilogy of video video games, additionally referred to as “Matrix”—and after we first see him onscreen, he’s proper the place Thomas Anderson was at the start of the unique trilogy, zonked in entrance of a bunch of displays, ready for a sea of code to point out him a signal. Neo haunts Thomas the way in which that Tony Soprano’s life haunted Kevin Finnerty. He’s too blue-pilled to comprehend that the man coffee-bar buyer he’s nursing a crush on is actually Carrie-Anne Moss’s Trinity, who’s been equally re-imprisoned within the simulation and believes she’s Tiffany, mom of two, married to a man named Chad. Neo and Trinity’s wrestle to search out and love one another once more, regardless of the most effective efforts of a malevolent hive thoughts, will change into the film’s emotional crux. But making Thomas’ rival a literal Chad turns the film’s romance plot into a riff on the Virgin vs. Chad meme, with Reeves because the pining beta male. To make issues extra meta, his alpha rival, the “Chad” on this equation, is performed by an precise Chad—Chad Stahelski, who was Reeves’s stunt double within the authentic movie and went on to direct him in three “John Wick” movies.
Whether you discover this a part of the film intelligent or immediately exhausting will rely upon how massive a candy tooth you’ve gotten for fourth-wall-breaking gags like that little bit of literal stunt casting. Thomas’s compartmentalized actuality begins to spring leaks after his enterprise associate (Jonathan Groff) informs him that their recreation studio’s dad or mum firm, Warner Bros., has ordered up a “Matrix” sequel. “I thought they couldn’t do that,” Thomas says, however after all they’ll, contractually, and if Thomas isn’t keen to do it, they’ll lower him unfastened and hand the venture over to another person. This a part of the film seems to be based mostly on a true story. The Wachowskis had lengthy opposed the concept of increasing on the unique “Matrix” trilogy, however, in 2017, The Hollywood Reporter quoted sources as saying Warner Bros. was creating a new “Matrix” movie, to be written by “Ready Player One” co-screenwriter Zak Penn. The starting of “Resurrections” is type of a bird-flipping quote-tweet of that information and its implications for the Wachowskis as artists. In a montage of soul-withering growth conferences, Thomas sits by in mute horror as conceited and/or pretentious tech bros spout suspect interpretations of his authentic work (“ ‘Matrix’ means mayhem!”), whereas popping off toy weapons and brainstorming methods to take the unique thought in louder, dumber instructions. “Originality” is now simply one other advertising key phrase, and all of the advertising guys parrot the language of psychic-liberationist mind-fuckery that Timothy Leary bequeathed to the hucksters of Web 1.0: “People want us up in their gray space, switching their synaptic WTF light on!”
Thomas simply listens, wanting like he’s going to be sick. “Resurrections” is, in different phrases, a piece of company I.P. exploitation about how company I.P. exploitation ruins the whole lot cool, a sequel about why sequels suck, a massive “Fuck you” from Lana Wachowski to Warner Bros. that Warner Bros. will get to launch in theatres and on HBO Max simply in time to spice up its fourth-quarter outcomes. Everyone concerned will get to have their digital steak and eat it, too. The indisputable fact that it’s Wachowski meddling along with her personal blockbuster supply code pays off in playfulness; another writer-director given a set of keys to this franchise would undoubtedly have felt obligated to deal with “Matrix” lore extra dutifully in order to dignify the money seize. In this one, when iconic moments from the primary movie are traditionally reënacted, there are new characters watching from the wings, whispering issues, like, “Why use old code to make something new?” and usually appearing as surrogates for us, the viewers who’ve seen all of it earlier than. One of those observers, performed by Jessica Henwick, is called Bugs, “as in Bunny”; this being a Warner Bros. film, you marvel why they didn’t go all the way in which and forged the Animaniacs as a Greek refrain as an alternative. Henwick is certainly one of a number of actors who appear to be they’ll’t fairly consider they’re in a “Matrix” film, together with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, taking part in a reboot of Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus who finds that he actually enjoys the wardrobe and the catchphrases.
Eventually, the story strikes from the world contained in the Matrix—the place they’re badass lucid dreamers, avatars skinned in cool fits and sun shades—to the war-torn future, and Abdul-Mateen will get to come back alongside solely as a man-shaped cloud of C.G.I. nanoparticles, which places a actual damper on his vitality. At this level, this “Matrix” film about how they in all probability shouldn’t have made one other “Matrix” film turns into simply one other “Matrix” film, albeit one which wears its self-awareness like an “ASK ME ABOUT MY SELF-AWARENESS” T-shirt. For what it’s, it’s nonetheless fairly partaking, dropping steam solely when it tries to make topical factors about our red-pilled political local weather. The new iteration of the Matrix converts abnormal folks into swarms of murderous hate-bots to guard its grip on energy; its creator gloats about how straightforward it’s to regulate folks with emotions, fairly than details. “If we don’t know what’s real,” a character says to Neo, “we can’t resist.” None of that is objectionable. But minus a shot of loo graffiti assured to show each dude on Reddit into an knowledgeable on the thematic resonances between this movie and Don DeLillo’s “Americana” (Don-pilled!), it’s served up with out even the modicum of subtlety and egg-hunt thriller that made the unique “Matrix” such a sturdy chew toy for undergrad post-modernists. There’s nothing to unlock in “Resurrections”—it’s a film whose password is “password.” Then once more, if you happen to have been Lana Wachowski and also you’d spent practically twenty years watching the world’s worst folks hijack your concepts, you’d in all probability go for placards over puzzles, too.
What “Resurrections” has to say concerning the exploitative nature of sequels, the tendency of sheeple to go for lives of superficially comfy, algorithm-controlled bondage, or the cyclical nature of life itself is in the end much less attention-grabbing than the way in which it symbolically repositions its male lead. This is a semi-important “Matrix” film that’s in all probability too pinned to its context to resonate into the longer term the way in which the primary one did, nevertheless it feels destined to go down as a essential Keanu Reeves film. I spent the higher a part of 2020 writing a e book about Reeves’s motion pictures, the thesis of which is that the majority of Reeves’s characters are primarily variations of himself, and most of his movies are literally metaphorical dramatizations of the dilemma of being Keanu Reeves, a delicate nineties artist whose profession has been one lengthy push-me-pull-you wrestle with business imperatives, together with the making of sequels. That being the case, “Resurrections” couldn’t really feel extra designed to thrill and unnerve me, particularly, if it had arrived at my doorstep as an unlabelled DVD in an envelope with no return tackle. It speaks to what I consider to be elementary Reevesian themes, mainly Reeves’s reluctance to take part in his personal exploitation, which led him to decide on Dogstar and “Hamlet” over a post-“Speed” action-movie profession that was his to lose and appeared to tempt him little. In its profound (and profoundly early-nineties-ish) ambivalence about whether or not it ought to exist in any respect—and its try and work by that ambivalence onscreen, contained in the story—the earlier Reeves sequel that “Resurrections” most clearly recollects is “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” from 1991, wherein Reeves reprises the position of lovable headbanger Ted Logan and in addition performs his personal evil robotic doppelgänger—a strolling sequel with no soul, constructed to kill Ted and destroy the whole lot he stands for.
Reeves would spend the remainder of that decade attempting to not change into an evil-Ted model of himself. After 1994’s “Speed,” he might have settled into a long term as a barely extra zen Bruce Willis; as an alternative, he ran off to play Prince Hamlet in a 1995 Manitoba Theatre Production of “Hamlet.” By the time the script for the primary “Matrix” got here to him—which occurred solely after a baffled Will Smith turned it down and Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio had completed the identical—he’d spent greater than a few years adrift. The a part of Neo lastly allowed Reeves to sq. his personal hipster-philosopher bent with audiences’ want to see him kick ass. Before taking pictures, the Wachowskis despatched him to martial-arts coaching camp but additionally informed him to learn Baudrillard and books on evolutionary psychology and cybernetics. This, it appeared, was the type of unbelievable half he’d spent years searching for: a pop blockbuster with a hefty syllabus, an intellectually fulfilling tentpole-making expertise.
In the second and third “Matrix” motion pictures, Neo appeared more and more burdened by the position of world savior and Reeves appeared more and more weary of taking part in one. There isn’t any inventive act so thrilling that it received’t begin to really feel like a job if you must do it time and again. The wittiest factor concerning the “John Wick” motion pictures is the way in which they construct their story round Reeves’s disinclination to maintain going again to the properly—they’re all about a hit man, for whom making hits is a soul-killing option to make a residing. And they’re additionally about getting older, one thing Reeves now is aware of a factor or two about.
At one level in “Resurrections,” Neo slips into a film theatre by a jagged gap within the display screen. What’s taking part in on the display screen is supposed within the movie to be footage from Thomas Anderson’s “Matrix” recreation, nevertheless it’s actually footage from the unique “Matrix,” of Reeves’s first assembly with Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus, and all of a sudden, we’re taking a look at Reeves taking a look at his personal easy, younger, apprehensive face circa 1999, a forgotten self projected twenty ft excessive. “Time is always against us, et cetera, et cetera,” Morpheus says, quoting a Fishburne line from the unique that takes on new weight on this context. Time is all the time in opposition to us—all of us. It’s laborious to think about one other main man agreeing to return to certainly one of his most iconic roles in the way in which Reeves does right here, boldly risking comparability together with his youthful self by taking part in a Neo who’s misplaced a step and by no means fairly regains it. The massive struggle scenes are largely about him getting knocked round, and when he makes an attempt the Superman-style up-up-and-away transfer that was as soon as his signature, he can’t fairly clear the sidewalk, and his shirt rides up a little, exposing a few weak inches of normal-guy stomach.