THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS balances a vibrant cacophony of action with a criminally flabby script that takes far too long to get where it needs to go. It is a triumph of forthright, even giddy, self-awareness and nostalgia as Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) once again enters the Matrix as a neophyte taking us along for the ride.
No mere office drone this time, he is instead the planet’s premiere video game creator whose masterpiece is the The Matrix trilogy. Confronted by his partner (Jonathan Groff) with the disquieting news that Warner Bros. (also the distributor of this very film) wants to create a fourth installment of the popular, and very lucrative, video game, Thomas’ tenuous grip on reality loosens, and not just because he has nothing else to say about the universe he created. Not even the blue pills prescribed by the analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) who has kept Thomas at least functional since his suicide attempt, can keep the video game he created from encroaching on his reality. A situation not helped by the new incarnation of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who pops up in the company bathroom in a ghastly, pale tangerine leisure suit to offer Thomas the now classic choice between that blue pill he’s been taking, and the red one that will set his mind free. N.B. they are now shiny metallic capsules instead of the gel type seen before.
Before Thomas does the inevitable and return to the bleak reality that is Earth outside the Matrix, RESURRECTIONS is a thoroughly entertaining bit of fun. Co-workers as the whimsically monickered Deus Machina debate the larger themes of the Matrix, game (for them) and movie (for us) in a nod to the internet explosion of theories that accompanied the original film, lovingly including the mutually exclusive ideas that were, and are, so passionately espoused by fanboys and girls. It’s a sweet tribute to people willing to put so much thought into it. There is even that throwaway moment as the new Morpheus tugs on his sartorial fail of an ensemble while explaining to Thomas that the ersatz reality they find themselves in is all Thomas’ fault.
Does that first part wherein Thomas cracks/wakes up make perfect sense? No. Nor should it. Mirrors melt, new characters from the Matrix wearing self-consciously cool coiffures drift from San Francisco to Tokyo through doors that shoul lead to the room next door, and physics, well, physics is there to be toyed with and then made sport of with extreme prejudice. Old sets are revived, to make Thomas, and by extension us, more comfortable with this new paradigm, as clips from the first Matrix play across television sets and theater walls. It’s why we are here, after all, to have our minds blown. The new crew isn’t as cool, hairdos notwithstanding, as the originals, but Jessica Henwick as the blue-haired Bugs (as in Bunny) knows how to screw up her face into the right kind of grim determination.
It’s when Thomas gets to the ci-mentioned bleak reality of those who control the Matrix that the film turns dour and painfully self-righteous. Those with meticulous knowledge of the first three films will get more out of the proceedings than those with a mere nodding acquaintance or, heaven forefend, none at all, but all will find themselves hoping that the digressions about strawberries and what’s happened since Thomas, now back to being Neo, last visited. Those tantalizing dialectics about the reality of free will, and of reality as more than merely a convenient construct, will be rewarded. Eventually. But it’s a slog to get there, Meanwhile there is a paean to a particular brand of motorcycle, and Jada Pinkett-Smith doing extreme old age with a puzzling lack of finesse.
Visually, it delivers flawlessly, with the expected CGI that suitably bends reality into the Moebius Strip of illusion called for in a film that questions our assumptions about the trustworthiness of our senses. From the first moments as those columns of cool green symbols drift down the screen, to the new intelligence introduced here in the form of coding that can penetrate reality courtesy of magnetic chips that drift cohesively into a human shape, there is nothing to fault. If there is less imagination involved in the several scenes of swarming SWAT teams threatening Neo and his lady love, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), never mind. It’s part of the ci-mentioned flab. Reeves and Moss together again as the much put-upon post-modern lovers have an incandescent spark that made me hope that the closing credits might include a version of “The Glory of Love”. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Reeves has a palpable vulnerability throughout his journey that emphasizes the humanity at stake as his soul struggles to find a toehold.
THE MATRIX: RESURRECTIONS is such a mixed bag of good intentions and bloated, overwrought narrative that it’s hard to dismiss outright. Flawed it may be, but any film willing to set part of its climactic final battle in a cafe called Simulatte is hard to dismiss outright. Lower your expectations and buckle up.