Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS
Rated R, 2 hours and 28 minutes
Directed by: Lana Wachowski
Visionary filmmaker Lana Wachowski rebuilds a long-dormant series, reinvigorating its aesthetic flourish and searing subtext with THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS. The sequel, centered on a chosen one and his continuous quest that causes him to wrestle with the guiding forces of free will and other philosophical principles, is a terrific, awe-inducing, meta mind-bender completely in line with the franchise’s legacy. Finding an innovative way to frame the new story augments the sharp, compelling commentary, delivering a hugely entertaining spectacle and a smart statement on the nature of sequels.
The Neo that we know is no longer Neo in our re-introduction to this world. He’s back to being Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), though this time around he’s an award-winning video game designer with vague memories of the events that transpired in the trilogy. But lately he’s been having disturbing psychological breaks, causing him to be unsure if what he experienced prior was in fact real or just manufactured fodder. With the help of his overly-invested psychoanalyst (Neil Patrick Harris), he’s learned to contain these traumatic episodes. That is until Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) appear, urging him to wake up and realize he’s also being manipulated by his business partner (Jonathan Groff) and has gotten himself stuck in the Matrix. And, in order to re-set their universe, they must find and re-awaken Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who’s been masquerading as a badass bike-building mom named Tiffany in Thomas’ world.
Wachowski and screenwriters David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon take great craft and care with their narrative’s high-concept framework. This pathway into a new adventure is intellectually stimulating as well as thrilling. They gift the protagonists and antagonists with ample internal and external stakes to grapple with and overcome. They also exercise restraint in their use of callbacks to the first film, using them just enough for new, unfamiliar audiences to get acquainted.
Though totally in line with RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS, there is still a lot of exposition audiences must wade through, particularly in the second act when the film loses some of its tight cohesion. The third act, which transforms the proceedings into a standard rescue mission, struggles slightly to bring some of its more heady elements to their natural conclusion. Character motivations get a wee bit murky and confusing. We’re not going to understand all of its deeper implications on first viewing. Additional revisits to this universe are always beneficial.
Big action set pieces meaningfully engage with character parallels and connections. Wachowski and her team of collaborators thread subtle, nuanced nods to the original trilogy through fight choreography, visual effects, production design and cinematography, all while expanding upon their own unique picture’s craftsmanship. This stylish precision of fan servicing showcases a mature evolution. Cloaking the familiar in the unfamiliar, as they capably demonstrate, is an advancement that should be applauded. Comparisons will assuredly abound, but it’s great to see this new film establish a visual fluency all its own amidst the wafts of nostalgia.
That said, some of this ingenious creative intent is occasionally hobbled in its composition, whether in the editing when it cuts away too quickly too often, or in the framing with medium and close-up shots doing a disservice to the stunt team’s hard work. However, this aspect serves as an interesting reflection on Yuen Woo-ping’s collaborative efforts on the original film and 87Eleven’s pioneering contributions to the franchise (THE MATRIX being the film that birthed Reeves’ relationship with talented stunt performer Chad Stahelski, who would go on to found another forward-thinking franchise in JOHN WICK).
Similar to the other sequels, this beautifully leans on Neo and Trinity’s eternal love story. The yearning infused into the narrative is heartrending. Reeves and Moss’ chemistry, once again, burns. Mateen has large shoes to fill with the absence of Laurence Fishburne, whose role in the original is indelibly iconic, but he does so nimbly. In his capable hands, it’s less mimicry and more originality in crafty design. Groff’s shady character’s unflinching, chilly detachment is remarkably sexy. His aloofness works well in his interplay with Reeves’ character’s Zen resolve. Harris does a complete tightrope walk, mastering his character’s emotional juxtaposition of safe and slippery. Yet it’s Jessica Henwick who threatens to run away with the entire show. She is a revelation, imbuing her character with warmth, strength and assured intelligence.
Despite any weaknesses, THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS turns in the series’ best sequel. It’s satisfyingly layered filmmaking that pays homage to its predecessors and is an intriguing jump-start to a new journey – one that everyone should take.
THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS opens in theaters and is available to stream on HBOMax on December 22.