Matrix Resurrections review -- a self-aware sequel that knows it can't stand up to the originals

I went in thinking The Matrix Resurrections was nothing but a big nostalgia-bating cash grab, but I didn't expect an introspective discussion on the nature of movie remakes and unasked-for sequels instead.

Whereas the original Matrix trilogy was a metaphysics course disguised as a whiz-bang action movie, Resurrections impressively flips the script and leans into the metatextual instead. In the movie's universe, the Matrix was a successful series of games designed and programmed by one Thomas "Tom" Anderson (Keanu Reeves in an affecting performance, having never missed a step since Revolutions). Tom is like any game dev: aloof, can't exist without coffee, and plagued by psychotic episodes wherein he can't distinguish what's real and what's not.

Sure enough, the Matrix is gonna Matrix, and Tom's inner Neo is redpilled by a host of new characters like badass chick Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and a synthetic Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Together they must solve the riddle of why Neo was resurrected after sacrificing his life to end the war, and what plans the Machines have with him and a resurrected Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, who hasn't aged a day).

Just like when someone updates your favorite game or operating system for some reason ("Everything's different! Why did they change it? I had the old one how I liked it!"), Resurrections brings up these emotions to great effect. The new Agent Smith (Jonathan Groff) is now a suave millennial who won't look out of place at a Starbucks. Morpheus is someone (and something) else entirely. Even the real-world humans in the movie are  genre-savvy and revere Neo's previous adventures like a Trekkie reveres The Original Series.

And that's what makes it so refreshing. The Matrix Resurrections isn't trying to one-up one of the most influential trilogies in cinema history. It explores what going back to a familiar setting years later means to the characters and us, the viewer. Even the movie's Architect analogue aptly named the Analyst (played by Neil Patrick Harris) mocks Neo by using (and namedropping) "bullet time", which the original Matrix movies revolutionized, as if weaponizing nostalgia itself.

But even with all this self-awareness, Resurrections can't escape Hollywood's need for an explosive and CGI-filled final act or inexplicably bringing back characters whose previous endings were very much definite. Smith in particular feels superfluous, useful only as a familiar name for Matrix fans to latch on to and a tease for the all but inevitable sequel. And the fight scenes seem to be influenced by the shaky jump cuts generation, a pale comparison from the clean and crisp kung fu battles that still hold up to this day.

But it's all a matter of "same software, different case", really. The Matrix Resurrections is a fun field trip back to the setting that blew our minds in the early 2000s, even if it feels like its spinning its wheels in place. Fans of the OG Matrix may or may not enjoy this movie, but it all depends on how deep they're plugged into them.

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