‘The Matrix Resurrections’ Review: Slipping Through Dreamland (Again)

After she chases the White Rabbit through a very long tunnel, Alice enters a low, dark hall. There are doors in the corridor up and down, but they are all closed. As she walks down the hall, Alice wonders how she will ever get out. You may find yourself asking the same question often while watching the fourth movie in the series, “The Matrix,” as it alternates with its fantasy world.

The series first called out the elusive Lewis Carroll rabbit in the first film, the 1999 genre game-changer that was co-directed by the Wachowski brothers and quickly set audiences on fire. “Follow the White Rabbit” Neo, aka The One (Keanu Reeves, the perfect cinema savior), reads out on your desktop screen, shortly before doing so. The chase continued and at times seemed endless as it endured through two sequels, comics and video games. It also provided a collection of articles, treatises, and scholarly books (“The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of Reality”), and has taken its place as one of the supreme interpretive chew games in contemporary popular culture.

The series resumes in “The Matrix Resurrections,” which propels the course forward even as it turns again to swallow its tail. Once again, Reeves plays Thomas Anderson and Neo, who are in separate but conjoined worlds. Anderson’s world is similar to ours (although directed art without ventilation) but is a software program called the Matrix that is run by artificially intelligent machines. Here, the human figures do their job thinking that they are free. In the cleverly titled series about the Circle of Life, these machines keep human bodies – Anderson included – imprisoned in vats full of life, using energy from these meat dolls to power the Matrix.

Directed only by Lana Wachowski, “Resurrections” announces its intentions after the opening credits, with its streams of cascading code green. Somewhere in the fictitious world, a woman with short hair fights unsmiling men in suits and shades, a setting that mirrors the stunning visualizations in the original film and makes you agonize over the Trinity of Carrie-Anne Moss, Neo’s companion in the arms. Don’t worry, it’s on board too, just wait. Now, though, two others are watching the action with us, including a headset-wearing man (Tobi Onomiri) who analyzes the motion like a sports commentator before Bugs (Jesica Henwick) jumps into a very familiar fight.

What follows plays like a hipster video, curdling a narrative in homage to the Matrix cycle itself with countless bullets and almost as many flashbacks to the younger ones. (You don’t need to revisit what happened earlier in the cycle, the movie does it for you.) Once again, Anderson in Dreamland is writing code, this time for his role as a video game designer working on a project called Duo. Speaking of which: As before, he also has a clear choice to remain ignorant of his existential status or accept his painful truth. He also meets a mysterious character named Agent Smith and Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, whose velvety voice adds shivers of danger).

There have been some significant changes to the cast since the third movie. Sadly, both missed out on Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne, who added much-needed charisma and wit. Instead, silky Jonathan Groff now rambles around the threat, his childhood well-armed for his role as a cunning prankster. A less happy addition is Neil Patrick Harris, who gives an unhelpful one-dimensional performance as an analyst. However, it’s not much different here than some of Reeves’ facial wrinkles and salt-and-pepper hair. The characters are still dressed in fetish clothes or shoddy threads, and they still fight the fight while squabbling and wandering the maze.

Some of this grumbling is amusing simply because The Matrix (and its successors) are examples of so-called mind-game films, a “certain ‘trend’ in contemporary cinema”, as cinematographer Thomas Elsizer described it. Like others of this genre, “The Matrix” plays a visual The reality that both the protagonist and the audience hold, posing questions about the limits of knowledge and addressing doubts about minds and other worlds.What makes mind game films particularly fascinating—and helps explain their cultural appeal—is how they draw spectators into the game, in part by showing the worlds they identify with. Or, as Morpheus once said: “You have felt it all your life, that there is something wrong with the world.”

So, yes, “You have many questions,” a character named Architect Neo . told us “Matrix Reloaded.” No kidding! This movie offered some compelling, or at least puzzling, answers: the world is an illusion, a simulation, an ideological prison, but it’s possible to escape with plenty of guns and adorable kids in black, until Part Two. The first movie offered viewers doors that they – unlike Alice – could open, allowing them to enter more rabbit pits. Once there, one of the more resonant readings, as critic Andrea Long Chu points out, is that The Matrix has been embraced by trans women as a symbol of gender transition. In this respect, the world of fantasies is bisexual.

Whatever the limitations of the allegory, this interpretation is interesting and poignant at the same time. (Lana’s sister Lily Wachowski said “that was the original intention.”) It adds an emotional resonance to “Resurrection,” which gets miles from her longing — and our nostalgia — fueled by an appreciation of Reeves and Moss reuniting. The cast’s dedication and effortless simultaneous performance have always been the greatest special effects of this series, and it is a pleasure to watch them return to their old roles. The movie they’re in is still indebted to the same old guns and poses as the previous movies, the same questionable ideas about what constitutes cool, the same destructive, friendly violence at the box office. But it is still good to dream of escaping with them.

Resurrection Matrix
It is rated R for extreme pistol and other types of violence. Show duration: 2 hours and 28 minutes. In theaters and on HBO Max.

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