Twenty-two years after its debut, The Matrix is a landmark technical achievement in cinema memorable for its mind-bending use of philosophy, but it’s also remembered for its less than acclaimed sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, and for how its “red pill” terminology has been coopted by the biggest diaper babies on the internet.
Now, The Matrix Resurrections is here to reclaim the red pill and reimagine the world of The Matrix in a way that is more than a little reminiscent of The Last Jedi. Like that film, Resurrections seeks to push beyond nostalgia, to repurpose and reuse beloved characters for new intent, at least one goal of which is wrenching those characters away from toxic fans. And also like The Last Jedi, Resurrections is bound to split audiences, though for different reasons.
Jedi tries to push Star Wars beyond its bounds, but Resurrections isn’t about expansion so much as it is reclamation, and what director Lana Wachowski—working for the first time without her sister Lilly—does here is reclaim The Matrix, and the story of Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), in the name of epic romance. The Matrix has always been rooted in a foundation of star-crossed lovers, but here Wachowski, working with co-writers David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon, reimagines them not as star-crossed lovers, but as an epic romance that cannot be sundered no matter how seemingly devastating the losses. Neo, once again living in the matrix as Thomas Anderson, is dissatisfied and over-medicated on blue pills, while Trinity is now a soccer mom called “Tiffany”. They cross paths but rarely exchange direct conversation, and it seems both have been fully absorbed back into the false reality of the matrix with no memory of everything they went through.
Except that Thomas Anderson is now a famous video game designer whose biggest hit is a game called “The Matrix”, which is basically a transcript of the events of the original trilogy. The first act of Resurrections plays with Neo’s warped mind, intercutting clips from the original movies with his “present” life in the matrix as both memories in Neo’s mind, and also projections into the “physical” space of the matrix. Some of these instances are cleverer than others, such as when Neo’s memories of Agent Smith juxtapose on his boss…also named Smith (Jonathan Groff). That creates a dissonance that plays directly into Neo’s addled state, unsure what is real and what is his own mind turning against him.
Trinity, meanwhile, has a couple kids and is married to a man named “Chad”, which is funny on two levels. One, Chad is played by Chad Stahelski, who was Reeves’ stunt double on the original Matrix movies and now directs the John Wick movies. And two, Chad is an obvious reference to internet manbaby slang for a handsome guy. The first half of Resurrections is full of meta-references to digital culture, some of which play nicely, like the Chad reference, whiles others are blunter and everyone’s tolerance for them will vary. Thomas Anderson’s co-worker Jude (Andrew Caldwell), for instance, is an eye-rolling example of internet fan bro gone wrong, but as obnoxious as Jude is, there is a pretty great scene in which a bunch of game devs debate the true meaning of The Matrix. In one scene, Wachowski & Company effectively break down the literal decades of debate surrounding that movie, and how eye-rollingly inane it actually is.
Because what matters is not interpretation, let alone arguing with all and sundry that you have the “right” interpretation, but connection. Neo is nothing without Trinity, and in the real world of a post-Zion settlement called Io, a new generation of freedom fighters seeks to free minds by way of love. Nothing in Resurrections works without love, it’s a radical repossession of a mythology coopted by hate. And whether Resurrections is entirely successful in all of its goals—it’s not, but we’ll probably argue over which pieces work, and which don’t—it is successful in reframing the story of Neo and Trinity as an epic, death-defying love, and not a star-crossed tragedy. Despite the general terribleness of the world, and the specific terribleness The Matrix has been subjected to over the years, The Matrix Resurrections is ultimately more hopeful, not only for Neo and Trinity, but for all of us.
The Matrix Resurrections is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max for the next 30 days.