Sunday, December 26, 2021

Movie Review: The Matrix Resurrections

In March of 1999, I was just wrapping up my first year at college. I went to a school that didn't have majors, but for all intents and purposes I was studying philosophy. I was also a huge fan of genre, including science-fiction. With all that background, you'd probably assume I loved The Matrix. Well... no, not really.

I saw it at a packed midnight showing, and when the movie ended, I remember thinking, "That's it?" I'd thought the action was good (though it didn't leave me in awe, the way it did so many in my generation). And I thought the characters were fine and all, but the underlying ideas kind of struck me as simplistic. Fair or not, the basic story boils down to a rehash of Plato's Cave Allegory, an idea that struck me as an interesting place to start, but a bit cliché for a central twist.

Basically, The Matrix wasn't weird or imaginative enough for me. It was a solid adventure flick, but - at least as far as my brain could discern - not much more. I honestly couldn't understand at the time why it was considered as groundbreaking as it was.

I'll admit I was a bit snobbish. And if I could go back in time and inform myself that the philosophy 101 stuff wasn't everything going on, I'd do so.

The point is, I never really loved The Matrix, and I thought less of the sequels. The second and third movies actually checked off the boxes I wanted in terms of philosophical depth and a more developed world, but the pacing just didn't work for me. My opinion of those was always that they were really good as a philosophy dissertation and really bad as movies.

In short, I never loved any movie in this series.

Until now.

Resurrections, the fourth installment in the series, is a delight. I know it's divisive as hell, and it's easy to see why (more on that in a moment), but it finally gives me what I've always wanted out of the series: real, honest-to-god weirdness delivered in an intelligent manner.

I feel like I should drop a spoiler warning here. I'm not exactly going to go into the plot of this thing, but I think any discussion about the experience of seeing Resurrections is going to require some details and aspects that aren't apparent from the marketing. There's a real chance you'll be better off learning about these things before watching, though I'm really glad I went in blind.

Last chance if anyone wants to jump ship, pay for a month of HBO Max, and watch it now.

All right then. Let's discuss this batshit crazy ode to joy and love. Because, first and foremost, that's what it is. The original was a sort of dark, modern folktale that ended on an ambiguously hopeful note. The sequels went even darker, trying to show that sacrifice was necessary to enact change. This one...

It's a fairytale. When I say that word, I don't mean it in a dark sense, either. This is literally, unapologetically, completely a fairytale set in the world of the Matrix. It's closer to Jupiter Ascending than to the other Matrix films.

It looks back on the original films honestly, celebrating what made them meaningful to many, while at the same time critiquing elements that inadvertently empowered hate groups. It also rejects the cynicism that lay at the heart of the originals, choosing instead to embrace hope, love, and forgiveness.

To appreciate the degree to which Lana Wachowski has transformed the franchise, I think it helps to look at the number of named characters killed over the course of the movie. I don't mean characters who died between Revolutions and Resurrections (of which there are several) but the number who actually die in this installment.

The number is zero. No one dies. Not one major character - or minor one, for that matter - is killed (unless I'm forgetting something). Some almost die, but the importance of protecting each other is given a higher priority this time around. Meanwhile, vengeance isn't. This is a rejection of grim, bleak storytelling.

This movie has a sense of humor and a love for the bizarre. The fourth wall becomes a running joke, and the movie delights in playing with the audience's relationship and understanding of the franchise. I'm sure some viewers will interpret all this as a joke at the expense of the franchise. And, to be fair, it kind of is - the movie doesn't take itself all that seriously. This is, at its core, a self-referential film exploring the very nature of returning to a franchise decades later. It essentially shrugs off concerns of fan service by refusing to be anything but. Only in this case, the fan being catered to is the co-creator of the franchise.

This is the story Lana wants to tell for the sheer joy of telling it. These are her toys, and she's going to play with them the way she wants to. And it's a genuine pleasure to watch her having so much fun.

The movie is far from perfect, of course. The second act drags a bit, and there really weren't any action beats delivering iconic, awesome moments like we got in the original (though the movie kind of addresses that by poking fun at the assumption there should be).

But those are minor complaints. I had a lot of fun watching this, and - as long as you set aside any expectation this will or even should try and recreate the feel or flavor of the original - I think you might, as well.

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