Since even the earliest stages of cinema, “meta” has had the capacity to either drive referential storytelling into modernization as we know and love it or straight into the dirt to be mocked at for failing to persuasively speak on its flaws. Godard and The French New Wave reckoned the first option with either borderline or straightforward fourth-wall breaking of criticisms aimed at Hollywood cinema and the country’s power over them, but then American re-edits of Ishirō Honda’s King Kong vs. Godzilla made that very decade fancied for the second option by being on-the-nose to blanket statement magnitudes. Charlie Kaufman fulfilled the first option with his earlier films such as Being John Malkovich (1999) or Adaptation (2002) by incorporating real-life celebrity and moviemaking culture into poignant satire, but Adam McKay otherwise faulted under the second option literally just this year with his painfully unfunny, forced, and overt take on modern media socialization and political leadership cultures for which we all indulge in, a giant “no s**t” sprawled into two and a half hours of far-fetched allegories. Matrix Resurrections, the fourth entry in an originally closely released three-part franchise made so late and so coincidentally in a time of blockbuster nostalgia craze you can’t help but assume it’s only coming from a studio out for more money on their shelved property, however, is that rare self-aware piece of which falls under both options, but not completely by choice.
Lana Wachowski is likely the mind to congratulate for the unusual dodging of what could’ve been just a straight-reading retread. One of the director / writers of the original 1999 phenomena and its two follow-ups, who still continues to put in the effort of progressing sci-fi with her popular series Sense8 (2015-2018) and its related acclaimed specials, seems to have been suspiciously thrown back into the completed space of a trilogy that may have largely defined her career, but never seemed in need of continuing after the two sequels failed to please majority audiences nearly to the degree of its predecessor. A second shot at working on something that the sisters had, however, always seemed more proud of than their reactors almost seems artificially derived in a way, as if the demanding circle of going back to the beginning is only pushed to her work schedule in service of not having it butchered to deeper levels by not as universally beloved or marketable corporate authors that could never be as intimately close to this universe than its own creators.
So in a sense, Resurrections feels like the inevitable being half-guided by the one who was pressured to dip back in, and the themes of the entire Matrix lore just so happen to fit perfectly into the nature of the real life entertainment spectrum being misguided by wealthy forces, deceitful lies that act to care, and reassuring idealisms that brought her there in the first place. What could’ve easily been a project made of pure hate from having to decide between two ultimatums (add something to it you can at least live with or let it burn and choose to never look back) is rather one birthed from rebellious liberation, and only partially to the worrying extent you may have where meta can become that obnoxiously in-your-face commentary that it has before. Lana’s initiation to steer the product shell rather uniquely becomes that rare positive, existing only because of the obsessively greedy machinery of studio remakes and sequels. In all irony though, her fresh take will surely ignite a mass of profit for the company it’s jabbing at, but lucratively that isn’t just who Resurrections has it out for: it’s looking at everybody in its audience, meaning all who have given into believing that they can acquire some of that psychological euphoria from remembering this otherworldly place from another time and refusing to seek out what hides behind the surface of their modern, recycled-leading reality by purchasing a ticket for a high and mighty organization or selling their time to its presence on an HBO Max home-screen. As you may have figured out, it seems honorable to the spirit that made the first Matrix such an iconic delight: that initiative to tell viewers to wake up and be more aware of your surroundings and how you choose to perceive them or let them control you.
The way Lana accomplishes this long anticipated miracle is by presenting none other than the polar opposite of the fans through our lead protagonist; no, not Neo, or at least that’s what he says; it’s Thomas once again. As you may have guessed, he’s in denial, taking blue pills on the daily, but fascinatingly in denial of the nostalgia that has paved his entertainment career as well as his depression of having it warned-out into surface-level pleasures, which is insightfully reflective of Lana herself. Memory becomes rather a curse and not a safe-space for constant validation; it can be like a drug-inducing hit of reformation of formula like it was in recently Jon Watt’s Spider-Man: No Way Home or it could be a discouraging cinematic slam in the eyes revelation as it was in about anything made post-80s by the self-referential king himself Wes Craven. The meta is in the fact that we are wanting this reformation to happen, and the commentary builds off this with the idea that this immaturity can go both directions: allowing yourself to be drawn to nostalgia can be compared as equals to neglecting the bodily desire of why we’re comfortable drawing to begin with, because they both require ignorance. One invites us to freeze by recalling while the other invites us to progress by forgetting, and yet they both seem to look past the fact that they have the high-chance vulnerability of resulting in deleterious repetition. The cool thing about Matrix Resurrections is that it submits to both, forcing the audience to suffer from the duality in this mirror reflection of our clashing desires when it comes to blockbuster entertainment.
As the famous saying goes, to forget about war or any tragedy would be like asking for it to happen again. If we are to pretend that we are not capable of considering sin again, how are we to ever remember it as a sin? Doesn’t nostalgia of us combating it not remind us of the good that can cure? Well, yes and no. It can remind us of what good has been, but haunting over it can never tell us what else can be good too, and art in general has always submitted to this philosophical dilemma. Right now in Resurrections, it’s a firm allegory for the state of how we treat the modern franchise blockbusters we frequently see this century: we can either allow ourselves to hang onto the good we created from before, or find some method of learning what else is lurking there. We could also allow ourselves to forget the good we created to do this in the first place, but then risk just recreating the formula once more as a hindsight to the limitation of human creativity without the clear knowledge of history, just like Thomas finds himself doing when he has to venture into a familiarly structured Matrix-like mission again that he has, however, ambitiously and stubbornly made to be blocked out of his memory, blinding his ride’s guidance initially as if it was his very first hero’s journey rodeo, just as we are capable of doing to ourselves with the manner in which we choose to consume stories.
Where the fourth installment tilts to the other side of being that only somewhat successful “meta” piece is not only whenever it chooses to be on-the-nose to lackluster and even lazy extents, but in how it essentially drops the ball in its intentionally written abysmal second half that warps you through suffering for another allegory. The Matrix sequels have always not commercially worked from an absence of clean implication of enticing philosophical or social concepts into the actual construction of spectacle, and while Resurrection certainly does it better than the other two because almost every gimmick in it is there for a thematic reason, many of the gimmicks are purposely there to make the film unenjoyable. The first half of the movie is genuinely lighting in the bottle, starting off with new yet familiar characters looking through a literal peephole into a disorienting version of the the original Matrix’s opening with its unsettling action that will define the film from there on forward due to how it uses the same off-the-wall choreography we love from the original but rather shot like any generic shaky-cam spectacle to suck the life out of what was innovation, and editing so jumpy to put us into the disoriented and overwhelming nature of Thomas forcing himself to be okay with his reality. Nostalgia-bait is also not as disguised as it was in, again, something such as Spider-Man: No Way Home, and is instead fed as plainly as possible to you with untampered scenes of the original Matrix being cut into Resurrections to shame audiences from wanting such desperate reminiscence. It’s an overwhelming amount of information, but in the best possible way for a demanding experience.
Then comes the second half though, where the movie begins morphing into its true nature of being an uninspired direct sequel to Revolutions (2003) which Lana, however, seems to continue to assure us she’s not in complete control of. There are literally moments in this part of Resurrections where she uses the reveals of the main villain as a route to speak on how her studio is currently finding ways in this story to do any means necessary to have Neo and Trinity alive yet parted so that audiences can wallow in the slight hope of an idealistic continuation they wanted for something already left settled. In essence, the second half is basically 70 minutes of the conventional sequel that Lana can barely save by assuring audiences that she is against it, and will have to make the most out of it. Modern Hollywood-like conventions happen left and right with characters once again literally telling the audiences that they are indeed that. The off-putting and ugly action sequences come in and out more than ever before with characters also there to mention how uninspired this non-stop spectacle is compared to the predecessors that provoked more thought and conversation that Lana possibly thinks has progressively deteriorated in the modern age of the remake and obligatory sequel. Really, the wit began to fizzle here for me when it becomes that unavoidable epilogue to Revolutions, and all Lana can do is scream on the sidelines at us from time to time that this is just f**king stupid and pathetic of Warner Bros. to be doing, solely to grant audiences the tip of genericism. But hey! At least she can jeopardize their vision and critical success by doing so!
Conclusively, here’s the kicker: I will probably remember moments such as that great scene in the first half where Thomas and “Tiffany” have a cup of coffee together, discussing deja vu as a force of something you can’t remember that influences your perception of reality, and the social pressure of not challenging what it makes you want to believe and let go of; their bond then becomes the film’s likely metaphor for Lana’s real-life gender transitioning from there on forward, and the dominating pulse of 21st century media and industry reveals itself to be its antagonist segregating personal expression from mainstream cinema. But then that second half, for all its intent of purposely throwing us off and making us hate the movie to further exclaim this by almost immediately turning into the schlock we feared, ruined Resurrections for me successfully. Like some twisted yet slick pseudo-intellectual scheme, it showed me that sequels can be gripping if they provoke original and compelling statements, but can also be exhausting if they choose to overload conventional formulas of a reboot. And, yet, it is, like I said before, in spirit of what made the Wachowskis a force to be reckoned with when they released the original: by waking us up from our flimsy expectations of what a blockbuster should be. The Matrix has always been an allegory for numbing our minds from the truth, and in this fourth installment, it’s literally one of numbing our minds with studio rehashes and follow-ups. It forces itself to be intelligent by constantly calling out our inescapable desire for remaking passion that can and has to a degree become the passionless, and in this clusterstorm of sustained qualitative fluctuation it captures something unignorable. Personally, I hate it and love it for those reasons, but admirably, I think that was the point of the entire experience, and I can’t help but give at least Lana a thumbs up for being able to make some sort of distinct impact on us again, even if it’ll never be as massive or entertaining as the one that spread when the 1999 phenomena hit theaters.
As a final note, I’m mostly just happy with the fact that titling a sequel with “Resurrections”, which usually leads to a super garbage outturn in a franchise, has finally come to an end. Took decades, but Hollywood alas did it.
“The Matrix Resurrection” is now playing in theaters and available to stream on HBO Max.