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It feels apparent in hindsight to watch The Matrix (1999-2003) series of films and see an allegory for the experiences of trans people. Alas, news of these unearthed themes only came to light some time after the release of the ground-breaking original, with the reveal highlighting how ahead of the time The Wachowski sisters, Lana and Lilly, were in their subversive application of science fiction.
Now eighteen years after their last endeavour, Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) return to the Matrix in The Matrix Resurrections, taking down the evil sentient robots who hold civilization in digital captivity (known as The Matrix) in what culminates to be a forward-thinking sci-fi drama that favours conceptualization over stunts.
Like Neo to bullets, this review will bend over backwards to avoid spoilers. It is a film of bold ambition that brings a new vision to the franchise, as though Lana Wachowski, who returns as director and writer (sharing the latter credits with David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) and Aleksandar Hemon) were upgrading from PC to Mac. In the film, the escaped prisoners of the Matrix unite to detach humanity from the menacing software which uses humanities liveness as batteries for survival. The grunge vibe of the original series now has a new sheen, with the effects team creating a vibrantly coloured world that places the film smack-bang into the now.
The many criticisms regarding the previous film’s indulgence in theology are not present in Resurrections, though that is not to say the film doesn’t fall guilty to exhaustive bouts of exposition and repetitive self-reflection, particularly during the scenes in which the characters are no longer connected to the Matrix. It is a shame given how vigorous the time is within the digital wonderland, with Resurrections, in particular, ought to be commended for its impressive first act; an unexpectedly self-aware commentary about the nature of the Hollywood machine. In a year where the IP crossover likes of Space Jam: A New Legacy and Free Guy have hit the cinemas, smashing together differing worlds as though kids were playing with their toys, Wachowski reclaims her universe.
This theme of ownership further extends into concepts of gender identity, self-determination and existentialism. Admittedly, this reviewer is only scratching the surface concerning the themes addressed in Resurrections, with the franchise always being a hotbed for contemporary issues (whether you noticed it or not). It is fabulous to see a contemplative filmmaker like Wachowski be unrestrained in her delivery of subtext, with the visionary director doing so with great panache and the subtlety of a pair of tinted cat-eyed sunglasses.
New additions to the cast, including blue-haired freedom fighter Bugs (Jessica Henwick, a standout) and Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, same shades, fresh interpretation), add welcomed dimension, delivering likeable turns that add new blood to the series. (The same can also be said about Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris’ turns, though it is best to go in cold on their characters.) Reeves and Moss remain a winning combination, bringing winning chemistry and dazzle.
Action scenes, unfortunately, float when they should soar, with the film’s attempts to place a buffer on the audience’s expectations of matching the previous bendy ante not being as subversive as it thinks. That said, the film’s use of martial arts remains so captivating to watch, with the camera drawing in and out of close-ups to add a fevered energy. It should also be noted that scenes involving big brawls that take place in bathrooms, a recurring motif, take on a heightened meaning given their significance within the film’s trans context.
The Matrix Resurrections is a film that recognises the internalised conflict of the queer community. It questions existence itself while also demolishing the misogynistic systems that oppress. With Wachowski, The Matrix remains a ground-breaking and challenging piece of filmmaking that questions its own existence.
Director: Lana Wachowski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick
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