American audiences are currently living through an era of Hollywood where original films are becoming harder to come by. Nowadays, it seems like practically every film from a major Hollywood studio is either a sequel or based on a pre-existing piece of intellectual property. Over the past few decades, moviegoers have seen popular franchises brought back from the dead and obscure comic book characters turned into major box office draws.
It’s for those reasons that many fans were skeptical about The Matrix: Resurrections heading into its late 2021 release. The film’s director and co-writer, Lana Wachowski, has always been one of Hollywood’s most original and inventive filmmakers, but that didn’t stop many Matrix fans from feeling apprehensive about whether or not Resurrections would be able to justify its own existence.
Not only does The Matrix: Resurrections succeed at doing just that, but it also manages to be a satisfying blockbuster sequel that offers some interesting and scathing critiques of the very franchise-obsessed Hollywood environment that forced it into existence. Now, the film has begun streaming again on HBO Max, which means those who missed its initial release finally have the chance to see exactly what The Matrix: Resurrections has to offer.
When Resurrections begins, viewers are introduced to a world where Neo (Keanu Reeves) is living as a video game designer named Thomas Anderson. Reeves’ character is best known in his world for creating a successful game franchise called The Matrix, and the film’s first act follows him as he is forced to make the fourth installment in the series. His only source of joy comes from his daily trips to the coffee shop where he often sees Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), the woman who inspired the character of Trinity in Thomas’ popular video game series.
Thomas’ whole concept of reality is ultimately thrown into complete disarray when he crosses paths with Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), two skilled rebels with the power to reveal the truth about Thomas’ life. To say much more about where Resurrections goes from there would be to spoil many of its best surprises. However, the story that it ends up telling is one that both honors and subverts many of the most iconic moments from the first Matrix.
Structurally, the film is the series’ most ambiguous and disorienting installment to date, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling like a worthy follow-up to the movies that came before it. That’s partially due to the fact that both Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss slip so easily back into their roles as Neo and Trinity. It’s easy to forget just how much time they spent away from the characters.
Now, it is worth saying that Resurrections is by no means a perfect film. The movie’s action sequences, in particular, leave a lot to be desired, and there are several creative decisions made throughout it that seem like they work better on paper than in practice.
However, Resurrections not only boasts the same narrative ingenuity as its predecessors, but it also manages to feel significantly more personal than most other blockbusters Hollywood produces nowadays. It’s clear Wachowski poured a lot of herself into The Matrix: Resurrections, and ultimately, the film ends up feeling like both a satisfying sequel to the series’ first three installments and an interesting piece of meta-commentary about the current state of Hollywood.
Indeed, a huge part of The Matrix: Resurrections’ plot involves its characters being stuck in endless loops where they replay moments from the first three Matrix films. In a world where every superhero movie seems to tell the same story and most blockbuster sequels feel like retreads of their predecessors, it’s easy to see the point that Wachowski is trying to make in Resurrections.
The filmmaker’s frustration with Hollywood’s current fixation on sequels and recognizable brands is expressed early on in Resurrections when one of Bugs’ allies asks, “Why use old code to mirror something new?” That’s the question that sits at the center of The Matrix: Resurrections, a film that is less a piece of popcorn entertainment and more a plea for Hollywood to finally work up the nerve to leave behind its greatest hits and reinvest in new voices, characters, and stories.
That may seem like an ironic message for the expensive fourth installment of a massive franchise to send, but what is The Matrix’s enduring success proof of, if not the good that can come when Hollywood actually has the guts to make something new?
The Matrix: Resurrections is available to stream now on HBO Max.