Keanu Reeves still knows Kung Fu in "The Matrix Resurrections." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- In 1999, The Matrix was a cautionary tale about the potential of our emerging technologies. In 2021, our relationship with technology is much more complicated. Therefore, so is The Matrix Resurrections.
Some new rebels, Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and Seq (Toby Unwumere) hack into the matrix and witness a version of the opening scene from the original movie, but a little off. That raises provocative questions about what the matrix is up to replaying old scenes. Then we meet Neo (Keanu Reeves), once again living as Thomas Anderson.
This time, Anderson is a successful video game creator. His biggest hit is a trilogy of games called The Matrix, inspired by the events of the first three films. Neo thinks his memories of the matrix were a psychotic break, so when corporate interests ask him to design a fourth matrix game, it reopens questions of his reality.
Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) is now a mother of two he sees in the coffee shop, but do they actually know each other from before? Does he even want to go back to being Neo, the freedom fighter who freed humanity from the matrix?
The Matrix Resurrections is more than science-fiction. Now, it is a meta commentary on what a fourth Matrix movie even means, and that is its strongest asset. The original film asked if you would even notice if you were living in a computer simulation. Co-writer and director Lana Wachowski is past that now.
The question now becomes: Why is the matrix feeding us sequels and reboots? It's not even a metaphor. It's just a literal extrapolation of corporate interests mining intellectual property for consumers. And, The Matrix Resurrections isn't saying it's all bad. There can be beauty and growth through revisiting IP, but be careful. Not all of it is benevolent.
This is such a mind-blowing take on The Matrix because the previous trilogy was a call to arms to reject the prison of "the system." Now it's clear there is a symbiotic relationship between the system and the masses. It's even more complicated than the binary of red pill or blue pill. You can't just choose to be free or go back to the matrix. You have to find a way to be your authentic self within the complicated system. What a provocative mind-bender that is.
The exposition gets a lot heavier when The Matrix Resurrections starts to fill in the history of what has happened since the conclusion of The Matrix Revolutions. It's clunky, but fans will be interested to know the mythology Wachowski and co-writers David Mitchell and Aleksander Hemon created.
The only truly egregious exposition comes when villains start to monologue all through the third act. But, at this point that has become a feature of The Matrix movies so fans might not expect any less.
The Matrix also revolutionized action in movies by bringing Hong Kong martial arts to Hollywood, even training Reeves, Moss and their co-stars to perform the fights themselves. For a series so defined by revolutionizing on screen action, action feels like an afterthought in Resurrections. Perhaps that's Wachowski way of devolutionizing it.
Yuen Woo-ping did not return to do the choreography. John Wick fight coordinator Jonathan Eusebio doesn't try to recreate Yuen's style, nor John Wick's elaborate battles. The action is much messier in Matrix Resurrections. There are so many bodies in each fight, it loses the sense of a singular goal. Even in the Matrix sequels, Neo's fight against the Agent Smith clones, the stairwell fight and freeway chase had all multiple parties driving towards a singular goal.
Reeves remains fully committed to embodying what Wachowski needs, and gets to show vulnerability as Neo tries to hold onto reality. The viewer can empathize with Neo wanting to avoid going through another rigorous battle like the first three movies, even if it is the cost of awakening. The new cast, including Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as a revamped Morpheus, are an engaging new generation of rebels. Trinity drives Neo's mission but fans will be disappointed by her limited screen time.
The Matrix Resurrections is an original take on the franchise in a world with lots of different approaches to continuing franchises. There are legacy sequels like Star Wars and Halloween. There are shared universes like Marvel. There are reboots, spinoffs and multiverses, but there truly is nothing like The Matrix Resurrections.
The Matrix Resurrections is in theaters and on HBO Max Wednesday.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.