It’s not an exaggeration to say that The Matrix changed my life. When I saw it in high school, it blew me away not only with its thrilling action sequences, but also with the philosophical and theological questions it raised: what is real? What is wrong with the world? Is salvation possible? Will wearing this leather trench coat make me cool? And so on. It taught me that film could be both entertaining and intellectually-stimulating. It provided numerous youth pastor sermon illustrations comparing Neo to Jesus (this feels ironic now, as the film is just as much an allegory for queer people as it is about religious conversion). More than anything, it made me want to talk and write about the significance of cinema itself—The Matrix was and is vital in my personal journey into film criticism and scholarship.
If The Matrix was an exemplar of postmodern film, The Matrix: Resurrections is a metamodern film par excellence. Metamodernism is a kind of post-postmodernism, described here at Notes on Metamodernism:
Whereas postmodernism was characterized by deconstruction, irony, pastiche, relativism, nihilism, and the rejection of grand narratives (to caricature it somewhat), the discourse surrounding metamodernism engages with the resurgence of sincerity, hope, romanticism, affect, and the potential for grand narratives and universal truths, whilst not forfeiting all that we’ve learnt from postmodernism. … The metamodern generation understands that we can be both ironic and sincere in the same moment; that one does not necessarily diminish the other.
This blend of irony and sincerity, relativism and romanticism, is certainly on display in Resurrections as it deconstructs its own film franchise identity while also celebrating its ongoing existence. It’s a deeply romantic movie, both in the sense that it’s about the undying love shared between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), as well as its emphasis on human emotions and fantasies. As one character states, human beings care more about feelings than facts, more about fictional narratives than information about reality. Even as we might question the legitimacy of those words due to their source in the film, Resurrections nevertheless does elevate emotion over intellect, relationships over ideas, and (ultimately) fun over coherence.
This is a Matrix film with a sense of humor, as well as a self-awareness—it explicitly names and critiques its own legacy in cinema history (“bullet time” is mentioned more than once) with a mixture of pride and bitterness. Filmmaker Lana Wachowski (creating here without sibling partner Lily) seems to be working out personal issues with the current state of the film industry and its fetish with franchises. Reboots, remakes, and sequels based on recognizable (and thus profitable) IP—these have become the staple diet of American cinema. Resurrections satisfies this cultural gluttony by combining all of these elements: it’s a reboot, a remake, and a sequel all at once, cashing in on a certain generation’s love for the Matrix trilogy. There are explicit callbacks to the previous three Matrix films, at times even projecting scenes from the original 1999 film in the diegetic world of Resurrections. Such montages don’t do Resurrections any service, as it simply shows how visually rich and innovative the original films were, while the fourth film generally has the visual aesthetic of Netflix-produced digital sludge (despite not being a Netflix film!). The jarringly edited action scenes are generally underwhelming or incoherent—nothing here compares to the original film’s magnificent finale, Reloaded‘s freeway sequence, or Revolutions’ Smith/Neo battles—and the mythology makes little sense. I still don’t quite understand who or what the new Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is or what he’s capable of doing. Neither do I understand the motives of the new Smith (Jonathan Groff) or his relation to Neo. This is a Matrix 2.0 (or 4.0?) without any significant upgrades. The one positive exception is Jessica Henwick as Bugs, the blue-haired badass captain of the Mnemosyne, and the one who initially recognizes that something isn’t quite right in the world of the Matrix. And Lambert Wilson briefly returns as the Merovingian in a wonderfully bonkers cameo that defies description.
I’ve intentionally forgone a plot synopsis of Resurrections, partly because I don’t wish to spoil the film for eager viewers, partly because the Analyst—portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris eagerly chewing up the scenery—gives a lengthy expository speech unpacking the narrative in all its ludicrous details. Besides, the narrative details aren’t really what’s important here—what matters is how we feel about the film, and whether we had fun. Indeed, everyone involved looks like they’re having a blast here, and their passion can be contagious. While the first half of Resurrections has the snarky tone of a stupid-but-thinks-it’s-smart Adam McKay film, the second half won me over with its sincere romantic impulses. At its core, Resurrections is about how two people truly love each other, how they have been separated, and how they would do whatever it takes to just be together again. It wears its white rabbit-following heart on its sleeve tattoo, inviting us to take a hopeful leap of faith into an unknown future for both the state of cinema and reality as we know it.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10838180/