Matrix Resurrections: What’s the Point?

If Alien: Resurrection is any indication, a sequel (part 4, no less) in any franchise with the word “resurrection” in the title will surely be a letdown; Matrix: Resurrections is a dud.

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So, what about Matrix 4 makes it so underwhelming? There are lots of things, but in broad strokes:

  1. The movie couldn’t decide what it was about
  2. It was relentlessly self-referential to the point of parody. It even makes fun of the fact that the film itself doesn’t know what it is about
  3. The motivations and goals of most of the players in the plot are unclear. The big question is the question of the movie’s existence itself: What’s the point?
  4. There is simply no actual resolution to the plot at all.

As we continue, keep those four things in mind because I believe if this movie had been better planned at the writing stage, we could have seen something exceptional rather than something very bland.

The movie begins with Neo, now 20 years older, as a veteran game developer famous for creating The Matrix videogame trilogy, and he’s suffering psychic breaks as he hallucinates that events from the games are really happening to him. Worse, he’s been tasked with making a fourth Matrix game by the publisher.

The first third of the movie is spent playing with this premise and weaving in many, many references to the original movies. There’s even a scene with “developers” sitting around a table like a Hollywood writer’s group, pitching ideas for Matrix 4—just what The Matrix is truly all about, whether it’s about philosophy or guns or action, etc. It would be a cringe-worthy attempt at being meta if it wasn’t so meta about the story itself, possibly in unintended ways.

You see, the first third of the movie was by far the best part of Matrix Resurrections, but for the interesting and fresh presentation of the gnostic themes that dominated the original trilogy, rather than for the lame-but-metaeffective meta. Keanu Reeves looks miserable as he sits and listens to people sound off internet abbreviations (LOL, OMG, etc. This is something I’ve seen millennials and Xers do in LA, but nowhere else), tell him about his Matrix game, or lecture him about “the truth.” He doesn’t look like he’s acting. It looks like they turned a camera on the real man and captured just how he feels about his existence in Hollywood.

That makes a perfect acting presentation for the initial setup. Neo’s disconnect from the fake Hollywood people surrounding him is resonant with the strong “descent into madness” that envelopes the first act. Ultimately, the people act fake because (spoiler) they are fake – they are computer programs like Agent Smith. The new Morpheus is a program created by (we presume) Neo, as an echo of the real thing.

Unfortunately, Lana Wachowski chooses not to go much further with this premise. Instead of some truly shocking revelations or the simpler questions of sanity, the movie shifts in the second act into undoing the ending of the third movie while trying to retread all the old ground of the first.

The gnostic underpinnings of the first trilogy are mostly dressing at that point, when that first act could have set up something unique. This time, Neo, as a game designer is the Demiurge. He’s the creator of the flawed, false reality rather than a prisoner of it. He could have then discovered, in a continuation of Plato’s cave, that his own reality was shadows, and we could have been treated to an even stranger “new world.” We could have seen that the original Matrix trilogy was a distorted reflection of truth hidden from Neo the Demiurge. That would have been interesting, and it would have worked well with the ending of Matrix Revolutions in which a blind Neo is able to see the world around him as code; in other words, it was implied that he never escaped the Matrix and that the “real world” was just another illusion meant to misdirect and contain him. Matrix Resurrections could have presented the resolution to that black pill by showing the next layer, that Neo was acting out a fantasy created by himself, a Demiurge-like being.

I would have settled for something less certain, perhaps: that the Neo in this movie was descending into madness and chose to embrace his delusions and fantasies rather than see reality as it truly was. Neo’s embrace of madness and escape to the Matrix could have been an attempt to AVOID realizing the truth. But we got none of that. We got a diluted movie instead of a diluted protagonist. Before the end of the first hour, we are back to where we were 20 years ago: there is a war between humans and machines (no peace), Neo and Trinity are alive, there is a matrix that imprisons people to use as energy, people need to be freed from the Matrix, some people don’t want to leave, there is a hidden human city, etc.

This missed opportunity aside, there were other problems, specifically with plot and motivations. After the first act, we are treated to several long monologues attempting to explain the setup of the “real” conflict since the first act was spent questioning Neo’s sanity. Despite this, it’s not clear why any of the characters are doing what they are doing. The humans seem to have reached an equilibrium hiding from the machines, not trying to destroy them. One rogue pilot wants to find the resurrected Neo, but we don’t know to what end. It’s not clear why the machines brought Neo and Trinity back from the dead (we are treated to a monologue explaining that unsatisfied people make better batteries, but that doesn’t explain why Neo and Trinity), nor is it clear why the resurrected Agent Smith wants to kill Neo or what we wants to do once he is free (or why exactly he has to kill Neo to be free-all we are told is that he is somehow tethered to Neo).

The leap into the third act finally establishes a goal: free Trinity. However, the point of this goal is rather fluid and never really gels with the larger conflict. The best we get is “Do it because you love her.” The “resolution” of this is that Trinity is also “the one” (or at least shares his powers) and together with Neo they are going to remake the Matrix how they see fit… but what is the point of that? Wasn’t it true before that humans rejected false heavens? How will remaking the Matrix free people? What is the state of the war? If people can be resurrected in body and therefore also in mind, what exactly does that mean for the substance of humanity? What about sentient programs?

Like before, the movie is gnostic but can’t really escape from its own materialist assumptions.

We’re back to where we began at the end of the first film, and perhaps that is the point. Perhaps Anderson is embracing his madness and hallucinating, and part of that is using the Matrix to make his own world, but the movie certainly doesn’t convince me of any such thing. It mostly convinced me that the writers didn’t know what they wanted to do with this opportunity, so they ended up phoning it in. And unlike the original films, the flashy effects and wild kung fu weren’t there to save it. Even the action sequences seemed manufactured and uninspired, and Keanu Reeves looks bored and bothered doing the fistfights.

What’s going on behind the scenes to explain this failure, I can only guess. Perhaps the personal life of the (remaining) central creator makes the entire idea of “truth and illusion” more subtle or difficult to execute, or maybe the internet’s seizing of the terminology of the films made the creators crack. Maybe the system is as such that you can’t make a creative big-budget movie in Hollywood anymore. I’ll leave you to speculate.

In any event, it’s a movie with hints of what it “truly” could have been.

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6 Comments

  1. Yes I enjoyed the first third but it all quickly went downhill. Was almost surprised by how cliche woke it was. It has all the hallmarks of the modern Corporate Woke REEquel.

    – Moral relativism. This felt like “What if the Matrix isn’t so bad?” much the same way TLJ’s “What if the Jedi are as bad as the Sith?” idiocy. They keep saying that maybe people want to be in the Matrix. The “truce” at the end of the third movie had the Architect promise “people can leave if they want”, that qualifier at the end doing a lot of heavy lifting. So the current heroes say those millions of people don’t want to leave. Despite also acknowledging that they are all drugged up into a state of delusion on Blue Pills like Neo. That’s a weird version of consent they have, and I guess any children that are plugged into the Matrix are also on so many drugs they don’t know where they are, but yeah, ‘lots of morons are happy in the Matrix’ is the kind of messaging you would expect from a pro-Blue Pill movie made by the machines, which this is. Niobe states that “us vs them” was maybe bad and hey we work with machines now.

    – Gaslighting the audience of the earlier movies (first half of the movie is nonstop mocking of “bullet time”, second half is Neo doing bullet time nonstop because it’s the only thing he can do).

    – Gaslighting movie critics. Merovingian called out everyone who complains the new movie lacks style, grace, etc. so you can’t make those complaints. The movie admits it sucks so you can’t say anything, nah nah nah.

    – Self insert politics rewriting internal lore (machines building a new human body, and using emotions of “fear and desire”, tracks with the writer’s pre-trans experiences in LA with a dominatrix). The idea that the new Matrix runs on feelings (take that, Ben Shapiro!) validates the machines use of Neo/Trinity in a kind of tantric torture session, and the SJW concept of reality. The fact that the real Neo and Trinity died 60 years ago and these are just machine created clones doesn’t matter because, ironically, the machines care so much for the two that they might as well still be The One. It’s the machine’s Lived Truth.

    – Victories of the past were meaningless. Neo even says this at some point. Shades of Luke deciding the Jedi were failures.

    – Cringeworthy Twitter-centric dialog. I guess it made sense in the sardonic first half but still. Some terrible, terribly clunky lines in here.

    – Male feminism. Trinity’s speech about how her wanting kids is possibly just a result of social conditioning, unlike her wanting to ride a motorcycle in black leather, I guess. She hates her fake husband so much that when he is joking with her she wants to kill him in response. “Women used to be so much easier to control”, whines the Analyst. Also the irony of her accusing the Analyst of “using children” when not 15 minutes earlier she was leaving her children for good. Her family doesn’t exist outside of a couple scant scenes but apparently her revulsion to traditional female norms is so strong she doesn’t need a red pill to escape the Matrix. Written by a man who thinks he is a woman.

    – Emasculating the male lead. Neo being unable to fly or do anything outside bullet time. Which has been established as a neanderthal stupid thing by stupid people and the machines can do it better than him anyways.

    – Lampshading your own lack of originality. They could have come up with anything, new characters, new powers, etc. but much easier to just go back to what you know and use meta humor to excuse your lack of creativity. Also see TLJ.

    – Distain for actual humans. The machines have evolved, they have depth, internal struggles, individuation. By contrast the people in the real world “want to stay in the Matrix” we are told and the only development for people in the Matrix is that they go into “swarm/suicide” mode and are dismissed en large as “bots”. Well except for Morpheus, who is a bot that became good, but only he can do that, just ignore the thousands of people killing themselves, they are beyond redemption.

    – Myopia. The movie feels like it is chastising you for being so into Neo, while the movie is 99% about Neo. Like TLJ this feels like projection. They could have made a movie about Bugs, or some other new character, maybe a new anomaly, a new layer of the “real world” or the Matrix, a new The One, whatever. Instead none of the new characters exist outside of being an appendage for Neo. It’s all deconstruction of why they can’t write something new, blaming the audience. I’m sick of this trope. The “don’t put your faith in THESE HEROES RIGHT HERE THAT THE ENTIRE MOVIE IS FOCUSED ON TO THE EXCLUSION OF ANYTHING ELSE you horrible mouthbreathing movie watcher”. I get it, writers have utter contempt for their audience and they have no good ideas to bring to the table. That’s really the message being sent whenever they do this.

    I enjoyed the movie on some level, particularly the first half, and there are some cool sci fi ideas in here. NPH was a pretty good bad guy if you excuse the writing. But the writing is so heavy handed, and it seems like a lot of concepts were not thought out at all and this creates a lot of problems if you sit down and think about it.

    For instance the fact the machines can now perform miracles, bringing people back from the dead, cloning/regrowing lost issue, apparently had no impact on their whole “pod batteries” scheme. Can’t the machines just xerox millions of Neo/Trinity clones, if they are super powerful? Or revive dead pod bodies once they have been sapped of their energy? But then you wonder where the new bodies come from, how much energy it must take to grow new humans, etc. and the incoherence of it all collapses.

    The final scene of the movie was the final nail in the coffin. They finally got Trinity out of the Matrix, but they decide to stay in there to say a bunch of cringey stuff like they want to paint the sky rainbow. Hey, half of humanity is still enslaved in a prison they aren’t even aware of but just igore that it’s okay because the sky in that prison is going to be rainbow. Trinity is the black queer prison warden the left desperately craves.

    • Sorry to keep ranting but imo this movie had a lot of ideas in it that I feel were sabotaged to purposefully do the subversion and negation of the previous trilogy. The first third was most thrilling to me, and almost took on a David Lynch-like quality of eeriness with the creeping metaness and the mirror tricks. This was the most potent the movie ever got. The image of the Analyst throttling him through a mirror imo was truly striking and unique and cool and symbolic and I couldn’t wait to see where they went with this whole mirror motifs. Unfortunately mirrors never came up again. All the “Alice in Wonderland”, “set and setting”, “White Rabbit”, boomer ’60s acid techno utopia imagery in the first third was great and thematic, and they just drop it all once they switch the movie into cynical demake mode. That’s the biggest shame about the movie, there are some cool ideas and new things in here but the need to subvert and teach the audience a lesson is too great. Death cult proselytism takes priority.

  2. If possible, please make a video explaining Gnosticism I’m the Matrix movies. It’s a term I’m unfamiliar with and I’m just now learning about it.

  3. Hey, just FYI: Your blurb at the bottom of the article currently reads “I am an independent write and musician.” I’m guessing you mean “writer”?

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