There’s a brilliant sequence in RoboCop 2 where a boardroom full of market testers discuss what a new & improved RobCop should look & act like. Their conflicting input confuses his already perfected programming & design, rendering the rebooted RoboCop 2.0 entirely useless. It’s a hilarious example of a movie sequel arguing against its own existence, mocking the concept of diluting a pure, original concept with a profit-obsessed aim for mass appeal. Given RoboCop 2‘s general reputation as an empty-headed misfire, I’m not surprised that The Matrix Resurrections is proving to be a divisive work among general audiences, since it expands that exact brand of self-loathing meta-humor into a feature-length screed against corporate franchise filmmaking at large. The Wachowskis reportedly did not want another Matrix film to happen, but Warner Brothers was going to reboot their iconic cyberpunk series with or without their input. Lana stepped in on her own to save their work from falling into the wrong creative hands, then used the opportunity to condemn the very idea of making a nostalgia-bait Matrix sequel in the first place. Using Neo as an avatar, she practically stares directly into the camera to declare, “This movie should not exist,” in open defiance of the IP-addicted movie industry that forced her hand. It’s as hilarious now as it was in RoboCop 2, and in this case the critique is drawn out to feature length.
The opening fifteen minutes of Resurrections plays like a worst-nightmare scenario of what a 2020s Matrix sequel could be. New, hip, young characters revisit and replay exact scenes from the original 1999 movie, trading quips about how totally awesome Neo & Trinity were in their time. It’s an escalation of the callbacks & Easter eggs that superhero nerds crave in each new big-budget fan-pleaser, turning those cheap nostalgia pops into full-on cosplay & highlight reels. Not only is that obsession with past triumphs a disappointing turn for a series that felt genuinely revolutionary when it premiered, but it’s also self-defeating in the way it draws comparisons between the original film’s exquisite fight choreography & cinematography and the blurry, incoherent mess of Resurrections’s own action sequences. Then, that disastrous opening sequence is revealed to be a video game simulation designed by a still-alive Neo himself (rotting at another miserable desk job in-Matrix under his deadname, Thomas Anderson), and Resurrections starts editorializing about those modern industry-standard shortcomings in soulless, movie-by-committee sequels. It turns out the film is not the worst-nightmare version of The Matrix 4; it’s Lana Wachowski’s New Nightmare: a platform for her to reflect on the core philosophy of her most iconic work while lashing out at a movie industry that seeks to dilute & pervert it for an easy cash-in. It’s an A+ prank, both on the audience and on the higher-ups at Warner Brothers.
It may be a stretch to assume that Resurrections‘ unwieldy 148min runtime was also a metatextual joke about the cumbersome length of modern Hollywood action franchises (or maybe not, considering that it taunts the audience with an ironic post-credits punchline after a 15-minute scroll). Either way, I appreciate that Wachowski never drops her searing industry commentary once she gets into the thick of the film’s actual plot. She approaches the ongoing philosophic & romantic conflicts of The Matrix‘s core players—Neo & Trinity—with full, open-hearted sincerity. She just frames the doomed revolutionary couple’s strive for a happy ending as a heist plot, where she (again, through Neo) has to infiltrate her movie studio’s evil lair to rescue their fairy-tale romance before it’s killed forever. Along the way, she continually cracks meme-culture jokes about bots, MILFs, Handsome Chads, “binary” code, and Arthur Read’s clenched fist – never letting up on her meta-commentary on the way movies and the Internet have changed in the two decades since Neo chose the red pill. Wachowski may open Resurrections arguing “This movie should not exist,” but she follows it up with a “But while we’re here . . .” addendum that allows her to sincerely grapple with the lives & loves of characters she’s obviously still emotionally & creatively invested in. It’s a volatile mix of sincere sentimentality and ironic shitposting, one that’s sure to alienate plenty of uptight nerds in one or both directions.
I was not this enthusiastic about The Matrix Reloaded or The Matrix Revolutions when James & I revisited them for the podcast last year. I really wanted to join the freaks on Film Twitter in reclaiming those back-to-back sequels as something that was wrongly dismissed in their time, but they really are exhaustingly dull – especially considering how vibrant the original film still feels. Some of the action in the earlier sequels is delightfully over-the-top, but for the most part they turn what started as a very simple, tactile sci-fi allegory into trivial superhero fluff. The Matrix Resurrections is their functional opposite. This time around, the action is underwhelming, but the ideas are explosively combative in a way that totally makes up for it. Fans who’ve swooned for every entry in this series are going to be over-the-moon for its epic Neo-Trinity romance plot no matter how they feel about the film’s self-critical meta-commentary. I’m here to report as a Matrix-sequel heretic that the film is a triumph no matter how invested you are in that emotional core; it’s the most I’ve appreciated a Wachowski movie since The Matrix ’99, entirely because of its cynicism over how the world (and the movie industry in particular) has gotten worse since 1999.