In a recent interview, Keanu Reeves revealed his surprise when director Lana Wachowski contacted him about reprising the iconic role of Neo. Many fans of the original Matrix trilogy likely shared his sentiment.
Neo's fate at the end of Matrix Revolutions was unambiguous and final. While another installment wouldn't be unexpected given the success of the original trilogy, how could Neo's character be revived without retconning everything that happened in the previous three films?
The Matrix Resurrections answers that question in a way that will polarize audiences the same way The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions did in the early 2000s.
In The Matrix Resurrections, we meet an older, world-weary Neo. This Neo is the creator of an award-winning video game trilogy called, of course, The Matrix. But much to his dismay, Warner Brothers wants him to make another installment for the franchise. Momentarily putting aside the glaring real-world parallels, Matrix fans will immediately realize what's happened. The machines have created a new Matrix, and Neo has been immersed into it once more.
Fans expecting the same shiny leather aesthetics of the original trilogy will be disappointed. The cool, slick visuals that won The Matrix its place among memorable sci-fi films have been toned down.
To be fair, it's been over two decades since the first film hit theaters. Pop culture has moved on. The same visuals that worked in 1999 would be less groundbreaking and mind-blowing in 2021. Maybe they'd work for diehard fans excited at the thought of another Matrix movie, but the success of a franchise depends on attracting new audiences in addition to satisfying old ones.
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But that's not what makes The Matrix Resurrections yet another polarizing entry in the series. In the original trilogy, Neo was the chosen one, a messiah prophesized to end the war between human and machine. The first three films chronicle his journey to accepting his role as the chosen one and bringing the prophecy to fruition. That same driving goal doesn't exist here. Instead, the film focuses on the love story between Neo and Trinity.
This plot shift shouldn't be a surprise. The love between Neo and Trinity is a major component of the films. And just as Neo has been re-immersed into the Matrix, so too has Trinity. Her fate in Matrix Revolutions was as final and unambiguous as Neo's, but if he was resurrected, why wouldn't she be as well?
In this new Matrix, Neo and Trinity live separate existences. He's a single, aging game developer who has regular sessions with a therapist. She's a stereotypical suburban mother of three with a good-looking husband named, fittingly, Chad. Trinity doesn't even know Neo exists. Meanwhile, he pines away from across a coffee shop.
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That all changes when Neo is pulled from the Matrix once more. Now, he must rescue the love of his life too. Trinity was instrumental in pulling him out the first time around. It makes sense that the reverse would be required in this latest rendition.
60 years have passed since the end of Matrix Revolutions, resulting in a few changes. We see older versions of characters from previous films. Meanwhile, familiar characters have new faces. Agent Smith, Neo's relentless antagonist from the original films, has a new appearance—which can be explained in-universe via program upgrades. We also see a new generation of awakened human rebels, of which the standout is Bugs, played by the memorable Jessica Henwick.
But aside from the continuing saga of Neo and Trinity's romance, The Matrix Resurrections tells a meta story. Matrix fans should have expected this, given the many ways the original film has been interpreted over the years. In addition to cyberpunk themes, the films touched on topics related to trans issues, religious constructs, and philosophical concepts. In this latest installment, Lana Wachowski dives head-first into a current hot topic: Hollywood franchise IP culture.
At the beginning of the film, a plugged-in Neo is tasked with creating a new installment to a famous video game franchise. We are then privy to the brainstorming sessions that follow, as Neo and his team attempt to create a game that carries on the legacy while delivering something new. The parallels are not subtle. In fact, we get the distinct sense that we are peeking into the real life process behind the birth of a new Matrix film.
The topic couldn't be more timely. We live in an era where the film industry is dominated by one mega-corporation and its decade-spanning superhero franchise. Many people have pointed out that these films have slowly suffocated the film industry by encouraging copycats hoping to reach similar success, or by forcing studios to become more risk adverse.
In other words, instead of pursuing film projects that may be wildly creative in storytelling or film direction, they retreat to the safe and familiar. What studios might deem "sure things." New installments to successful franchises such as another Matrix film. Reboots like we've witnessed with the Spider-Man films. New adaptations like the recent Dune.
This conundrum is embodied by Resurrections' Neo. He is older and tired. He is a man who clearly wants to rest. But that has been denied to him because the machines have resurrected him, much like his character was resurrected for this film. The metacommentary here cannot be ignored. In many ways, the film's choice to focus on the love between Neo and Trinity versus a great destiny or even a goal to defeat the machines is a direct refutation of that sequel culture.
Audiences expecting a carbon copy of the previous Matrix films will be disappointed. Cinema has moved on and things once considered revolutionary in the original trilogy have become film-making staples. And let's not pretend that every day technology hasn't also moved on. A Matrix? During the past two years, people have grown accustomed to virtual meetings. We have a company who wants to create an actual Metaverse. The future is now.
That said, fans who go in with an open mind will find a love story that transcends death and beyond that, a direct grappling with the state of the modern movie industry.