Complicated in the best of times, “The Matrix Resurrections” is simply convoluted, a collection of flashy digits that don’t add up to much of anything. Although director/co-writer Lana Wachowski slyly comments on the commercial nature of the undertaking and it’s nice seeing Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reunited, the better plan in hindsight might have been to completely reboot the system.
Instead, Wachowski has conjured a film that falls into its own kind of strange nether realm, mixing nostalgia and self-referential callbacks with what feels like a redo of fundamental elements, without satisfactorily explaining (despite scads of exposition) how we got from the earlier trilogy to here. Although the previous “Matrix” sequels marked a steep decline from the freshness of the original, compared to this film’s missteps all is forgiven.
Spoilers are understandably a concern with this sort of eagerly anticipated genre movie, but the one benefit of “Resurrections” is that it’s not entirely clear what there is to spoil.
As the trailer has revealed, some time has passed, and Neo/Thomas Anderson (Reeves) has moved on, while Moss’ Trinity harbors no memory of him. Clearly, there’s been a glitch in the program, one that will require drawing him back into the previous worlds he occupied and introducing characters to function as his guides.
The principal additions are Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as a new version of Morpheus, Jessica Henwick (“Iron Fist”), Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris, with Groff enjoying perhaps the juiciest of those parts and clearly relishing it. Wachowski has also included several cast members from her Netflix series “Sense8” in smaller roles.
At its core “The Matrix” has always been anchored by its grand love story, with Trinity’s faith (assisted by prophecy) having helped Neo embrace his messiah-like destiny. While that remains, the film is so chaotic even their storyline proves uninvolving through no fault of the stars.
So, what’s left? The stylized action, stunt work and look, which felt more distinctive way back in 1999. While there are a few visually striking moments, those sequences are offset by puzzling ones, like a massive close-quarters fight that makes it difficult to discern who’s doing what to whom, blunting any excitement.
The film actually conjures its most memorable elements relatively early, which includes an amusingly meta reference to the nature of sequels and even to Warner Bros., which is releasing the movie (and like CNN, a unit of WarnerMedia). That dialogue sounds almost apologetic, and it takes on a different meaning after absorbing the film in its entirety and realizing how uninspired the whole exercise feels.
“I’m back where I started,” Neo says, sounding as mystified as he did when Morpheus opened his eyes the first time, while perhaps inadvertently summing up one of the structural flaws.
Yes, reboots and revivals are inevitable, and more than most, any “Matrix” sequel was likely to be polarizing. Still, that first rush of enthusiasm can ebb quickly, which is what happens here. Because while “Resurrections” again offers a choice between the red pill and blue pill, the one thing that won’t be necessary – especially for those choosing the home-viewing option – is a sleeping pill.
“The Matrix Resurrections” premieres Dec. 22 in US theaters and on HBO Max. It’s rated R.