Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This film wants to be Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) or Creed (2015). What it ends up being is more in line with Scream 4 (2011) or Glass (2019). What it wants is to be like those 2015 flicks and reboot the franchise in an even more progressive way, that replays the same beats but subverts certain tropes or overcome certain criticisms. What it ends up being is akin to that 2011 horror film or 2019 M. Night Shyamalan sequel, which is a lame excuse for the older actors to take to the stage again with the potential of younger talent being squandered. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a passing of the torch. Creed was a passing of the torch as well. Where the later films in those franchises lose track is that they won’t let the past truly die. They won’t let the older characters truly pass the baton or won’t let them recede into the background as they should. It passes on fresh new talent that could have been utilized or utilized better.
It’s particularly troubling because this film follows some decades after the previous, The Matrix Revolutions (2003), in which the two main characters literally died. Yes, the protagonist in the previous film was seen as a messiah or a Jesus Christ-like figure, so the idea of him being brought back from the dead is in line with that mythology or religiosity, but the protagonist’s resurrection already occurred within the very first film, that of The Matrix (1999). For it to be done again feels lazy or too easy. For his physical body to be brought back felt too easy. The option that made the most sense was what is done to another character, which would have been a meta-commentary on what is happening in mainstream media on which this film is commenting already.
Keanu Reeves (John Wick and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) stars as Thomas Anderson, a video-game designer who lives in San Francisco. What we learn is that the events of the previous films were all just things that Thomas invented in his mind. He then turned it into a video game that made him rich. He then sold it to a younger business partner who now wants to make a sequel. We learn that everything in the game was simply things he took from his real life. If you’ve seen the episode of Black Mirror (2011) entitled “USS Callister,” then the premise is the same. Of course, Thomas Anderson is just his fake identity inside the computer simulation, known as the Matrix. The Matrix is itself a virtual reality that is run by an artificially intelligent system not unlike Skynet from The Terminator (1984). Instead of trying to kill all humans, the Matrix wants to use their bodies as batteries to power itself. Thomas escapes from the Matrix and becomes Neo, the chosen one to stop the Matrix from its abuse and manipulation of humans.
Seeing Neo who is a man in his late 50’s interact with people who are 20 years younger than him is interesting in that it’s an interesting juxtaposition to how culture and technology have changed in those 20 years. Back in the 90’s, people were still mostly using landlines and dial-up Internet. Now, everyone has iPhones and is constantly connected to the Internet. People are now using VR and are spending hours in a virtual reality. In a way, people in the so-called real world are putting themselves into a computerized reality and computer simulation. Even most of the movies possess a lot of computer-generated images or CGI, so the exact thing that characters in the original The Matrix was against is now the thing that people are creating for themselves. Yet, aside from one shot, the film doesn’t really comment on that aspect. There is this continued idea from The Matrix Reloaded (2003) that people will always have a connection and possible dependence on machines whether we like it or not.
Carrie-Anne Moss (Jessica Jones and Memento) co-stars as Tiffany, the woman with whom Thomas is in love. She’s married with children. She goes to get coffee everyday at a shop where Thomas always goes too. Thomas hasn’t had the nerve to approach her, but presumably he based a character in his video game on her. Of course, Tiffany is actually Trinity, the woman who helped Neo in the previous films to break free of the Matrix and fight back against the machines. Now, it’s the reverse. Now, Neo has to help Trinity break free and fight back.
A great idea this time around is that Neo isn’t the chosen one and maybe it was never about one individual. It’s suggested that the power that Neo possesses and indeed what is now powering the Matrix is within two people, Neo and Trinity. Maybe, the mythology isn’t about the one. Maybe, the mythology and always has been about the two. Actually, there’s a shift in the power dynamic from Neo to Trinity, from the male protagonist to the female protagonist. This is in line with a lot of reboots of franchises like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which also shifts its focus from a male protagonist to a female one. It’s also in line with the director’s transgender status, which went from a male identity to a female identity.
Director Lana Wachowski might have had that intention or not. Originally, Wachowski made the previous films with her sibling. Now, Wachowski is directing this project solo. Wachowski was in league with her sibling until Sense8 (2015) where Wachowski’s sibling went to work on another project. It should also be noted that several of the actors from Sense8 appear in this film, including Brian J. Smith, Max Riemelt and Toby Onwumere. Unfortunately, they’re not much more than background actors here. If you want better and more engaging characterizations, checking out Sense8 would be the better way to go. I have to admit that the action sequences in Sense8 are better than the ones here. The sequences here certainly don’t live up to the incredible action of the previous films with The Matrix Reloaded having the best of all the films.
Rated R for language and violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 28 mins.
In theaters and on HBO Max.