Dec 28, 2021

Resurrecting A Dead Horse

The Matrix Resurrections
Warner Bros Pictures (2021)
A few days ago, I wrote a glowing review of Ghostbusters: Afterlife in which I referred to it as being as close to perfect of a rebirth of an old franchise that I think is possible.  I'm disappointed to say that the fourth Matrix movie is its exact opposite.  It is the perfect example of Hollywood's obsession with using a successful property from the past to make a soulless cash grab in the present.  Whereas Ghostbusters: Afterlife did everything right, The Matrix Resurrections did everything wrong.

You see that dork with the peach fuzz beard and The Matrix poster on his bedroom wall?  That's me about twenty years ago, give or take a couple of months.  There are two things that about the nerd in that photo that are still true with the nerd who's typing this today: I'm still trying like hell to rock the thick black glasses, and I'm still a huge fan of The Matrix.

I didn't see the first film in the series when it was still in theaters.  It was one of those situations where the hype for the movie made me sick of hearing about it, so I had no interest in seeing it by the time it was released.  Despite all of the coverage that it got on television and in magazines, the only thing I knew about the movie is that there was a scene in which Keanu Reeves arched his back to dodge bullets while the camera spun all around him.  I knew that because they played it about 10,000 times.  You could not turn on a television in 1999 without seeing that shot, or a behind-the-scenes clip where they showed you the camera technology that allowed it to be filmed.  If you talked to me when this was in theaters, I would have thought that the entire movie was just Keanu Reeves in sunglasses and a black trench coat doing the limbo in a gunfight because that's all they ever seemed to show... over and over and over again.  I could only imagine how obnoxious it would have been if this film was released in the age of memes and social media.

After the hype died down a little bit, I rented The Matrix on VHS and fell in love with it instantly.  It's a brilliant story, and is right up there with Blade Runner as one of my favorite science fiction movies of all time.  The bullet dodging scene isn't even remotely the most interesting thing about it.  Truth be told, they could have probably cut it out of the film entirely without it impacting the plot too much.

In the years that followed, I bought it on DVD and watched it about a hundred times and anxiously waited for the sequel.  The second and third movies of The Matrix Trilogy were both released in 2003, and I saw both of them in theaters.  They were alright.  They weren't bad, but they weren't great either.  The action scenes were top notch, but the story got convoluted and, in some parts, just plain ridiculous, like at the end of Reloaded when Neo suddenly has special powers in the real world.  They both try to tell a deep and meaningful story, but it just comes across as a sloppy mess.  I know I bought them on DVD, but unlike the first film, I think I might have watched them once or twice right after I bought it, just so I could listen to the directors commentary track.  I don't think I've had the desire to watch either of the sequels at all over the past 15 years.

Despite the disappointment of Reloaded and Revolutions, I was excited to see where the story would go with Resurrections.  Yeah... I'm kind of dumb like that.

So, there I was on opening night, back in the same theater that I saw the second and third Matrix movies 18 years ago, hoping to see something that captures the feeling that I got when I saw the original film... and for about the first half hour, it did.  I could have done without the opening scene, which seemed like pointless nostalgia pandering, but the story after the opening credits started off great.  Keanu Reeves was back to being plain old Thomas Anderson; a middle-aged software designer who created a blockbuster series of video games called The Matrix, and who has been suffering from delusions and hallucinations ever since, as his mind struggles to separate fact from fiction.  He sees a therapist, and he takes prescription drugs to get through the day, while the audience is left to wonder if Mr. Anderson really was just a dude who had a nervous breakdown and the "real world" really is the mundane existence that surrounds him... and us.

If the story had expanded on that concept from the first 20 minutes and structured itself as a psychological thriller about a man who is struggling to separate the real world from fantasy, it could have been an amazing movie.  They could have even ended it with a cliffhanger in which Neo jumps off of the building and then the screen fades to black and the closing credits.  It would have left us all debating about hidden clues throughout the movie to determine if Mr. Anderson was a savior of humanity who had just escaped The Matrix, or if he really was just a guy who's suffering from mental illness and who committed suicide by jumping off of a building, and we'd all likely be chomping at the bit for a Part 5.

Instead, we got a sloppy mess that tried to tell the same story that was already told in the first film, but without any of the things that made it special the first time around.  We got a half-hearted backstory about how 60 years have passed, and how the machines resurrected Neo and Trinity to act as some kind of super battery.  We got an endless supply of references to the original film, and even full clips from the original film, that serve no purpose other than to elbow the viewer in the gut and say "remember this... you liked this".  We got group of lame mini-bosses whose only purpose seems to be to troll the audience.  The story is lousy.  The script is lousy.  The action scenes are forgettable.  There is literally nothing to see here.  The folks who are behind this movie didn't have a story to tell - they had a product to sell, and it's a product that isn't worth buying.

If the box office is any indication, The Matrix Resurrection is a cash grab that's failing to grab cash.  I usually don't care too much about how much money a movie makes or what awards it wins or fails to win, but I'm glad to see that this is turning into a bomb that stands to make only a fraction of its budget.  Hopefully, it persuades movie studios to invest in new and original ideas instead of bankrolling a sequel, reboot or remake of every successful property that existed over the past 20 to 50 years.

Do yourself a favor.  If you loved the original, save yourself some money and two hours of frustration and just go back and watch the first film again.  I offer the same advice to anyone who has never seen a Matrix movie before.  Just go back and watch the first film and pretend that the others don't exist.