January 19, 2022

It is widely believed that in 1926, Earnest Hemingway wrote his first novella, The Torrents of Spring,to elude a bad contract with his then-publisher. Hemingway wrote it in just 10 days, employing a sardonic tone to skewer his modern realist contemporaries at the publishing house.

The Matrix Resurrections, written and directed by Lana Wachowski, feels as if it was made with similar intentions. The film fiddles with the fourth wall, flippantly jesting at its redundancy in the Matrix cannon.

But despite presenting itself as a lighthearted addendum, it never commits to this idea; the film still tries to pass as an action thriller.

Back in what appears to be the digital realm of the Matrix, Keanu Reeves reprises his role as Neo, or Mr. Anderson. With the content of the original films effaced from his memory, Neo believes himself to be a software developer at a company called Warner Brothers, where he designed a bestselling video game called The Matrix. His CEO has an assignment for him: Create a sequel. “Things have changed; the market’s tough,” his corporate overlord says. “I’m sure you can understand why our beloved parent company, Warner Brothers, has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy.”

Are you starting to get the idea?

The film takes a while to get going. At two hours and 28 minutes, it’s the longest Matrix film to date — an impressive feat for a film with the least amount of original content to offer. Much of the run time is wasted on reveries hearkening back to the original film, trying desperately to get by on nostalgia. It’s like going to a concert hoping to hear new music, only to be treated to the band aimlessly sauntering around the stage while a DJ plays their greatest hits.

When the slick action sequences we’ve come to expect from Matrix films finally start, they feel stale and impotent, unable to recreate the magic of the 1999 original. While Resurrections offers the same bag of flashy tricks that buoyed the first two Matrix sequels (Reloaded and Revolutions), the slow motion, bullet-dodging set pieces do little to stand out in today’s CGI-festooned cinema landscape.

In an era in which Marvel films dominate the box office, a prerequisite to prospering is offering a compelling story that drives the polished action sequences. Matrix Resurrections offers nothing more than this visual candy.

Some scenes even lack this Hollywood polish. There is a montage of Neo wolfing down blue-colored psychiatric pills as he goes about his civilian life in the Matrix to the score of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” So much for subtlety.

For reasons unexplained, key cast members from the original films were recast. (Presumably, they read the script and made the easiest decision of their professional careers.) The iconic roles of Agent Smith and Morpheus (originally animated by Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne) were instead dollar-store imitations by younger actors.

In a 2009 interview, Quentin Tarantino explained that the Matrix sequels, albeit entertaining, ruined the mythos of the original. Stripping away the beguiling enigma that kept one thinking long after seeing the film, the superfluous sequels overexplained every facet into dullness. This was what made Christopher Nolan’s 2010 Inception so much more effective: an open-ended conclusion with no decisive end.

Resurrections would have been far more palatable as a Matrix spoof rather than a direct continuation of the canon. At least as parody, it could attribute its glibness to the genre. Hemingway’s Torrents of Spring may have been written with the intention of getting Hemingway fired, but it succeeds as comedy. Matrix Resurrections is an aimless sequel that tries to lampoon its own absurdity while also trying to be taken seriously. But in the end, it’s the audience that’s the butt of the joke.

Originally Published at The Washington Examiner