The Matrix Resurrections Review: Lana Wachowski Reboots The Series With A Funny, Ultra-Meta Sequel

"Warner Bros. wants a 'Matrix 4,' and they're going to make it with or without you." That's a (paraphrased) line from "The Matrix Resurrections," and it should tell you all you need to know about Lana Wachowski's incredibly funny meta-sequel/reboot. "The Matrix Revolutions," the third film in the original trilogy, seemingly wrapped up the story, killing off main characters and bringing an end to the long-running machine vs. human war. What more was there to say?

Rather than give us yet another been there, done that sequel, Wachowski — working without co-director Lilly Wachowski this time — has instead decided to blow everything up, creating a film that openly mocks the past. Think of this as the "Gremlins 2" of the "Matrix" series. Or "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2." Or the "Wes Craven's New Nightmare." Or ... well, you get the idea. Don't expect the same old same old. Instead, "The Matrix Resurrections" is a film that reflects on the past and openly has fun with it. "We need a new bullet time!" someone says at one point. "I still know kung-fu," Keanu Reeves adds later. This approach is bound to infuriate purists who wanted something familiar.

None of this is to say "The Matrix Resurrections" is a home run. Nothing will ever match the exuberance and inventiveness of that original film, and anyone hoping for more groundbreaking action scenes is going to be severely disappointed. There is action here, but it's almost an afterthought. The fights don't seem to matter. Indeed, whenever a fight does break out it almost feels like Wachowski is throwing it in against her will; like she'd be perfectly happy to have a fight-free "Matrix" sequel.

Back to the Matrix

It's going to be a little difficult to navigate the digital waters of "The Matrix Resurrections," since so much of what happens in the film can be thought of as a spoiler. You'll likely recall that "The Matrix Revolutions" concluded with heroes Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) dying, their deaths triggering the end of the long-running apocalyptic war between human beings and A.I.-enhanced machines. 

But in "The Matrix Resurrections," both Neo and Trinity are alive and kicking. Sort of. Neo is once again going by the name Thomas Anderson, while Trinity is now a married mother named Tiffany. The two characters don't seem to know each other, although Thomas has seemingly spent years eyeing Tiffany from afar at a coffee shop they both frequent. When he finally works up the courage to introduce himself to her, Tiffany, née Trinity, asks, "Do I know you from somewhere?"

In the current timeline of "Resurrections," Neo/Thomas is a famous game inventor. And you know those previous three "Matrix" movies? They weren't movies at all. They were actually video games. And now, Warner Bros., who owns the games, wants a new sequel. Thomas' boss (Jonathan Groff) breaks this news, and tries to put a positive spin on it. But Thomas isn't too keen on the idea. To make matters more complicated, he's spent the last few years seeing a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris). It seems that Thomas' games were so realistic that they triggered a nervous breakdown, making him think they were real.

Things are further complicated when Thomas encounters Bugs (as in Bunny), played by an ass-kicking Jessica Henwick. Then Thomas runs into Morpheus, a character he thought only existed in his games. Morpheus is played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and I can already hear some of you saying, "Wait, wasn't Morpheus played by Laurence Fishburne? Why is he younger now?" Don't worry, "The Matrix Resurrections" will get to all that, but you might not love the answers. 

A Swooningly Romantic Film

As Thomas/Neo fights to figure out what's real and what's fantasy, he remains fixated on Tiffany/Trinity. This approach could've backfired and made Neo seem a bit creepy here; a stalker, even. But "The Matrix Resurrections" ends up being so swooningly romantic that such concerns never really crop up. It helps that Reeves and Moss both still look hot as hell, and both still have crazy chemistry together. Indeed, one of the film's biggest flaws is that it keeps the two of them apart for so long — whenever they share the screen, sparks fly. 

The two actors are great together, and Reeves in particular is doing some wonderful work here, playing Neo as a befuddled guy who doesn't quite believe everything that's happening around him. Henwick is also great, effortlessly cool and charismatic — this isn't her first acting gig, obviously, but it's the type of star-making turn that gets people to sit up and take notice. Her character Bugs is the real action hero here, flipping about and firing weapons gracefully, like a dancer. 

While the fight scenes are much less show-stopping than what came before, they often have a beautiful clarity to them. The slow-motion shots of characters flipping and spinning and twirling are abundant, and they always look sharp. Sure, the fight choreography isn't nearly as impressive, but again: the fights aren't the focus here. The love story between Neo and Trinity is what's driving all of this, and it's the type of unapologetically corny love that will annoy some and make others blush. 

Time to Fly

Nestled in all of this is a constant barrage of references to the previous "Matrix" films. Hell, at one point, characters actually stop what they're doing to watch almost an entire scene from the original film. Such an approach sounds like a disaster, but Wachowski makes it work, primarily because it feels like she's sending us all a message: don't take this stuff so seriously. As a result, "The Matrix Resurrections" ends up being consistently funny. Indeed, the humor is so non-stop that I honestly think you could classify this as a comedy. Reeves in particular gets to use some of his comedic chops, and he scores big laughs with how he reacts to all the madness going on here. 

Abdul-Mateen II is also a hoot as the nu-Morpheus, and Groff is clearly having a lot of fun with his part. Harris is the only one here who seems out of place, and his character doesn't quite add up. Like the action, his character almost feels like an afterthought; like something Wachowski threw into the movie because she figured audiences would expect it. The entire film has moments and characters like that; things that are clearly put in place to appease audiences, and studio execs, expecting something familiar. But around the edges of all that is something far stranger, and far more enjoyable. 

It would've been incredibly simple to give us a traditional "Matrix 4."  Instead, "The Matrix Resurrections" takes its big-budget and runs wild with it. And while there are more than a few stumbles here, any modern-day blockbuster that's this unafraid to subvert expectations is worth celebrating. I'd rather have a movie landscape full of fascinating experiments like this rather than the current cookie-cutter junk we're saddled with. And in the end, this all feels rather appropriate. "The Matrix" series is, at its heart, all about raging against the machine. This time, the machine being raged against is modern-day Hollywood. How can you not have fun with that?

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10