In February 2020, a month before the initial shelter-in-place order for California went into effect for the then yet-to-be-declared COVID-19 pandemic, filming began for the fourth installment of The Matrix film franchise on the streets of San Francisco. Thinly veiled under the code name Project Ice Cream, reports circled online of sightings of film locations from all over the city; including one tracked down by yours truly.
Nearly two years later, as the Omicron variant looms over this prolonged pandemic, the cast and creative team descended onto the streets of the City by the Bay once more, as the U.S. premiere for The Matrix Resurrections took place at the historic Castro Theater. With attendees donned in a wide scale of cosplay, as the infamous green Matrix code ran down the front theater’s walls while the stars walked a matching green carpet, it was an event to behold for a film that can best be described in three words: a love story.
By a love story, it’s one that applies in two different ways: One of them being a love story for all time, the other being a love story for this film franchise that has been beloved, dissected, and criticized for over two decades. How they’re intertwined throughout the two and a half hour duration of this trip down the rabbit hole cannot, at this time, be explained in plot points, but instead, solely through the minutia.
Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as the beloved Neo and Trinity bring that same spunk, vulnerability, and all-around triumphant energy that audiences have been starved of for the past 18 years. While they are wonderful as always, it’s the new faces to this universe that really make this film spark.
Jessica Henwick is a badass as Bugs. While the trailers and TV spots have already been teasing her role as being pretty beefy, they don’t it justice as to just how significant and important of a character she truly is in this latest installment. She is a leader because, as we see reflected in like-minded individuals around her, she saw who came before her and was inspired to go forward with that same determination. She is just brilliant to watch.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is phenomenal as Morpheus. He took what Laurence Fishburne created in that ever iconic role and gave him an edge that feels very natural and, more importantly, needed in this latest installment. The only downer is the opposite seemed to have happened when we get a glimpse of him in the trailers and TV spots for the film. His role is set up to be quite significant, and while he is, it’s nowhere near to the capacity as his predecessor. It just felt like there could have been more given for him to do.
Neil Patrick Harris and Jonathan Groff are incredible in the film. Their Broadway-trained theatricality came in handy as they both respectively brought sinister moments that were so delicious, they honestly could give Hugo Weaving a run for his money.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas is ever thoughtful in her performance, but similar to what was said about Abdul-Mateen II, she also could have had more to do.
Jada Pinkett Smith, on the other hand, seems to have had the opposite occur with her return as Niobe. While her character wasn’t given as much as she could have in the previous two films, this latest installment makes up for it by expanding upon and building up her character.
Bottom line, the cast brought there all, which is doable when the script and direction are both equally informed. In a solo undertaking for director Lana Wachowski, Resurrections feels more focused compared to its two predecessors. While the usual garb of gun fights, hand-to-hand combat, and sci-fi shtick is still there, along with a little nostalgia in the case of this installment, the goal is in clear sight from the beginning.
With the script being a collaborative effort between Wachowski, Aleksandar Hemon, and David Mitchell, a touch of humor that usually isn’t present in this franchise made this installment feel a lot more alive (there were several moments of laughter during the premiere screening). It seems like they amplified the Oracle’s playful energy as portrayed by the late Gloria Foster from the first two films, and made it a general core of Resurrections‘ tone.
At the same time, it’s because of the script and the story overall that I felt Resurrections did a disservice to Trinity. Without going to into specifics, a goal of the film is to rescue her, which maybe wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that it took up a large part of it. While Jonas’s character makes an effort in making sure she has agency over her own destiny, ultimately, it didn’t make up for the fact that the most part, Trinity lacks a lot of just that in this installment. It was heartbreaking to see from a character who’s known for being hardcore, taking initiative, and kicking a lot of ass.
Resurrections also appears to do the same thing that a lot of reboots and continuations have been doing these days, which is to make dynamics and characters less black-and-white and more complex. But the thing is, The Matrix is already known for doing that, and so to add on to it the way this film did just felt very heavy handed.
In addition, there were elements to this installment that were admittedly a little confusing to interpret. Whether if it was because the audience was vocally reactive to the point where what was happening onscreen couldn’t always be heard, or if it was just a lot to take in upon first viewing, it’s a relief that it’ll be viewable on HBO Max starting tomorrow. But regardless, there is something to be said when even after seeing it, I can’t explain how Abdul-Mateen II’s Morpheus and Fishburne’s Morpheus are the same (or are they?).
On top of all these elemental critiques for Resurrections, a big one has to do with the philosophy the franchise is known for infusing. While there is a little bit of it, it is nowhere near to the extent as it was in its predecessors, and the times where it is present, it often felt a little redundant; like there was not much to build from there. It’s so startling to say when one bears in mind the three minds who authored this script, but perhaps a side effect to Wachowski’s focus-driven direction is that this endearing element of The Matrix franchise is all but there in this installment.
As mentioned in the beginning, Resurrections was partially shot in San Francisco one month before everything began to change due to the pandemic. While there have been many films to have come out in recent time that can claim the same such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, there was just something especially joyous about having the first Matrix film since the early 2000s to be shot on location. Even if one never had a run-in with a scene in progress, just knowing that Wachowski, Reeves, Moss, and the rest of the team was somewhere in the city, making this happen was such a good feeling. To see the scenes where recollections of calls for extras came to mind was especially satisfying to watch, as a Bay Area local.
There’s a lot to be said about The Matrix Resurrections. It’s definitely not going to be for everyone, especially if one goes into it with expectations mapped out in their head. If you consider yourself a fan of this film franchise that has revolutionized the way not only movies are made but also how we see the world, the best advice would be to go into with no expectations for the plot. The only expectation really is that of a love story — for all time, and for the franchise. After all, echoing Morpheus, “Nothing comforts anxiety like a little nostalgia.”
The Matrix Resurrections comes to theaters and HBO Max on Wednesday, December 22.
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