Wednesday, January 05, 2022

The Matrix Resurrections – much is familiar, yet much is incomprehensible

It’s been so long since the end of The Matrix trilogy that a lot of the details of the story and its world/theology have faded from my memory banks. Though that isn’t the biggest problem with The Matrix Resurrections.

I do remember the circumstances of seeing some of first three. Dan’s relationship with his Norn Iron girlfriend had ended in winter 2003, and the distraught English fella, living above a shop in Lisburn, deserved a trip to City Side Movie House to see Matrix III (Revolutions) to distract him from his sense of relational doom.

Six months before, Matrix II (Reloaded) had been the first film I enjoyed in an IMAX theatre, and it felt well worth the extra ticket price. The tall, immersive format benefitted the camera work and effects, so it’s very disappointing that Belfast’s shiny new Cineworld isn’t showing the new film on its IMAX screen. (Spider-Man: No Way Home remains the only IMAX release in town for now.)

Fast forward to 2022, and much is familiar. The black suited guys with white shirts and shades are back. Tick. Shooting with guns in both hands. Tick. Running around the walls and ceilings. Tick. Being showered with bullets shot by people with seemingly poor aim given how easily you dodge them. Tick. Human bodies bumping into walls and dislodging masonry. Tick. Jumping off buildings. Tick. Stopping bullets in their tracks like a proper Avenger. Tick. Sitting in the bath ... hmmmm.

I entered the cinema for Matrix IV fully expecting to be hit with a barrage of non-traditional storytelling. But wow. For a while, the audience are lulled into a false sense of security that explains The Matrix was a computer game, produced by a firm that could be straight out of Douglas Coupland’s JPod (book or TV adaptation).

Thomas Anderson/Neo (reprieved by Keanu Reeves but looking much more like Ted from Bill & Ted Face The Music) was the game’s designer, basing the character Trinity on a woman he fancies in his local coffee shop (Tiffany played by Carrie-Anne Moss). When his medication is under control, life is dull but stable. When he’s not taking the right coloured tablets, things turn a bit wobbly and psychotic. There’s even a knowing scene discussing Warner Brothers wanting to reboot the game series! Though glitches in the backgrounds and characters’ reflections suggest that all may not be as it first seems.

Each time the characters jump through a door or a mirror into the next rabbit hole – no surprise to see a barista in the excellently named ‘Simulatte’ café reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – anything that I’d begun to firmly believe about the previous world was spontaneously trashed and revised. It would be enough to give Christopher Nolan a sore head.

Gloopworld is interesting while it lasts. The ball bearing recreation of Morpheus is a neat effect. Some of the Synthients (sentient machines) have a Star Wars cuteness but their screen time is minimised in favour of humanoids capable of shooting. I loved the evil shrink (Neil Patrick Harris) and his (presumably) evil cat. Is the constant clinking of glasses a new thing? Jessica Henwick is a great addition to the team playing Bugs, a young hacker and fearless fighter who helps to locate Anderson/Neo and extract him out of one hell and straight into the next.

Ultimately, one character’s conclusion that “now all we need is a miracle” is proved wrong. All they need are some women who have a plan. And between Bugs, Trinity and Sati (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), they have a triumvirate of brave planners. The final scene’s gender-switched power swap (avoiding any specific spoilers) is a nice nod to developments outside the world of The Matrix.

Resurrections is a tough watch as the great action sequences, stunts, and effects are strung together with a spaghetti-knotted plot. A lot of the faith-based allegory is toned down. Trinity and Neo can still kick ass and there’s a real sense of nostalgia – though without the original bullet time special effect – but it isn’t accompanied by a sense of enjoyment.

Clearly the fault is all mine. I didn’t try hard enough, or prepare sufficiently, to engage with the film. Half way through I wondered how Dan was doing. The script waxes lyrical – “Nothing can breed violence like scarcity”, “Not all seek to control; just as not all wish to be free”, “The sheeple … want to be controlled; they crave the comfort of certainty” – but it’s tiresome stuff. Particularly since there’s 148 minutes of it to get through and there’s a burning paranoia that the entire film and the very cinema seat I’m sitting in may turn out to be a simulation within some future film in the franchise.

The doors (and mirrors) are left open for further films should the Warner Brothers algorithm demand them. On the basis of this reboot, I’m not convinced we need or deserve to watch The Matrix Resuscitations, Recycled, Recanted, Renounced, Repudiated, Revoked, Rejected, Relinquished, Rescinded, Retracted, Rebutted, Repealed, or Reversed. In the meantime, The Matrix Resurrections is being screened in most cinemas.

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