I appreciate that Lana Wachowski, usually in collaboration with sibling Lilly Wachowski, tried to do other things. They didn’t always work, not entirely, but there was at least an attempt to tell different stories in eager exploitation of the lingering — and, to be entirely accurate, dwindling — industry goodwill from delivering the shock blockbuster The Matrix, the 1999 science fiction and action hybrid that drove an immeasurable number of DVD player purchases. First, the Wachowskis did their duty. They wrote and directed two sequels, both released in 2003, expecting that the tale of Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), and their fellow ragers against machines was capped as a tidy a trilogy, and they could move on to other cinematic endeavors. Not long ago, that seemed feasible, but welcome to the modern age, where the familiar safety of established intellectual properties rules over all else. Like it or not, it’s time to go back to the Matrix.
To her credit, Lilly Wachowski sat this one out, and, to her credit, Lana Wachowski spends at least a portion of the new film The Matrix Resurrections suggesting she would have preferred to make her own exit from the whole production. As the film opens, our hero is back in his workaday existence as Thomas Anderson. He’s an acclaimed video game designer whose consensus masterwork is titled The Matrix, and it evidently is packed full of familiar characters and situations that Thomas thinks sprung from his rumpled, roiling imagination. With this set-up, Wachowski and her collaborators (including co-screenwriters David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon, acclaimed novelists in their day jobs) engage in all sorts of meta tomfoolery that reaches its giddy apex when Smith (Jonathan Groff), Thomas’s business partner, announces that a new sequel to The Matrix game is moving forward at the insistence of their parent company, Warner Bros. Wachowski isn’t exactly biting the hand that feeds her, but she’s taking a few sharp nibbles that can be plausibly dismissed and friendly playing if calling to account for it. The snark is welcome.
Eventually, though, the bludgeoning myth-making takes over. Wachowski makes a few cursory attempts to come up with feats of visual inventive that can compare with the game-changing original film, but The Matrix Resurrections mostly eddies around tedious explanations of nonsensical rules of false realities and epochal battles for societal supremacy. Clamorous fisticuffs, lifeless proclamations of romantic longing, and urgently sputtered strategies for last-ditch salvation and clamorous fisticuffs abound. It’s all very noisy and exceedingly dull. Wachowski takes a few jabs at the right-wing ghouls who have appropriated the symbols of Matrix mythos, but the political and social commentary of the film is so muddled — and obscured by the mass of storytelling clutter — that even those vengeful swings don’t satisfy.
There’s a clear implication in the conversation between Smith and Mr. Anderson, the one about the forced video game sequel, that additional installments of The Matrix were going to happen, with or without the input of the original creators. Lana Wachowski decided she’d rather have her fingerprints on the revival of this sci-fi saga of cascading green, pixelated numerals. That’s understandable, but The Matrix Resurrections signals that she didn’t have anything particularly worthwhile to add. More than that, the film implicitly makes the case that The Matrix isn’t a rich enough invention to merit additional exploration. Pull the plug and let it go dark for good.