The fourth entry of the "Matrix" franchise wrestles with its own meaning as a blockbuster.
By Kelley Dong
Over the last year I’ve noticed an increase in advertisements for so-called “immersive experiences,” or exhibits that use 360-degree projections and virtual reality headsets to display famous paintings in convention centers and galleries. In Toronto alone you can pay 50 to 100 dollars for a ticket to Immersive Klimt, Immersive Van Gogh, Beyond Monet, or Frida: Immersive Dream. Such spectacles profit from the idea that enlargement yields a more enriching, more generative experience of painting than an encounter with the true size of a canvas. Meanwhile, at the Art Gallery of Ontario and for less than half the price, I was surprised to find that Pablo Picasso’s The Blue Room is only 50 by 60 centimeters. Despite the need to squint I understood that I was the smaller subject. Less is not always more, but more is so often less.
In essence a Matrix-themed immersive experience, Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix Resurrections contains an overcompensatory metanarrative of stretched-out proportions. To borrow a line from Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker, another science fiction sequel that treats revivification as its skeleton key, somehow Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) has returned. Morpheus—an alternate iteration of the character previously played by Lawrence Fishburne—must locate and awaken Neo (Keanu Reeves), the chosen One presumed to have died after saving humanity at the end of the Machine War in The Matrix Revolutions (2003). 60 years after the war, the rebooted Matrix is a neoliberal corporate hell where the balmy colors of a Corporate Memphis graphic have taken the place of monochromatic greens and the sky-rises are populated by hipster-techies who debate whether “ideas are the new sexy.” Here Neo is Thomas Anderson (Reeves), a Hideo Kojima-esque video game auteur—and a semi-autobiographical stand-in for Wachowski—pressured by Warner Bros. and his business partner Smith (Jonathan Groff) to make a sequel for his game series The Matrix. Thomas is too beleaguered by visions about flying above the fabric of reality to care for the project. His Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) gives him a prescription for blue pills and urges him to press on. More work, more sequels. Fortunately for our hero this is not the real world. The machines have manipulated Neo’s digital self-image (DSI) so that no one in the Matrix sees him as he sees himself. His actual body awaits outside in that familiar pod.
Lilly Wachowski described the idea of a fourth Matrix film as “expressly unappealing” and “emotionally unfulfilling.” As if in rebuttal to those who share that sentiment, Resurrections incorporates cut-backs, Easter eggs, and addendums to prove how and why it has great purpose, deep meaning, and heart. A tacky mix of reds and blues dominate every scene as treats for the clue-obsessed. The film’s veneer of reflexivity fails to conceal that the plot is a simple rescue. Though Neo eventually escapes the Matrix, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) is still stuck there as Tiffany, a mother of three married to a man very aptly named Chad. Because humans can only leave the simulation voluntarily, Neo sets out to help Trinity cast her mind back and make her own decision to join him. Back into the rabbit hole he goes. He’s followed by Morpheus and a new character named Bugs (Jessica Henwick), who bring with them a racially diverse group of rebels—many of them former cast members of Sense8—who’ve ennobled Neo and Trinity as legendary martyrs of the cause. (Though the films don’t exactly fit the template of a white savior narrative, I share Armond White’s skeptical view that the Wachowskis’ screenplays treat “race and ethnicity as dramatic ballast.” Resurrections continues the lopsided postracial fantasy of The Matrix films, in which racialized people exhibit little else but the exotic virtues of robotic resilience and helpfulness to white people.) Copious amounts of footage from the trilogy are intercut with identically-framed shots and repeated lines of dialogue from Resurrections. Identifying compositional parallels between multiple films is cinephilic muscle memory, even more so for the screenshotting generation. Thus Wachowski’s supplementary materials, which drag the eye from the past to the mismatched present, immediately become redundant and unwelcome reminders of bygone innovations. With few aesthetic distinctions but its referential devices, Resurrections regresses to being a feature-length explainer video about itself.
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