(2021) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Christina Ricci, Lambert Wilson, Andrew Lewis Caldwell, Toby Onwumere, Max Riemelt, Joshua Grothe, Brian J. Smith, Eréndira Ibarra, Michael X. Sommers, L. Trey Wilson, Mumbi Maina. Directed by Lana Wachowski
Back in 1999, The Matrix redefined action movies and took science fiction cinema in a decidedly cyberpunk direction. Two sequels were spawned in short order but although the trilogy was complete, still fans clamored for more. The Wachowski sisters, originators of the films, seemed little-disposed to returning to the Matrix, but Lana after more than twenty years of radio silence has returned to the franchise (her sister Lily chose not to “return to something I’ve already done,” as she put it).
Thomas Anderson (Reeves), whom we all know as the Messianic figure of Neo from the first trilogy, is working as a game designer whose masterwork is a game about an alternate reality called The Matrix which is a computer-generated panacea built by sentient machines to keep their human slaves docile while they harvested the bioelectricity to keep the machines running. Sound familiar? But Thomas continues to have odd dreams – or is it flashes of memory? – that have him talking to a shrink (Harris) who seems a bit unsympathetic as psychiatrists go. But something is not right. This all was supposed to have happened already, but it’s different. And why doesn’t Trinity (Moss) recognize Neo? Why is she married with two kids and going by the name of Tiffany? And why does Morpheus (Abdul-Mateen) look so much younger than he used to? And the same for Agent Smith (Groff), but Niobe (Pinkett Smith) looks so much older? Makes you want to take the blue pill this time.
The plot is convoluted and overbearing, and sitting through more than two hours of it is certainly a test of endurance. The visuals remain spectacular – Wachowski has always shown a flair for imagery – but the plot bounces all over the place and even the most focused viewers will have a hard time following it. And making the movie without Hugo Weaving (who apparently declined to participate) and Lawrence Fishburne (who wasn’t asked) was a serious misstep; the two of them constituted some of the most important elements of the earlier films. Abdul-Mateen is a fine actor, but he lacks the gravitas that Fishburne possesses, and Groff doesn’t have the slick and unctuous villainy that Weaving projected in the earlier films.
At the end of my review for The Matrix Revolutions I wrote “I’m more ambivalent about the idea of a fourth Matrix installment than I was about the second two,” and the thought of a fifth Matrix chapter is not something I’m particularly excited about – given the reception to the film, both commercially and critically, no decision has yet been announced about the series continuing and it seems at this point unlikely that it will – it feels like a movie that Wachowski didn’t quite have the passion for that she did for the first two films. It’s confusing, indecipherable and possesses an overabundance of nwhite noise from a plot point of view. Some critics are recommending that you simply turn off your brain and watch this for the plain ol’ fun of it, but that wasn’t anything like the first two movies of the sequel were like; they meant to get you thinking. The visuals continue to impress but at the end of the day, maybe it’s time for the rabbit hole to get filled in.
REASONS TO SEE: Wonderful visuals throughout.
REASONS TO AVOID: Far too much style and not enough substance.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of violence and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the film, Trinity’s alter-ego Tiffany is married to Chad, who is played by Chad Stahelski, who was Reeves’ stunt double in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, as well as his director in the John Wick trilogy.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max (until January 21)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/5/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews; Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pixels
FINAL RATING: 5/10
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