The Matrix Resurrections opens with a "cover" of the opening of the original Matrix movie. It takes a while before it makes sense in the narrative, but basically, new cast members Jessica Henwick and Toby Onwumere are watching the scene where Carrie-Anne Moss escapes from Hugo Weaving. Only it's not Carrie-Anne Moss or Hugo Weaving; it's some kind of modeling software. Someone's trying to train a program, and that program, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, is becoming aware of it, leading to him and Henwick teaming up even though she's a human living outside the Matrix, and he's a program living inside it.
It gets really confusing for a while—especially when they end up in Keanu Reeves's apartment from the first movie—before the film's done with it and just cuts to Reeves in the modern-day. He's a world-famous video game developer—didn't you play his award-winning series, The Matrix Trilogy—and he's kind of a sad old man. His business partner, Jonathan Groff, knows how to motivate Reeves to good result, but they're not really friends. The only friend Reeves has got is a young incel-y sycophant, Andrew Lewis Caldwell, and most of Reeves's personal time is spent mooning over the cute lady in his coffee shop. She just happens to remind him of Carrie-Anne Moss from The Matrix (because it's Carrie-Anne Moss). Oh, and going to his therapy sessions with shrink Neil Patrick Harris. See, once upon a time, Reeves had a nervous breakdown, thinking he was living in a simulation and had to break free of it. Good thing he channeled that energy into making the game series.
Resurrections has a very long first act, leading to a very long second act. Once the action gets underway towards the end, it's a race to see if the good guys can succeed and whether or not director and co-writer Wachowski can make the sequel work. Whenever the film has a chance to comment on the previous movies or lean into sentimentality, it's going to do it. Resurrections isn't quite an apology tour for Matrix 2 and 3, but it learns from all the mistakes and seems to promise it's not going to make them again. Wachowski even goes back to fix some of the misses in the first film, drawing attention to what they'd overlooked and how she can fix it. Resurrections is a supremely confident sequel; it's hard to believe no one had it in mind at the time.
Though I guess the only way to really guess at one of the callbacks would be to racially profile, so probably better there aren't more breadcrumbs.
The film's got three inciting incidents, starting with Henwick and Abdul-Mateen becoming pals, then Caldwell embarrassing Reeves in front of Moss. Finally, Groff announcing their shitty parent company, Warner Bros., is making a Matrix 4 game whether Reeves wants to make one or not. The last one's a bit of a MacGuffin, just something to allow for some jokes, exposition, and hints at character development for Reeves. Resurrections will eventually put on its blockbuster hat, and Wachowski will embrace the sequel-ness; that sequence with Reeves muddling through his mundane, disappointing reality is probably Wachowski's best work in the film. She finds this sadness in Reeves's impotence. Therapist-prescribed impotence in the form of a blue pill.
He'll eventually get his mojo back and find himself in a very unexpected world, one with a much different story than anyone expected. He'll make new friends and find old friends—sometimes literally making new friends out of old friends—and try to figure out what he can do in the world with his eyes open.
And whether or not he wants to do it by himself or try—against all odds—to convince Moss there's something more to them than coffee shop missed connection chemistry.
Reeves is pretty good in the lead. He doesn't ever get any heavy lifting, with Wachowski relying on imagery from the previous movies for some salient character development moments. The movie footage is apparently footage from his video games in Resurrections, making the film's least believable detail a world where a live-action cutscene video game was mega-popular and aged well. To the point soccer mom Moss can sit around and casually play them, seeing herself in films and having the dudes around her laugh at her for thinking she was ever so badass. In the first half, before the sci-fi action kicks off, there's a particularly great scene where Reeves and Moss hash out the lives dealt them. Again, the non-sci-fi action parts of the film are Wachowski's best. She can't keep it going forever, but it sometimes seems like she can, and Resurrections will really just be sad Reeves working at a software company.
But it's not. It's going to get into the mythology of the originals, bringing back Jada Pinkett Smith (who's much better in a combination of old-age makeup and CGI than she ever was in the original trilogy) to bridge Henwick and Reeves's worlds. Henwick's great. She doesn't get much to do in the third act because the focus's changed, but she's great.
Also back in a sort of cameo is Lambert Wilson, who'd make the movie if it weren't so good, as he manages to deconstruct the problems with the original trilogy as well as modern media. He mumbles a lot, and it's interspersed with French because he's still a poseur; I don't think he says anything about movies shouldn't be watched on smartphones, but you know he thinks it. There are a handful of purely joyous moments in Matrix Resurrections and Wilson's one of them. The movie's not sure how serious it wants to be—it acknowledges it raises many questions, but they're usually deftly introduced, and there's this tacit agreement—too many answered questions just lead to the last Matrix sequels, and no one wants those happening again.
Groff's fantastic, an agent of exuberant chaos. He's one of the Matrix 2 and 3 mea culpas.
Moss is good. She's got to do a lot in a limited amount of screen time. She manages, though losing her time to Harris (who really, really likes getting into Reeves's business) in the second half… unfortunately mirroring the original film and how it is lost track of her. It's different this time, which is what Wachowski's saying over and over. She's figured out how to make a Matrix sequel and make it well. Just took two bad sequels and almost twenty years.
Though the maturity helps Reeves.
Harris is fine. In a film of exuberance, he's muted.
Oh, and Abdul-Mateen's a combination red herring and gimmick. He's got presence, he's got purpose, but he's got no story. Not like literally everyone else. Including Thelma Hopkins in what might be the most fabulous cameo of all time.
Technically, it's good. Wachowski's direction is mostly excellent; again, the first half is better than the second, partially because the second seems to be done at a higher frame rate (for IMAX?), making the action rote. Along with Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll's kind of rote photography. Resurrections never wows, which is another joke—the idea a Matrix movie needs to be Matrix 2: Bullet-Timeyer. Whenever there are effects sequences, which look great, it's always from the characters' perspectives. It's about the people, not the bang-bang.
Good editing from Joseph Jett Sally. Wanting music from Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer. I kept waiting for the music to go off, and it never does. Outstanding production design by Hugh Bateup and Peter Walpole. And then Lindsay Pugh's costume design is fantastic. Another place where the film learned from its less artistically successful predecessors.
Matrix Resurrections is an intentionally, earnestly rousing success. Who knew you should wait until you want to see a Matrix sequel to make a Matrix sequel. What a concept. And very lucky it was such a good Matrix movie Wachowski wanted to see.