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"The Matrix: Resurrections": So OK It's Horrible

I have an intense passion for movies, and I believe that film critics help people think better about the media they consume.

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Well, I thought I was done reviewing movies and anime series. I thought nothing can move or shock me or make me care anymore. I just stopped caring about movies when I was in the middle of trying to review all the Marvel Cinematic Universe ones. I was binging and realized that all these superheroes all kind of have the same basic story, which makes each one hero seem dumb and made me feel weird for liking them so much. It was like a kid realizing that it was time to give up on the old imaginary friend. I felt like I had outgrown movies. Like I got them, I knew how they came up with their plots, I knew how they were written, and that made them no longer interesting to me.

It seems like right now we're living in an era of nostalgia, an era of the reboot. And that gives contemporary actors and actresses a real weight to carry, because they have to not just be good enough to get you to buy a ticket to a new show, but they also have to be great, legendary, every bit as badass as the original thing they're copying from 20 or 30 years ago. Not only is that difficult, but they also have to contend with fans of the original work, who often remember the original content as better than it was, and go into rebootquels expecting to find fault with them. And they only watch shows and movies like this hoping to pounce on it and attack. Because if it's possible for something good to be created outside the time period of their own childhood or adolescence, they must not personally be the center of the universe, see. And that would, of course, be a shame.

A lot of rebootquels are also made only to make money, often lazily and cheaply, often cutting out things that delighted fans about the original content in the process. But some seem like a genuine labor of love, coming from an understanding and appreciation of how the world and the franchise has changed over time since the original was created. The best example I have seen is The Animaniacs, which I'll probably also review since, why not, obsession with cartoons is about nine tenths of my personality and all, and I have a lot to say about it. But it's a good example of a reboot that did it right. Even though anything that specifically tries to appeal to my nostalgia usually gets a disapproving eyeroll or sigh from me.

The Matrix: Resurrections is a cute little documentary about how Lana Wachowski feels about the Matrix as a franchise. They re-create some action scenes with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss on screen, cosplaying as their original characters, we get to see Neo in goo getting pulled out of the Matrix again. There's so many jokes about red and blue pills and so much discussion of them and the theme of "binary" that it feels like a film studies lecture or a bad parody of the original. There's a new Morpheus. He's okay. Just okay. He's not really as cool as the original, though.

Everything that's not about the original Matrix is laughably stupid and forgettable. There isn't a single character besides Trinity, Neo, Agent Smith, and the new version of the Architect who I remember this morning, after having seen the film just last night. I cannot recall a single name. I remember there being a blue-haired girl who almost looks like she sometimes has the potential to be a character, but doesn't do anything because, well, the movie has to spend most of its time on Neo and Serenity and Morpheus because that's who people came to see. Again, scary sentinels are still out there, but no confrontation with them feels actually threatening and the movie doesn't have a villain or a sense of urgency or stakes.

Other than, the tired cliche I'm annoyed with beyond all reason in Hollywood and surprised to see from Matrix, of all things; but we have to rescue the damsel. Trinity is not captured and singing about rescue from some lonely castle tower, but it's basically a medieval case of man rescues woman. I'm sick of it, and it feels insulting.

I don't think it's impossible to make it work in a story, a male character rescuing a female one, it's just that it's overdone and infantilizes women. When it's a prevalent pattern in Hollywood's lousy script writing, it becomes a problem worth noting. But I did not see that coming, honestly, from a trans woman director. Matrix: Resurrections focuses on how Neo, the movie's script, the writers, etc. want or require her to feel, never feeling like they care about what she feels/wants genuinely for herself. All her emotions and actions revolve around Neo (and narrative convenience).

Trinity was brainwashed by the matrix (version 2.0) and lead to believe she has a fake life in there, with a husband and kids. She is given the name "Tiffany/Tiff" which is actually a transgender in-joke: It refers to TIF (trans-identified female), an acronym used by transphobes online to refer to trans men, which is a way for them to insult trans people by using names associated with their assigned gender at birth (since they also refer to trans women as TIM or trans-identified male). Red pills in the Matrix franchise originally represented estrogen pills, and blue pills are the anti-depressants associated with trying to live as one's assigned gender instead of taking the hormones. Neo's job is to go into the Matrix and rescue her from... a mundane and normal, but mostly happy-seeming life with someone else (and kids with that man too).

They did try to make Trinity seem as important as Neo, making her a sort of "co-chosen one" alongside Neo. They try to give her more to do than merely being the backup/supporting girlfriend/damsel as the plot demands. But that's what she ends up being. Probably because people are still attending this movie primarily for Neo. Neo is the primary "chosen one" of the franchise, and so a lot of Trinity's stuff in the movie felt insignificant.

The Matrix, while a major action blockbuster, was also intended to represent trans-related struggles with its symbolism. In this fourth movie though, it feels like this point is kind of pushed into the viewer's face. Symbolism used to be subtle and contemplative in The Matrix and The Animatrix. Now it's not only true that the symbols are everywhere, but they barely work as symbols anymore because what they mean is so overt. That blue pills mean anti-depressants is especially obvious, and outright stated, for example.

This movie is holding our hands and talking to us like we're five. The original talked to us like college freshman in for a fun little philosophical puzzle. This one sounds like an over-excited kindergarten teacher reading motivational posters to us out loud, over and over again, as if the movie is terrified we might miss something. It doesn't want us as viewers to have to be smart or to have to think to work out anything about the movie.

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Likes and Dislikes

LIKES:DISLIKES:

Neil Patrick Harris' character, performances, funniness

Most new characters, who are usually generic and difficult to remember after seeing the film. They show potential, but it's squandered by the film choosing instead to focus on old characters everybody remembers.

Neo. Neo in this movie shows more of a range of emotions, more depth and inner complexity.

Trinity. Not only that she's a damsel here, but her entire inside-the-matrix life only exists to be an obstacle to her boning Neo. (That has to be undone so the male and female leads can end up together.) She's not given enough time to explore her own mind and feels like an accessory to Neo's story, but I expect better of "feminist" directors. Her fucking motorcycle gets more backstory than her husband and kids, who never feel real, and so her struggle never feels interesting or weighted.

The cuteness and hopeful tone of Io.

The fact that all the cool things people did to build Io happen off-screen between movies.

The cuteness of the Seninels who have evolved and are nice now.

The fact that some Sentinels are nice now makes it seem like the movie is afraid to make anything genuinely scary.

It has a lot of meta-commentary about the first one, that was sometimes entertaining to watch (if you treat that as a documentary interview with the director more than a self-contained fictional narrative on its own).

Generally, it lacks anything that excited me or piqued my interest about the first film.

You know what's funny? When I searched for "Matrix - New Characters" but most of the pictures were still of Neo!

You know what's funny? When I searched for "Matrix - New Characters" but most of the pictures were still of Neo!

What's New?

They introduce a bunch of new characters introduced, but the plot firmly revolves around Trinity and Neo. This creates a problem, as little that the new characters do matters. They feel irrelevant, just a supporting team to help Neo live in the new version of Zion, which has (for no reason) dropped two letters and become Io. There's some stuff about them and the politics of this new human civilization, but a lot of it is boring.

One change that was interesting to me is that it's less depressing and more hopeful now. They're growing strawberries in darkness now instead of eating slop, and are aided by benevolent sentient machines that have defected and joined the side of free humanity. How did this happen? Off-screen! Why did some machines rebel? What's their whole deal? We won't know from this movie!

The point is, the new world of Io is more Eden 2.0. That means the franchise is now less about remnants fleeing war and brainwashing holding out for bitter survival. Now, it's about building an everlasting paradise out of a devastated and oppressive world.

But becoming way too hopeful ruins this franchise. Cyberpunk is supposed to be dark, gritty, and more bitter, more pessimistic than a conventional action story. Why? Because if it gets all hopeful and evangelizes, then it is no longer cyberpunk content. The purpose of the genre is to show the hypocrisy and pain caused by modern consumer capitalism, and to show us what to beware of should we become too reliant on technology. Now is a great time to do cyberpunk, but they're not doing it. There's nothing scary in this movie and nothing to suggest that human progress can't continue alongside that of the machines in harmonious hippie bliss forever. There's very little even cause for conflict. Great for building a society, bad for writing a movie that has to have action. Action that matters, that feels like it hits hard. That isn't just another spectacle of computer-simulated violence.

Plus, a problem with Resurrections is we don't get enough time to focus on the process of building. There has to be a problem Neo has to solve by using his (ill-defined) powers, it has to involve saving Trinity, and it has to involve guns and explosions. That's what needs to be in the movie for the movie to exist. If they had cut the old characters out and focused only on the new characters, no one would watch it. But that might have made it a good movie, or a better movie than the one we got, which I felt was too bogged down by the need to be a Matrix sequel.

If older characters and actors were made to back off and allow newer ones to breathe, in this franchise and in other sequels and reboots, I think that would be better. I had the same frustration with recent Star Wars films, how they're sometimes so concerned with talking about the old movies that they forget that this is a new movie now!

I can't be the only person alive whose appetite for good original content and new stories is greater than my appetite for repetitive nostalgia-triggering references!

If I could re-write this movie, I'd probably take Neo and Trinity out altogether, except in reference to how their legacy inspired Matrix-break-out-of-ers generations later. Who would have their own stories, and plenty of time in which to tell them. It was something I liked about The Animatrix, that they got away from focusing so specifically on Neo and Trinity and were able to just explore the concept of the matrix unfettered. And that film is a masterpiece. Right now, I am not so much disappointed with Hollywood as I am with the general film-going public. Here you have an amazing franchise with limitless potential for inventive storytelling; and you people just want to see the same bullet-dodge move you saw over 20 years ago.

Conclusion: Matrix Fans, People New to the Franchise Alike, Don't Bother

I hate reboots and sequels in general. I really do. For a while, I followed a golden rule of "don't like, don't watch." But when they reboot every franchise, and it's a trend, and they do it to my favorite shows, I feel compelled to say something about it. The Matrix is a movie about how to break free from your own conditioning, seeing modern life's hypocrisy and dark side, and fighting back. The Matrix: Resurrections is a movie about The Matrix that doesn't understand how to do anything the original did, and doesn't seem to know how to be its own movie separate from it, either.

© 2021 Naomi Starlight

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