Directed by Lana Wachowski.
Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Neil Patrick Harris.
Science Fiction, US, 136 minutes, certificate 15.


Released in the UK in cinemas 22nd December 2021.


When THE MATRIX arrived in cinemas in 1999 it was a shock to the system. Back then the notion of going online still felt vaguely science-fictional for most of us but whether it was the unprecedented use of the stars doing their own action and stunts, the revolutionary visual effects or its plot perfectly balancing pop philosophy and Hong Kong cinema inspired action, THE MATRIX captured the zeitgeist like nothing else around. Almost every aspect of it rippling throughout American filmmaking for years afterwards but coming nowhere close to the originality that the Wachowski’s brought to the screen. And then the sequels happened.


Doubling down on everything; action, effects and characters, the mix felt off. What once was fleet of foot becoming heavy handed, using patience testing monologues to pass off simple concepts as philosophically dense discourses. The original films reputation still remained intact with the sequels considered equally as lesser footnotes by some and under appreciated, ambitious chapters that expanded upon the themes of the first by others.


News of a sequel to a series that had seemingly come to a definitive conclusion was greeted enthusiastically by both camps but what everyone gets instead is one of the most self-centred franchise films trying to blow apart the recent trend of franchise reboots in such a heavy-handed way that it only highlights its own shortcomings. A solo directorial offering from Lana Wachowski this time around we revisit Thomas Anderson, now a games designer who feels that his classic trilogy, titled The Matrix, may actually have been closer to fact than fiction. After being asked by Warner Bros to reboot the original trilogy we learn that Thomas is pining for the very familiar Tiffany, a budding relationship that intensifies his suspicions of reality bringing him into contact with yet more familiar but different faces from a possible past.


What starts off as a metafictional commentary on Hollywood trends and the original trilogy soon becomes the very thing it is lampooning with relentless flashbacks serving as a constant reminder of what has come before and of a set of films that you would rather be watching instead of this cringe inducing exercise that seems entirely uninterested or unable to communicate successfully what made the original films so exciting and interesting before. The emotion that the Wachowski’s have never shied away from putting at the heart of their films feels completely hollow here, culminating in a turgidly staged set piece that aims to combine spectacle and emotion but instead comes off as clumsy and nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is.


Even without its constant sign posting to past films the plot is depressingly predictable. Twists are telegraphed so blatantly that their apparent placement seems like a joke; one characters colour scheme of eye wear and clothing being so obvious as to their true nature after various scenes of the nature of two particularly relevant colours is brought up again and again becoming so achingly transparent that it comes across as an embarrassing own goal on the films part. While the unavailability of one particular actor is dealt with in such a bland fashion that his replacement completely lacks the original antagonist’s charm and menace further highlighting another drop in quality.


On one hand there are a couple of smart updates here; the evolving relationship between man and machine and a clever re-purposing of real-life online threats and annoyances transformed into credible threats for this fictional world. However on the other, Wachowski seems entirely uninterested in even trying to match the visual and action yardsticks that she staked out so impressively before. Quick cuts and long shots masking stunt doubles for the actors could be construed as a further meta comment on the state of action filmmaking but it seems redundant and too easy an excuse, especially with the strides in execution made in American action filmmaking since the original film. Gone too is all sense of the stylish, witty visual style that was so often on display before. The concept of bullet time is brought up again and again but no attempt to counter it with something visually or even conceptually new and interesting is never made at all here.


It may be more interested in exploring the emotional aspects now but this new entry repeatedly trips up in its execution with a smug, unfunny humour that holds back its earnest nature. The set up at the end promises more but maybe it is time for us to all just log off now.


Iain MacLeod.


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