Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5
USA, 2021. Village Roadshow Pictures, NPV Entertainment, Silver Pictures, Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, Aleksandar Hemon, based on characters created by Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski. Cinematography by Daniele Massaccesi, John Toll. Produced by Grant Hill, James McTeigue, Lana Wachowski. Music by Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer. Production Design by Hugh Bateup, Peter Walpole. Costume Design by Tom Davies, Lindsay Pugh. Film Editing by Joseph Jett Sally.
The first movie actually had a satisfying, complete ending, but that level of success (almost half a billion worldwide and four Academy Awards) means you need sequels. Then the sequels came along, and also gave us a feeling of total closure, so in this attempt to bring the franchise back, and a walloping seventeen years after the last one at that, a lot of acrobatic storytelling is required to reunite characters we believed were dead and explain what’s been going on in the meantime. Making a new film make sense is actually so complicated that about 90% of this movie is spent in exposition, one character after another reads off pages and pages of explanations that eventually fail to penetrate the consciousness the more this wearisome plot, something of a combination of Return To Oz and Truffaut’s Love On The Run, continues to its nonsensical ending.
When we reconnect with Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), he is a successful but mentally unstable video game developer who, twenty years earlier, created a phenomenally successful video game, The Matrix, based on the dreams and visions he was having while suffering a nervous breakdown. His business partner (Jonathan Groff in full Patrick Bateman mode) wants to bring the game back with a new sequel, but Thomas is disturbed by something he notices in the game’s coding, an anomaly not created by him and which seems to be under his own control. That bit of microchippery turns out to be a plucky young lass named Bugs (Jessica Henwick) who shows up with the old red pill-blue pill trick and tells Thomas, actually Neo, that, actually, those weren’t dreams, he’s back in the Matrix after having been resurrected by their cyber-overlords and needs to be freed from the amniotic fluid pod once again. Soon he’s back with a new version of the old ragtag gang of armed adventurers looking to dismantle the system, but Neo insists that he cannot proceed with their quest unless he finds his old love Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and frees her as well.
Sounds fun enough, and for anyone who was dazzled by the truly brilliant first film, there’s no denying the pleasure of returning to this world to see what new levels of wonder we can get from two decades of advances in technology and whatever new clever ideas the Wachowskis, who have yet to top the quality of their breakthrough hit (sorry Sense8 fans), will have come up with in the meantime. The answer is, absolutely nothing! The effects look the same, the locations look the same, only the actors have improved, older and in the case of the two stars ripened into a mature beauty and even richer chemistry than they had the first time around.
Narratively, the whole thing is a mess of nonsense jargon, the excuses to have different actors replacing those who don’t return (Hugo Weaving, Laurence Fishburne) are laughably complicated, and by the time we reach the last act it feels like Lana Wachowski (who takes over directing solo with this one) is just making up all the rules of Neo’s powers and abilities as she goes along and then throws in meta-references to the film you’re watching to cover up the gaping holes. Jada Pinkett Smith has some standout moments in impressive makeup, and there are great supporting turns by Christina Ricci, Neil Patrick Harris, Lambert Wilson, John Wick director Chad Stahelski and, the most exciting and welcome, Telma Hopkins.
Screen Actors Guild Award Nomination: Outstanding Stunt Ensemble