In 1999, The Matrix caused a sensation in large measure because it had some of the best fighting sequences ever filmed—scenes that featured a remarkable understanding of how to frame, stage, and film hand-to-hand combat in exciting and fresh ways. Its writer-directors, the brothers Wachowski, seemed to be charting a new course as action filmmakers. Alas, every movie they've made in the subsequent 22 years has been dreadful; it's now clear that they put everything they had in The Matrix and subsequently have done almost nothing right.
Their influence shows still in the John Wick series, also starring Keanu Reeves; its directors, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, learned at the feet of the masters and have basically surpassed them. Still, even in such dogs as Jupiter Ascending and Cloud Atlas, the Wachowskis (the sisters Wachowski now, as they have both transitioned) still displayed a pretty distinctive visual sense.
No longer. Case in point: The Matrix: Resurrections, now in theaters and on HBO Max. It's the work of only one Wachowski—Lana, born Larry. It looks astonishingly terrible, with muddy third-rate cinematography and bad set design. Even more surprising, its action sequences are incomprehensible and thuddingly unimaginative. At long last, it's time to declare there is nothing whatsoever left of the Wachowski magic.
And that's even more startling because Resurrections has the most impressive screenwriting credits of any English-language movie in decades. Lana Wachowski's collaborators here are the novelists David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon, both of whom are highly garlanded, universally lauded, and possible future Nobelists. The only comparable contemporary writer who comes to mind is Michael Chabon, whose name is on Spider-Man 2 and John Carter of Mars, and is one of the showrunners of the Star Trek TV series Picard. Chabon is pretty good at it, as Picard's high quality attests, but Mitchell and Hemon really ought to keep their day jobs. This is one ghastly movie.
The original movie's plot was a clever but direct lift from the science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick, a clever variant on his central conceit that the world we live in is not the real world but a simulation imposed on us by some form of nonhuman intelligence. This very confusing riff of the original is set in San Francisco, where Keanu Reeves is a hotshot tech bro responsible for designing a game called "The Matrix." But of course there is no game, and there is no San Francisco. He’s still living on a wrecked Earth in which human beings have been turned into batteries powering a civilization of sentient machines. Once again he must be awakened into this new reality, in part to save the woman he loves, Trinity.
The first half hour of the movie is therefore a fun-house mirror. The characters in The Matrix: Resurrections discuss rebooting the game and in the process raise all the issues people had with the original movie. Is it about free will or about destiny? And if you go back to the well to revise the thing, are you doing so because you actually have some creative reason to do it—or for the money?
That kind of thing may seem momentarily clever, but it's just an exercise in tired solipsism. Later on, in the middle of one of the movie's horrible fight scenes, a character from one of the sequels—don't ask me which one or who he is—starts ranting in a French accent about sequels and reboots and the threat they pose to culture. Well, here's the thing: This piece of garbage is a threat to culture, not because it's a sequel or because it's a reboot, but because it's bad and will waste people’s time.
This is easily the worst performance Keanu Reeves has ever given; his dazed and dead line readings suggest he spent much of the preparation for his big closeups being hit repeatedly over the head by a two-by-four. The only real spark of life here comes from Jonathan Groff, a wonderful stage performer who is likely best known from the Netflix serial killer series Mindhunter. Playing Keanu's nemesis, he combines tech-bro obnoxiousness with the silken menace of a Kubrick bad guy.
I've seen worse movies in my day.
But not many.
Update 11:08 a.m.: This piece was originally published Thursday, Dec. 23, at 10:50 a.m.
Published under: Movie Reviews