Review Date: 1/2/22
Director: Lana Wachowski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Christina Ricci, Eréndira Ibarra
"Nothing comforts anxiety like a little nostalgia."
As Keanu Reeves might say: "Whoa." What is The Matrix? That question is a key element of the film, which is an overly sentimental and self-aware parody of itself that both embraces and denounces nostalgia with heavy-handed philosophizing and world-weary cynicism. The film constantly wrestles with its own existence, arguing that there are no new stories to tell, and yet, here it is. To try and summarize the plot is about as futile as trying to explain the original film, and would also ruin it with spoilers. At its core, it's about the endearing love between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), and the powers that attempt to keep them apart. But wait, aren't they supposed to be dead? Once again, the film spends a considerable amount of time questioning what is real and pondering the nature of free will.
Admittedly, I had little interest in the film when it was originally announced, but the trailer intrigued me. It's a masterful piece of marketing that evokes a strong sense of nostalgia while Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" reinforces the film's dizzying looking glass themes. The film obviously couldn't live up to the hype, but succeeds in completely subverting the franchise in surprising ways. Keanu Reeves gives a wonderful performance and is just as confused and bewildered as he was in "The Matrix," although this time he adds a powerful touch of vulnerability and despair. Neo is old, tired, lonely, emotionally fragile, and filled with a profound sense of sadness and uselessness. The anger and angst of his youth has been replaced with jaded middle-aged weariness. Carrie-Anne Moss is utterly delightful, and is the key to Neo's (and the world's) salvation. Seeing them onscreen together again is a huge thrill, and their chemistry is genuinely sweet and charming. Bugs (Jessica Henwick) is a fun new character, and even though she plays a vital role, I would have liked to see her in action more. The other supporting character that really impressed me was Lexy (Eréndira Ibarra), who miraculously manages to survive. It's definitely a kinder, gentler Matrix.
The film itself looks great and is well-made, but the action scenes are disappointing. Instead of honoring its Hong Kong cinema roots, the film adopts the Hollywood style of action filmmaking, which utilizes shaky handheld camera work and rapid cuts. It's hard to tell what's going on in the fight scenes because the editing is so invasive. The music is understated and mostly atmospheric, enforcing a tempo and creating tension the same way a video game would, which reflects another recurring theme in the film. It's a long movie, and the first hour drags considerably while the entire mind-fuck plot is laid out. After the film is finished messing with your head, it picks up the pace and plays out in a more conventional manner as Neo and Trinity once again fight for each other and the fate of the world. Despite its cynicism and social satire, it's ultimately a feel-good movie that comforts us with nostalgia and the power of love. It can't hope to live up to the original, and it doesn't try. If anything, it has the feeling of a mediocre contractual obligation, and I've read that Warner Brothers was going to make a sequel regardless of whether the Wachowskis were involved, so that's another piece of meta-subversion that Lana Wachowski managed to sneak into the final product. Is it a revolutionary piece of pop culture filmmaking? No. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Will I watch it again? Probably. There are multiple layers to interpret and it's up to the viewer to see how far down the rabbit hole they want to go.