Twenty-to-sixty years after Neo and Trinity (Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss) saved the human race from cyber-imprisonment, the Matrix is still everywhere, the human race is still enslaved, and the pair live out their oblivious lives; their struggles having born no greater fruit than tasteless strawberries.
In this new new world Neo is a video game designer who has acheived huge success with his trilogy of Matrix games. The only problem is that greedy parent company Warner Bros. are insisting on a sequel, leading the game designers to sit around discussing how a beloved work of art has been reduced to bullet time and kung fu, in what feels like open war between director Lana Wachowski and the studio. In fact the film’s beginning is the same as the recent Space Jam reboot, complete with the insertion of Buggs Bunny (this time a woman called Bugs with a white rabbit tattoo).
Over the next two hours Wachowski runs through a series of Matrix throwbacks, complete with sunglasses, leather, red pills, blue pills and liberal use of footage from the originals. It has to explain how Trinity and Neo are still alive and kicking after being fried in part 3, and this takes so long it doesn’t manage to do anything else. The question is does the kung fu and bullet time provide enough cheap thrills to justify its existence?
In part, yes. There are some genuine innovations in the action, and the return of the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and his goons provides for an entertaining sequence. But the slick and coherent ass-kicking which defined a decade of cinema, is here more chaotic and disorienting, with special effects that show few signs of improvement across two decades.
While this may be the first Matrix to be helmed by Lana alone, she maintain’s the duo’s unique ability to spend the whole time explaining the plot, while still leaving you bewildered about what’s actually going on. There are gentle nods towards the weighty themes of the original, but the frequent jokes at its expense (Morepheus wears funny glasses now!) make it feel more like a Terminator Genisys style system crash.
It also has to explain the snubs of Lawrence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving. Morpheus is now a computer program somehow created by Neo, ably played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Smith can look like anyone, yet opts for a very un-menacing Jonathan Groff. Meanwhile special credit goes to Neil Patrick-Harris as The Analyst. Reeves gives his best performance ever in the part, and Moss is on typically strong form. The pair also look great, which is more than can be said for the haggard Jada Pinkett-Smith.
This is a gold-plated floppy disc, which can’t hold a candle to the original’s ingenuity but makes us nostalgic for a time when computers were new and exciting. As a result it’s hard to escape the feeling that this reboot is in need of an upgrade.