Imagine if we were all a dream in the mind of a particularly boring and unimaginative God. Okay, that’s a little unfair. But there is little in this uninspiring Matrix revival to debunk the creaky old saw – not actually down to Einstein – that madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The first two sequels were dreary duds. Why would things be any different two decades later?
A lot has happened in the interim. Right-wing blowhards have adopted the red pill/blue pill thing as an analogy for opening oneself up to the realisation that communist lizards rule the universe (or something). Some of the first film’s prophecies about malign power of technology have, if not exactly born fruit, then swollen a few buds. There is potential here for satirical invention.
Sadly, Lana Wachowski, now directing without her sister Lilly, has failed to work up many new moves worth savouring. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss look better than they have any right to look – it must be those hardy Canadian genes – but the film feels trapped in the last century's out door. The clothes and sunglasses alone are hilariously out of the mode. What was once the coolest of images has now become the preserve of teenage superhero obsessives from rust-belt suburbs. So much of the new film looks like the work of uncharacteristically well-heeled attendees at San Diego Comic-Con. One half-suspects a bald 40-year-old dressed as Thor is standing just outside the frame.
The story works through the greatest hits with drab efficiency – 'I still know Kung Fu.' Really? – and adds precious few fresh flourishes
To be fair, some self-awareness is on display. We begin with Reeves's Thomas A Anderson, the former Neo, living a stressed life as a video-game designer in San Francisco. The story we know as the Matrix trilogy is his most successful creation. We learn that the firm's "beloved" partners at Warner Bros are going to create a sequel even if the original team doesn't get on board. Ha ha! We appear, at this point, to be edging towards Scream 2 territory – or even the work of Charlie Kaufman – but the picture quickly gives into weak clutches at the first film's receding energies. Somebody arrives with a pair of pills. There is chatter about the rice-paper thinness of reality. We are soon back with the descending green code, the curiously powered vehicles and an anxiety that we may not get home in time for ER (for which we forgot to programme the VHS).
It baffles the brain to learn that Lana wrote the screenplay with the gifted novelists David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon. The story works through the greatest hits with drab efficiency – "I still know Kung Fu." Really? – and adds precious few fresh flourishes. That opening conceit about the video game is nicely done, but it quickly becomes an irrelevance. What variations we get on the philosophy tends to be delivered in lengthy duologues that recall the worst excesses of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Neil Patrick Harris has a few good moments as a sinister analyst who may not have Neo's best interests at heart.
But every stretch of decent writing is undermined by lines so clunky you find yourself doubting reality (can this have been the intent?). Someone does actually say “I guess it’s deja vu all over again.” In 2021. In a film written by grown professionals. The one later self-conscious variation that does work involves a ranting old maniac – we shan’t say where he springs from – who lays out all that’s wrong with modern culture and the wired, post-Matrix generation. It is a cute moment that passes all too quickly.
In Lana Wachowski’s defence, much of Resurrections does play like a sincere conversation with herself. She and her sister invented this extraordinary world, and they have the right to analyse and deconstruct it. But she is a victim of her own early success. One would like to say the film looks like a 2005 perfume commercial influenced by The Matrix, but, in truth, scent ads tend to be a bit more stylish than this. The moment has gone.
In cinemas from Wednesday, December 22nd