Movie Review: The Matrix Resurrections

Well, it’s finally here. After an eighteen-year gap from The Matrix Revolutions, Mr Anderson is back.. but was it worth the wait? Okay, I’m not doing spoilers here so this is a safe review to read. Still, I would recommend just going into The Matrix Resurrections as blind as possible and avoiding any reviews.

Not only is this film one of those legacy sequels that seem to be all the rage these days. This The Matrix flick also joins the list of brilliant film sequels that uses the ‘resurrection’ subtitle. I mean…

combine_images

Surely The Matrix Resurrections can’t be this bad… can it? I often find these legacy sequels follow similar paths, high on the nostalgia and references, while lacking any real substance of its own. The Matrix really did change cinema back when it was released in 1999. Every other film released for a few years had some kind of reference or joke that was The Matrix influenced. Several filmmakers tried to emulate the style of the then Wachowski brothers, see movies like Equilibrium or even the Keanu Reeves starring John Wick trilogy. Films that used sci-fi or action… or both to stylistic effect. If there was one thing that The Matrix oozed, it was style.

Of course, under all of that style was some ‘effing awesome substance too. The Wachowskis created a hell of a world with the first film, a film that got a lot of people theorising, analysing and talking for years, even today. I was lucky enough to see The Matrix on the big screen when it was released. It was a film I knew nothing about, I hadn’t even seen a trailer. It was released at a time when Keanu Reeves’ career was pretty much dead, so nobody really paid it any attention. It was topped off with a lot of unknown or forgotten about actors. Honestly, back in 1999, The Matrix was a massive underdog of a picture that people didn’t expect anything from… especially me. Yet, I came out of that cinema and said that this film would be our generation’s Star Wars. A comment I still stand by and one I feel that became true in many ways. Star Wars had legacy sequels too… ones that (perhaps) didn’t really please the fans of the franchise.

THE MATRIX

As for the sequels to The Matrix, they are largely detested. For me, I thought they were fine. hardly as groundbreaking as the original. Yet, since when have sequels ever been better than the original? It happens yeah but it is very, very rare. I thought that The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions were okay films. I don’t outright love the sequels as I do with the first film, nor do I outright hate them like so many fans do. So yeah, I’m kind of going into this film with an open mind. I’m not full of hate that we have another sequel, I’m not exactly full of hope because these legacy sequels (or just sequels in general) rarely turn out great.

Well, it’s time to see just how good or bad The Matrix Resurrections is. Again, I’m not doing spoilers here, other than mentioning things already seen in the trailers, so I can’t really go into depth with the plot here. I’ll just copy & paste a synopsis that I found to cover the basics.

To find out if his reality is a physical or mental construct, Mr. Anderson, aka Neo, will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more. If he’s learned anything, it’s that choice, while an illusion, is still the only way out of – or into – the Matrix. Neo already knows what he has to do, but what he doesn’t yet know is that the Matrix is stronger, more secure and far more dangerous than ever before.

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS SCREEN 1

Anyway, the first thirty minutes or so of The Matrix Resurrections is full of self-gratification, meta, sucking its own dick, ‘aren’t we clever’, non-stop references to the first three films. All legacy sequels do this, they can never just be their own thing, they have to lay on the nostalgia trip hard and heavy. The Matrix Resurrections does this harder and heavier than most other films if its ilk. I had a few niggles with Ghostbusters: Afterlife for doing the same thing (especially the ending), this film though? It takes that shit to whole new levels of unbelievable forced nostalgia. The Matrix Resurrections feels like it’s trying to be clever… and failing hard. There were times during the first half an hour when I could feel my eyes rolling, as if they had a mind of their own. It really is quite sickening how much ‘look at me, I’m a sequel to a popular film’ that this does do.

From lines of dialogue that are either taken directly from the previous films, lines that are similar but slightly altered to other lines like “Reboots sell” that force what the film is down your throat. Subtle scenes that echo those from the previous films or reference events. Neo eating noodles in a local restaurant, etc. Yup, this film really does its very best to let you know that you are watching a sequel to a massively popular film that has had a good few years gap between. Honestly, I really was getting a bit angry at just how ham-fisted The Matrix Resurrections was being with its blatant callbacks and references.

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS SCREEN 2

After all of that self dick sucking though and when the plot began proper, once they got all of the front end heavy nostalgia crap out of the way… the film seriously kicks up a gear. Not only that, all of that shit in the opening suddenly began to make a lot more sense. This wasn’t forced nostalgia just for the sake of having it, just to keep ramming it down your throat that you are watching a sequel to a film that’s a couple of decades old. What first felt like a film trying to be clever and failing, soon felt like a genuinely clever film. It feels… well I guess it feels very The Matrix. The opening thirty to forty minutes began to feel like it was making fun of legacy sequels that do the nostalgia trip thing. It got most of that crap out of the way in the opening so it could get into the main story proper, all while still having some importance on the actual plot too.

The think the best way to describe The Matrix Resurrections, without going into deep spoilers, is by linking to this officially released trailer. That way, you can choose to click on it and reveal more about the plot of the film, still without spoilers. But there is just enough there to get the theme and concept of just WTF is going on, still using what is known about the universe that the films take place in.

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS SCREEN 3

How and why both Neo and Trinity are brought back (they were most definitely dead at the end of The Matrix Revolutions) makes sense within the universe that these films exist. Are they even the original characters, are they some kind of program, are they real? That’s the beauty of The Matrix as a franchise, it is pretty much limitless and with some thought behind the writing, you can really do anything. What Lana Wachowski has created here is pretty damn impressive given the legacy these films have created. There have even been questions of whether The Matrix Resurrections is a sequel at all. If you have seen the trailers, then you’ll know there’s a lot of reusing certain shots, effects and iconography that makes this feel like it is some kind of a remake… I can’t really get into that without spoiling the plot. All I can tell you is that this film has a lot more depth than it first appears to.

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS SCREEN 4

Of course, you have stylised action. There are mass shootouts, “I still know kung-fu” fight scenes, vehicle chases and so on. In this regard, The Matrix Resurrections does very well indeed. It’ll never be as groundbreaking as the first film was, you just can’t capture lightning in a bottle twice. Still, the action here is very well done and while hardy original anymore. still manages to impress. There’s a scene that involves an interesting new look at bullet-time which is also used to deliver a hell of a lot of exposition too. A kind of a slow, race against time action scene that is packed with urgency… just presented in a very slow way. It’s certainly an interesting twist on what we have seen before. As the trailers show, there’s new Morpheus. Once it is explained why, it makes perfect sense. There are several returning characters from the previous films some very much expected, some genuine surprises.

There really is a lot here to talk about, I just can’t as I’m not doing spoilers. I think this is a film that’ll need more than one viewing to get the most out of it too. Not because The Matrix Resurrections is confusing or anything, it’s really not. If you could follow the first film, you can follow this. The multiple viewings will really be because there’s a lot of little details here, a lot of nuances that need your full attention and I’m pretty sure there are things I missed when I watched.

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS SCREEN 5

I went into this film, not dismayed but definitely weary and unsure if I should even bother with it. By the time the end credits rolled, I was pretty damn happy. The Matrix Resurrections takes what we already know about the world and updates it for a more modern era. Some great action, balanced out with more character-driven and story elements. Not as amazing as the original but a very worthy sequel in its own right. It does sequel-bait at the end and there’s a very pointless ‘comical’ end credits scene that you really don’t need to see. But yeah, I say give this one a view.

Ready To Feel Ancient? The Matrix Is Twenty Years Old

Originally released on the 31st of March way back in the space year of 1999. The Matrix was the brainchild of Andy and Larry Wachowski the then Wachowski brothers… that’s a whole other article in itself. The Matrix changed cinema for years with it’s groundbreaking effects work. But it was not a film that was all looks an no substance, The Matrix is a flick that can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Just watch it as a kick-ass action romp and enjoy it on that level – or delve into its more philosophical elements and how it questions reality and existence.

I still remember the day I went to the cinema to watch the film. You have to bear in mind that we are talking about a film made by relatively unknowns. This was only the Wachowski brothers (yes I know, but at the time they were brothers) second film after the taught and incredibly sexy and stylish thriller Bound from 1996. Bound was very much an underground hit. It had it’s fans (I’m one) but it was hardly Hollywood blockbuster material – so expectations were low for The Matrix. Then there were the stars like Laurence Fishburne who now is instantly recognisable, but back in 1999? He was known as that guy from the Tina Turner biopic or Max from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Carrie-Anne Moss, aside from some bit-parts in T.V. shows, she was unknown and The Matrix was her big breakthrough. Hugo Weaving was perhaps even more unknown than anyone else in the main cast unless you were Australian. Joe Pantoliano had already had a steady acting carer by the time 1999 came around mainly playing bit-parts and character roles. He starred in the previously mentioned Bound… and that’s about all he would’ve been known for back then unless you were a die hard Goonies fan.

Plus it was a time when the internet was still till in its infancy, we didn’t have super-fast fibre optic broadband to watch trailers with, no social networks to spread the word, no smartphones to catch up on movie news on the go… it was a very different time.

The Matrix Cast

Oh and there was some guy by the name of Keanu Reeves. Yeah a household name now but not back in 1999, he was really only known for comedy rolls like the Bill & Ted films and small indie films. I guess the action flick Speed could be seen as his foot in the door of action cinema but he was still hardly known as an action film star afterwards in the same way he is today. It’s not as if Speed was to Keanu what Die Hard was to Bruce Willis. So really with The Matrix you had writer/directors not really know for anything with a cast of actors no one really cared about. It was not an easy film to see any merit in.

So yeah, quite honestly I had zero interest in the film. My brother called me up and asked if I wanted to go to the cinema – I had nothing going on so said yes. Didn’t see any trailers, paid no attention to who was in the film or who made it. Had no idea what I was going to watch just went along because I was bored and had nothing else to do. I went into the film 100% blind. But when I came out of that cinema? The first thought that went though my head was that must have been what it was like to have seen Star Wars at the cinema for the first time back in 1977. I felt that The Matrix was a game changer as if cinema had just taken several jumps forward not just in terms of effects work but also storytelling. I just knew then and there that The Matrix was something special, that people would still be talking about it decades later… twenty years later and here I am.

The Matrix Pills

But the big question is, two decades later, does The Matrix hold up? We live in an age where films date quickly. I’ve certainly seen films in the last decade or so that feel old only months after release. Yet some films are timeless no matter when they were made – The Matrix is one of them. Aside from some of the questionable technobabble and dated references/technology (remember when everyone wanted one of those Nokia flick phones?). The effects are still impressive, bullet time may not hold the impact it did when you first saw it, but it still looks good and just as satisfying as ever. The fight sequences are as exciting as they were back in 1999. Shoot outs are heart-pumping, that lobby scene is still one of the best shoot outs ever caught on film. As an action picture, The Matrix delivers. But it’s not just the impressive action sequences and still amazing effects work that hold up after twenty years. It’s the writing, the storytelling. It’s when you really get into the deeper aspects of The Matrix when the film comes to life.

The basic of good vs evil, human vs machine is nothing special I admit and yes the whole fulfilling a prophecy, being ‘the One’ shtick got tiresome. The love thing between Neo and Trinity was trite. Yet it’s the questioning reality, self-existence and everything that comes with it where the story excels. The multi-layered and textured story telling is fascinating and I love getting lost in the questioning of reality, the two worlds shown in the film – the simulation that is The Matrix and the real world of a desolate future where humans are dying out compliment each other perfectly. When Joe Pantoliano’s Cypher wants out of the real world by betraying his crew mates and when he is offered to be reinserted into The Matrix with a whole new life. The line “ignorance is bliss” he says speaks volumes. Seriously, given the choice of living in on a dead planet being hunted by machines, fighting a war that seemingly has no end or living in ignorance inside The Matrix is a tough call. I can’t be the only person who has often wondered if there is something better out there, something other than the life we believe is all we have?

The Matrix Gun

I’m going off on bit of a tangent here, but I quite honestly could write lengthy articles just on how deep The Matrix goes.  I don’t mean to get into questioning one’s own existence but just to look back at The Matrix after two decades and see if it still holds up. It does, very much so. Having just re-watched the film for the first time in a good few years – I still found it thoroughly entertaining. As I said earlier, it’s a film you can watch on so many levels. Yes it’s a great action flick, but it also asks and addresses much deeper themes and ideas if you really look beyond what is shown on the screen.

I’m not a fan of DVD commentaries, I find it’s usually full of nothing but overpaid people inflating their own egos by making themselves sound like cinematic geniuses. But the commentary for The Matrix is very different and highly unique. Instead of having the Wachowskis harp on about how creative and insightful they are, they decided not to do the commentary themselves. Instead what you get are two commentary tracks. One is from two film critics that didn’t like the film, while the other is from two philosophers who did. The two commentary tracks are amazingly interesting and show how one can perceive the film from two very different standpoints. The critics are negative but bring up several interesting flaws (some stupid ones too). While the philosophers, understandably get deeper into the subtleties of the story. Their polar opposite views really are interesting to hear and yet they really work together. Well worth checking out. I came out with a very different view of The Matrix after listening to the two commentary tracks.

The Matrix Kung Fu.gif

The Matrix is my generation’s Star Wars. Even two decades since it’s release, there just hasn’t been anything like it… plenty of imitators that have tired to delve into the depth The Matrix offers, countless flicks doing similar/same effects work – and yet none of them have managed to capture what made The Matrix so special, not even it’s own sequels and spin-offs.

It’s a film that is still talked about twenty years after it’s release and will probably still be talked about in another twenty, and still relevant in today’s cinema. Even films coming out soon like to throw in a The Matrix reference now and then, it seems even Keanu Reeves himself can’t escape them…

 

“Unfortunately, no one can be told what The Matrix is. You’ll have to see it for yourself.”

 

– Morpheus

Not Another John Wick 2 Review (Seriously – Its Not)

So I just got back from watching John Wick Chapter 2. Yeah I know I’m a little late on this one, but I prefer to wait a few days for the crowds and hype to die down before I watch a new movie. Nothing better than walking into the cinema screen and finding only 6 other people there and your free choice of plenty of seats.

I wanted to write something about this flick but really didn’t feel like doing yet another review as there are plenty of those already around… Okay, I’ll do a very quick review; John Wick Chapter 2 is awesome and so many people get shot in the head. That’s my review right there.

It was while watching this film when something hit me that I thought I’d like to share and this little bit on information is; John Wick Chapter 2 is a great action flick you can actually watch. Now I know what you are thinking, you can watch any action film right? Here lies the crux of my article…

Modern action films tend to suffer from one of three major problems that make them unwatchable – sometimes they suffer from more then one of the three. Here are the trio of things I really, really dislike about modern action movies.

  • Lens flare
  • Close up shots
  • Shaky cam

That’s the trifecta of bad directing right there. I mean, what is the point in making a film that you can’t actually watch? Please allow me to give you a few examples of what I mean.

Lens Flare

I call the the stand Mr J.J. Abrams and his Star Trek reboot from 2009.

I could only manage to watch around 20 minutes of Star Trek before I had to turn it off because of the excessive use of lens flare. Really, what is the point? The ad campaign for the movie didn’t state that you need to wear sunglasses to watch it. Lens flare is a nice effect when used in moderation, it can set a tone and feel for the film and make some shots look beautiful. But when it is overused like this, its distracting and really annoying.

Do you know how many lens flare effects are in Star Trek? 721 – that’s 721 lens flare effects in just one movie. J.J. Abrams take on Star Trek created a whole internet movement due to the overuse of lens flare. There are memes, You Tube videos making fun, fan made posters of other J.J. Abrams movies with ‘ added lens flare’ and so on. But that didn’t warn off other films from doing the same thing.

Lens flare used to be a thing directors wanted to avoid – why? because they want the viewers to actually be able see the film.

Close Up Shots

Now is the turn of Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot… yeah I’m going there.

I remember being so damn excited to watch Batman Begins back in 2005. I love me some Batman and I so much wanted to see a harder edged take on The Dark Knight on the big screen. I read up on this film before its release and one article really got me interested where Nolan was talking about this form of martial arts called Keysi. Apparently the new Batman, Christian Bale had been training really hard and they were going to showcase this impressive martial art in the new movie… except that didn’t. I left the cinema thinking to myself – WTF did I just watch?

Batman Begins has pretty much become infamous for its beyond terrible fight scenes, and well, all action scenes really. This is mainly due to the fact that Nolan decided to film everything in extreme close up so you couldn’t actually see anything. During fight scenes, you never got to see any actual fighting. What you did get was close up shots of elbows and feet flying all over the screen You couldn’t tell who was hitting who. It was such a waste. Nolan’s excuse was that he wanted Batman to be almost stealth like and you were not supposed to see him. Yeah, that reasoning works for the characters in the film but not the people trying to watch a movie. Batman Begins is one of the worst examples of this… but not the only one.

Shaky cam

I detest shaky cam. The Bourne action film franchise is my main culprit here.

Why, why would you direct a film that makes people feel seasick? Seriously, shaky cam has since gone on to be called ‘queasy cam’ and is the one major piece of camera work that is being vastly overused by pretty much any and everyone directing action films today. Its horrible, it makes the screen blurry and difficult to watch, action scenes become nauseating.

Here is a genuine warning put up at an AMC cinema during a screening of Cloverfield.

I really don’t think I have anything more to add here. A filming technique that makes people physically sick.

Those are the big 3 things I dislike about modern action films and do you know what… none of them are in John Wick Chapter 2. This flick offers action scenes you can actually watch. There is no lens flare – or at least none that I remember feeling intrusive. The fight scenes are well framed and you can clearly make out who is hitting who. There is zero shaky cam, there is a little wobble as some of the film is shot hand-held but nothing that makes you feel sick.

There is an impressive shootout in this flick that takes place in the catacombs under Rome. Its dark down there and this shootout features dozens up on dozens of people getting shot… in the head… a lot. Yet despite it being dark and the mass amount of bullets flying, you can see everything. Every shot, every bullet hit and every dead body. You can also make out who is shooting who, where from and with what guns. Its all well choreographed, framed and directed. All the action scenes in this movie are like this – the car chases (and crashes), the shootouts and the fights.

Another action scene takes place on a tube train. Its a very close quarters fight in a very confined area. No lens flare, no close up shots so you can’t see anything and no shaky cam. A fierce and action packed fight that you can watch.

Every action scene is shot so you can actually watch them and make out exactly what was happening. I know right, an action film where you can watch the action. Unbelievable.

This is what made John Wick Chapter 2 so watchable, because you can actually watch it. To director Chad Stahelski, thank you. Thank you for directing an action film in which you can see the action – for making a film that didn’t require me wearing sunglasses or have me feeling seasick by the end credits. I just hope more directors follow suit and begin filming movies that are watchable.