“You take the blue pill…the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill…you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” When Morpheus uttered those words to Neo, he created an iconic example of pop culture symbolism: the blue pill vs. the red pill. At the surface level, the choice represents a clash between ignorance and awareness, façade and reality. However, when we look more closely at the central antithesis of The Matrix movies, the answers we seek grow murky. What are the blue pill and red pill, exactly? Is it a trans allegory? A comment on political partisanship? Faith and atheism? When the Wachowski’s directed the 1999 film The Matrix, not only would they revolutionize the world of VFX, but unleash a wave of existentialism which still is discussed today.
In preparation for the eighteen-year return of The Matrix to the big screen, I did a marathon of the earlier three movies. I had seen the original several times, but its successors were completely new to me. While Reloaded and Revolutions can’t hold a candle to the first movie, they still offer solid entertainment value; I mean, who can hate an extensive fight scene between Neo and hundreds of Mr. Smith clones? But the ending of the initial trilogy left much to be desired. Recognizing the cash potential of another installment in the franchise, Warner Bros. gave the greenlight for another movie which would conclude Neo’s story. With Lana Wachowski in line to direct (their sister, Lilly, sitting this one out), and Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss returning, the nostalgia factor generated a lot of hype around The Matrix Resurrections. Although, for the movie to be successful it couldn’t rely on nostalgia alone. Not only did it need to explain how Neo and Trinity are still alive (spoiler alert: they die at the end of Revolutions), but there needed to be a reason for why there would be a return to The Matrix at all. What can the series offer us today that it hasn’t already? Wachowski and her co-writers take a “meta” approach to responding to these questions; there is a tongue-in-cheek quality to the script in Matrix Resurrections.
Thomas Anderson (Reeves) is a renowned videogame designer, best known for being the creative genius behind “The Matrix” game series. When informed he has no choice but to make a sequel to the trilogy, Anderson begins having visions that feel like haunting memories. He shares this uncertainty about his own reality with his therapist, known as “The Analyst” (Neil Patrick Harris). When a blue-haired white-rabbit-tatted gunslinger known as “Bugs” (Jessica Henwick) and a man who claims to be Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) try to dig Anderson out of the rabbit hole, he is faced with the choice: blue pill or red pill? Remain Mr. Anderson, or become Neo once more?
There’s an early scene in Resurrections where a group of videogame developers geek out over The Matrix and brainstorm what the next game will be. Buzzwords including “crypto fascism” and “capitalist exploitation” are used when describing the potential meaning of the games and their legacy. Is the sequel going to be fresh and original, or a reboot? More guns and explosions? Bullet-time. One can imagine the pitch meeting for Matrix Resurrections wasn’t too far off from this. Wachowski even uses the literal name of Warner Bros for the videogame studio demanding a fourth Matrix, and a character states the project is driven by the desire for money. Talk about being subtle, but the rest of the film isn’t so cynical. After all, any director could’ve been hired to make the film. There is love for the characters from the director and actors woven into the narrative fabric. The Matrix Resurrections is not a ruling on fan theories. It is a reunion.
The love story between Neo and Trinity is one that has now spanned two decades. The Matrix Resurrections honors that relationship. When Neo is freed from his life-sucking cage, he catches a glimpse of the woman in the pod across from him. Trinity? Neo is sure it is her and will go to whatever lengths to save her. Fortunately for him, Neo has the support of Bugs and her crew, even if it means going against the orders of their commander, Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith). The film isn’t about a war between man and machine, or a matrix in a matrix, but about the simple power of love. You may be reminded of a similar theme in Nolan’s Interstellar, where love reigns supreme over all the plot’s complexity. Some fans won’t be happy with the sentimentality of Matrix Resurrections, as evidenced by the mixed Rotten Tomatoes critical and audience scores. Personally, I enjoyed the reunion of Neo and Trinity. These are two characters I have become invested in, and I’m glad to see them get the happy ending they deserve.
Where The Matrix Resurrections disappoints is as an action-movie. The original Matrix established a new precedent for the genre and ushered in an era of cutting-edge effects. The action set-pieces in Resurrections are mostly recycled, an underwhelming aspect for a franchise known for ingenuity. There is hardly a memorable moment comparable to the first and even second movies. I also struggled to get past the fact that Laurence Fishburne wasn’t Morpheus and Hugo Weaving wasn’t Mr. Smith. Not only do the new actors fail to fill their predecessors’ shoes, but the film also adds unnecessary exposition to explain why the characters don’t look the way we remember them.
When looking back at The Matrix Resurrections and whether it was worth it, fans will be faced with a choice: take the blue pill or the red pill? We can ignore the movie’s existence or accept the film as what could possibly be the true end to the Matrix franchise. But it’s never really a choice, is it?