Matrix Resurrections’ meta story challenges Jurassic World and nostalgic sequels

The Matrix Resurrections is a reboot that doesn’t scarp the hardware. An actual reboot, in some ways. The word “reboot” first has its origins in the “pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps.” Before it meant individualism, the phrase was supposed to reference an impossible task. Early computers, room-sized devices operated by endless punch cards, felt like an impossible task to those operating them, so starting one became “booting.” Rebooting meant that the impossible task had to start all over again, just like bringing back The Matrix in 2021.

In the hands of Lana Wachowski, The Matrix Resurrections is a movie about other movies. On the surface, this makes sense. It’s a sequel, but Resurrections is not about The Matrix in the same way Revolutions is about Reloaded. It pays lip service to the plots of those movies, but isn’t invested in continuing their story. Rather, it mostly wants to comment on how The Matrix changed the world, and how the world changed The Matrix.

For some, this is a tedious exercise. Amelia Emberwing at IGN wrote in her dissent of the movie that “what’s meant to be self awareness becomes this kind of metaphorical Kool-Aid Man. Enjoying your scene? Let me burst through the wall and let you know that I’m not like other sequels; I’m a cool sequel.” Sonny Bunch at The Bulwark says “the meta discussion here about corporations and sequels and franchises is a desperate attempt to cover up the fact that Resurrections is precisely that, a piece of corporate business.”

Things fall apart for Neo in The Matrix Resurrections
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

But let’s compare Resurrections to another franchise sequel: 2015’s Jurassic World, directed by Colin Trevorrow. While they seem ages apart, the original Jurassic Park and The Matrix are only separated by six years, both were technological wonders when they debuted, and both spawned two sequels. The question Jurassic World asks is: can there be better dinosaurs than the ones in the original Jurassic Park? It offers up the Indominus Rex, a new dinosaur with all sorts of special powers, as a threat.

The movie answers its own question with a resounding “no,” as the old dinosaurs all team up to defeat the new one. Jurassic World is not meta. It exists happily within the world created by the first three Jurassic Park movies, building on plot points but never challenging them. The message is clear: all attempts to challenge Jurassic Park as a franchise will fail, because there is only one Jurassic Park.

Resurrections has no such easy answers. Rather than luxuriate in its initial premise, as Jurassic World does, the movie is plagued by it. The metaphorical Kool-Aid Man described in the IGN review haunts Thomas Anderson every day. Rather than a “desperate attempt” to cover up what Resurrections is in relation to The Matrix, Wachowski seems eager to engage with the subject.

Matrix Resurrections isn’t inherently better than Jurassic World because it’s meta. It’s better because it has more to say than “remember how cool the old movies were?”

Morpheus offering a red pill in Matrix Resurrections

Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) offering up a red pill.
Warner Bros.

After all, nobody got dino-pilled after watching Jurassic Park. As Max Read noted in 2019 for Vulture, “at least the early 2010s, online anti-feminists have referred to their worldview as the ‘red pill,’ which the infamous Reddit community r/TheRedPill, founded in 2012, defines as ‘the recognition and awareness of the way that feminism, feminists and their white-knight enablers affect society.’”

The term expanded to a general libertarian-conservative mindset, to the extent that, in response to billionaire Elon Musk tweeting “Take the red pill” in 2020, former presidential advisor and First Daughter Ivanka Trump gleefully retweeted “Taken!”

Lilly Wachowski, who co-directed the first three movies with Lana, responded to both of them.

If Lilly Wachowski had her tweet, then perhaps Lana Wachowski has The Matrix Resurrections. Resurrections asks if endless discussions and endless content can themselves be a trap. Is it hypocritical to do that within a piece of new content that generates its own discussions? Maybe, but where else is a director supposed to turn? She’s not running for political office, where consistency matters less and less anyhow. She’s a movie maker. She made a movie.

There are things fans of the original trilogy will miss in Resurrections. There is no fight that equals the Burly Brawl of Reloaded, just as there is no rave scene (please sign my Change dot org petition demanding a new rave scene). But there are also elements it mercifully cuts. Gone are the endless hoops Neo must jump through to find the Oracle and then the Keymaker and then an Architect.

Neil Patrick Harris’ Analyst replaces the Architect in Matrix Resurrections

Neil Patrick Harris’ Analyst replaces the Architect
Warner Bros.

Much has been made of the romance of Resurrections, but its core plot point ventures into heist: Neo must steal Trinity away from The Matrix. But rather than the infinite guns and keys and MacGuffins of other movies, Neo must convince Trinity to use her own free will to leave her Chad-filled life as Tiffany. She has to want a life beyond what she knows. So it makes sense that instead of an all-controlling bureaucracy, Wachowski (and David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon, co-writers) now looks at emotional manipulation. Gone are the Men in Black-vibes of Agents, replaced by bosses who don’t wear ties and an Analyst who refuses to use the word “crazy.”

As Emily VanDerWerff notes in Vox, The Analyst “doesn’t allow [Neo and Trinity] even the closure of death. He resurrects them and forces them back into the roles in which he likes them best: ineffectual drones, forever yearning to be together but never quite connecting.” While this may seem desperately meta to some, it can also be seen as an earnest storyteller trying to regain their narrative in a world where narrative has become cheap.

Another element downplayed in Resurrections are ground-breaking special effects. Once upon a time, The Matrix movies set the tone of what was visually possible in a Hollywood movie. “We went from pulling off what seemed to be impossible, to a sort of inability to create surprise,” John Gaeta, a visual-effects designer on the original trilogy who makes a cameo in Resurrections told the Wall Street Journal.

But now, in a world saturated with her CGI revolution, Lana Wachowski’s big show-stopper is Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss jumping off a 43-story building. Resurrections cuts to their falling repeatedly, watching their faces as jump into the unknown, away from the endless discourse and manipulations. They fall with each other, and then they fly. Nothing can match that reality.