The Matrix Resurrections—A Failed Blade Runner 2049?
By Evelio Zavala
What made The Matrix trilogy work is why The Matrix Resurrections fails: timing.
In 1999, it was the turn of a new millennium. People were in the mood for some good ol’ fashion introspection. And with that, chances were being taken and pushed forward into the mainstream that couldn’t have come at a better time. We have the audacious, yet arrogant Fight Club; the simple, yet frustratingly relatable comedy by Mike Judge, Office Space; the Oscar-winning Best Picture, American Beauty (my favorite film); the weird, yet surreal imagination of Being John Malkovich. All of these films, including The Matrix, follow the same protagonist: a middle-age white male who, tired of his dead-end job and lack of enthusiasm for anything, attempts to break free from conformity and seek deeper meaning in his own life.
When The Matrix came out, it was definitely a game changer: revolutionizing special effects, sound design, using science fiction as a means to explore philosophical ideas and high-octane action set-pieces (bullet time, anyone?), bringing anime/cyberpunk elements and Hong Kong style action (like wire fu and highly choreographed fight scenes) together in a way that's rare for a thoughtful blockbuster. Quite frankly, audiences never really saw a film like The Matrix. Like Quentin Tarantino, the film takes from several forms of media and still creates its own identity and style, never forgetting to pay tribute to its inspiration.
In 1999, where could you find something like The Matrix? Hell, anything really similar on that scale? The closest we could compare back then was Star Wars.
In 2021, however, the film’s DNA has been embedded so strongly in many blockbuster films to the point you can' find a film that hasn't been influenced by The Matrix. We have the highly stylized yet thought-provoking Inception; the bleak destruction of humanity in both thought and body in Children of Men; Spielberg’s own take of what’s reality or fantasy in his own science-fiction action epic, Minority Report; and a film tasked with the same problem that Resurrections failed where this film succeeded: Blade Runner 2049 (also, my favorite film).
The problem arises with both Resurrections and 2049: how do you make a sequel to a beloved classic, especially after a huge gap in-between sequels? Resurrections has 18 years on Revolutions, while 2049 endured 35 years after the original.
Resurrections starts with an identical set up from the original Matrix; however, so does 2049. Each film attempts to recreate the opening of their first film while implementing changes since then. In fact, they’re very similar in terms of plot and themes. Both films attempt to continue the story, despite the huge time gap and do address it in different ways.
Unlike Blade Runner 2049’s slow yet gradual pacing to rediscover elements and subtle shifts in the world created back in 1982, The Matrix Resurrections instead stumbles and blunts every good nature idea presented here. Without spoiling too much, the film has Neo consume blue pills to help reduce his supposed-delusions of dreams and reality. Not only that, his therapist (played by Neil Patrick Harris) is also wearing blue-framed glasses, with dialogue heavily suggesting “Anderson” to stay put and not think about anything else.
Resurrections attempts to repeat the same story of Neo discovering he’s the One and to rediscover he’s in the Matrix. What were its strengths instead became the film’s weaknesses. No longer are these new effects impressive, or even convincing (losing some of the scope of practicality from the original trilogy); the score is nothing short but serviceable; to judge Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss is pointless. Reeves goes through the same beats as his character did the first film, while Moss is mostly absent. Her character has been skinned to look like someone else and is named Tiffany, but only Neo sees through this. For every new idea presented here, it heavily relies on your nostalgia of the first film and rather than expand on these ideas, it is more of a means to be a soft reboot to launch the franchise back to the mainstream.
Blade Runner 2049 succeeds where Resurrections fails because it truly is a continuation. 2049 doesn’t pick up Deckard’s plotline, but follows a new character in the same universe in the same job—a Blade Runner. However, K is a replicant and aware of this, but when he discovers information that leads to a huge conspiracy, he too goes on a metamorphosis. K could be human, or at least a new kind of replicant, part human, and replicant. With this small tidbit, it also does justice to its source material, as it is no longer a retreat of similar themes but rather explores it further. The question asked in the first film (What constitutes an authentic human being?) is now complicated (When does a synthetic human become more human than human beings, rendering the species obsolete?).
The film also improves upon its strengths and essentially corrects its weaknesses. The effects in the original are great (depending on which version you see, but still great), but 2049 basically amps up all of what we can offer in 2017 and makes the world more vibrant and unique than ever before. Still utilizing the techniques from before, this is an improvement not just because of the special effects or production design, but with Roger Deakins behind the camera, 2049 is quite honestly one of the best shot films in the last 20 years (no secret why Deakins won his first Oscar for Cinematography, and deservedly so).
Not only that, Deckard’s romance with Rachael and Ford’s performance were not really the best aspects of the original Blade Runner. In 2049, not only do you see the sorrow and regret in Deckard’s eyes, but quite frankly it's my favorite Ford performance. Even 2049's romance between K and Jo is both beautiful, yet melancholy, and extraordinarily painful when she meets her demise (you’re in another class of filmmakers if you make me wince and tear up seeing a hologram die, even if it’s not quote-unquote “real”).
It takes the success of Blade Runner 2049 for us to see why Resurrections can’t reach the same heights as the original trilogy. Not because it can’t have great effects (no relying heavily on CGI), good acting, jaw-dropping action, but because we’re essentially being told the same story with less nuances, substituting thought provoking ideas for recontextualization of the old ideas, parading as something meaningful than actually being disingenuous. Resurrections exists only to continue the franchise, not to add another chapter to the original trilogy.
About the writer Evelio Zavala is an aspiring filmmaker, writer, editor, and playwright. An avid reader, fellow film aficionado, D&D enthusiast, and podcast junkie. He lives in Chicago with his two cats. His one regret in life is he wasn’t born rich. He is studying Media Arts at Chicago State University.
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