When a star's variety of hair styles is the real star of a movie, you know it's a sign of trouble. So it is, unfortunately, with "The Matrix Resurrections," which makes poignant use of hair cuts and color to mark the eighteen years separating the new film from the last installment in the "Matrix" trilogy. Little else in the new film is as moving. The action picks up where the last one left off. There, Neo (Keanu Reeves), having saved the last human city, the underground realm of Zion, died from the effort.
In "The Matrix," from 1999, Keanu Reeves plays Thomas Anderson, who pops a mysterious red pill proffered by an equally mysterious stranger and promptly discovers that his so-called life as an alienated nineteen-nineties hacker with a cubicle-farm day job has, in fact, been a computer-generated dream, designed--I swear I'm going to get all this into a single sentence--to keep Anderson from realizing that he's actually Neo, a kung-fu messiah destined to save a post-apocalyptic earth's last living humans from a race of sentient machines who've hunted mankind to near-extinction. Neo spends the rest of the film and its two sequels bouncing back and forth between the simulated world, where he's a leather-clad superhero increasingly unbound by physical laws, and the bleak real world, laid to waste by humanity's long war with artificial intelligence. Like "Star Wars" before it, "The Matrix" was fundamentally recombinant, unprecedented in its joyful derivativeness. Practically every cool visual or narrative thing about it came from some other mythic or pop-cultural source, from scripture to anime. And, like "Star Wars," it quickly became a pop-cultural myth unto itself, and a primary source to be stolen from.
"Nothing comforts anxiety like a little nostalgia," Morpheus says in The Matrix Resurrections. That's a not-so-subtle dig at the onslaught of reboots and remakes dominating our culture -- revisiting characters and stories we already know is, well, safe. Audiences know what to expect, and it's a better bet for risk-averse studios. Of course, Morpheus (now played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen) is also commenting on the film he's in. More than twenty years after The Matrix fundamentally reshaped genre cinema, director Lana Wachowski is finally diving back into the universe that made her and co-director Lilly Wachowski renowned.
Science fiction, in its most perfect form, operates like a Möbius strip. Then, years later, early adherents look back and analyze its predictions, knowing full well that sci-fi set the blueprint for the world they're living in. Rarely, though, do the creators of sci-fi get to revisit the worlds they built after the events they anticipated are set in motion. In this, Lana and Lilly Wachowski are all but singular. When The Matrix came out in 1999, it was a beautifully realized cyberpunk fable.
One day in 1992, Lawrence Mattis opened up his mail to find an unsolicited screenplay from two unknown writers. It was a dark, nasty, almost defiantly uncommercial tale of cannibalism and class warfare--the type of story that few execs in Hollywood would want to tell. Yet it was exactly the kind of movie Mattis was looking for. Only a few years earlier, Mattis, in his late twenties, had abandoned a promising legal career to start a talent company, Circle of Confusion, with the aim of discovering new writers to represent. He'd set up shop in New York City, despite being told repeatedly that his best hope for finding talent was to be in Los Angeles. Before that strange script showed up, Mattis was starting to wonder if those naysayers had been right. "I'd only sold a few options that paid about five hundred dollars each," Mattis says. "I was starting to think about going back to law. Then I get this letter from these two kids, saying'Could you please read our script?'" The screenplay, titled Carnivore, was a horror tale set in a soup kitchen, where the bodies of the rich are used to feed the poor. "It was funny, it was visceral, and it made it clear that whoever wrote it really knew movies," Mattis says. Its writers were Lilly and Lana Wachowski, two self-described "schmoes from Chicago" who, in later years, would be referred to by many colleagues and admirers simply as "the Wachowskis." By the time they contacted Mattis, the Wachowskis had been collaborating for years, having spent their childhood creating radio plays, comic books, and their own role-playing game. They'd been raised in a middle-class neighborhood on Chicago's South Side by their mother, a nurse and artist, and their father, a businessman. Growing up, their parents had encouraged them to discover art, especially film.