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Review: The Matrix Resurrections

The Matrix Resurrections

18 years after the previous installment, director, producer, and co-writer Lana Wachowski returns to a world of choices, hacking, philosophical monologues, and yes, kung fu in The Matrix Resurrections. Writers David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon help her shape a script that treads a narrow line between a J.J. Abrams-esque remake, or the approach George Miller took in Mad Max Fury Road where he took familiar iconography and characters and used them to explore new themes and turn the set pieces up to eleven. The basic premise of the film is that Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are somehow still alive after the event of The Matrix Revolutions where they still died. However, Thomas Anderson and “Tiffany” are a video game developer and soccer mom who have never even spoken and see the events of the previous trilogy as a video game developed by Anderson. But the appearance of the enigmatic and energetic Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and a new take on a couple familiar faces from the original films cast this reality into doubt…

From the opening scene of The Matrix Resurrections, which is a shot by shot recreation of the opening fight sequence in The Matrix until Bugs and the new look Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) shake things up, this is a film that is in deep conversation with its predecessors as well as Hollywood’s propensity for reboots, remakes, sequels, prequels, and expanded universes. Wachowski, Mitchell, and Hemon take potshots at the studio that has been trying to make this film since 2004 with or without the Wachowskis in a pitch perfect parody of focus groups and the committee approach taken to most tentpole films in 2021. However, The Matrix Resurrections doesn’t drown in metafiction and uses these early scenes to set up Reeves’ more forelorn approach to an aging Neo that is tired and haunted as well as Jonathan Groff‘s new-look Smith, who is Anderson’s business partner and is generally doing the most during both his condescending monologues and physicality-filled fight scenes. Honestly, I was fatigued with Neo and Smith’s relationship after the Burly Brawl in The Matrix Reloaded, but Lana Wachowski breathes new life into the rivalry by making it a metaphor for binary thinking versus fluidity, safety versus risks, and nostalgia versus something new.

The theme of humans and machines (Now called “synthients”) working together was explored in The Matrix sequels to mixed reviews with Chingy Nea nailing the contemporary audience reaction by saying “Perhaps audiences [at the time] were more attuned to sequels like Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which was just as full of Judeo-Christian imagery but was a more obvious story of fantasy heroes and didn’t tend as much toward existential philosophy and horny latex vignettes.” In The Matrix Resurrections, synthients have made getting in and out of The Matrix and real world much easier with a couple of them playing a key role in Neo’s second unplugging. They also are crucial to the ecosystem of Io, the new human city, that is more garden oasis than warzone. Old age makeup sporting Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) fights to protect the status quo at all costs, and she barely sees the irony of putting Neo in house arrest after his mind was freed from a simulation as her soldiers geek out at a man, who has inspired them so much. After all she’s been through, no one will begrudge Niobe a bit of piece and quiet (The sound mix and score are tamped down during the Io sequences.), but freeing minds has started to play second fiddle to caring for plants, which is why she is in conflict with Bugs and her crew.

Breaking the binary and playing with well-established formulas is always on the margins of The Matrix Resurrections from dialogue about the red and blue pills to a new context for the famous sparring program. Wachowski, Mitchell, and Hemon weave in tons of callbacks and motifs from the original both visually, verbally, and even sonically in Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer‘s score that melds orchestral and electronic music. It can be annoying at times, and I’m not a big fan with the film’s actual ending. However, where it works best isn’t Henwick or Abdul-Mateen mugging at the camera, but when the film puts meat on the bones of an idea or plotline that didn’t land in the first three films like Neil Patrick Harris‘ The Analyst, who replaces the Architect’s math and metaphysics for psychology. And this is where I say the best part of The Matrix Resurrections isn’t its expertly choreographed fight scenes (You can follow Neo’s character arc through the way he fights.), cool chases, or even that it abandoned Christianity for The Invisibles as its spiritual mentor: it’s the romance and relationship between Neo and Trinity.

On paper, Neo and Trinity’s love for each other was the lynchpin of The Matrix trilogy, but their on-screen relationship seemed stiff and clinical (See Trinity’s overlong death monologue in The Matrix Revolutions.) although Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss are fine performers. The Matrix Resurrections makes spark fly between them by sneaking in a romantic film under the guise of an action/science fiction one in addition to making Neo and Trinity saving each other the main crux of the plot instead of extra nonsense with the Oracle, Architect, or side characters from a video game. Neo and Trinity get to have full adult conversations about being dissatisfied with their jobs or marriages, and how they deal with these issues through therapy or repairing motorcycles. (Some things never change.) Because they have lived full lives over the past decades, getting out of The Matrix is a much tougher road, and The Matrix Resurrections spends a decent about of time showing the pods where Neo and Trinity are plus the pain to get them unplugged. Finally, there are new dimensions to Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss’ performances of these characters with Reeves getting to be sweet and charming while Moss gets to hide that she’s a total badass for about two hours before cutting loose in what is sure to be several crowd pleasing moments.

The Matrix Resurrections isn’t a pop culture shifting blockbuster and may rely on grace notes from its predecessors a little too heavily. However, it uses action to build tension and shape character relationships, which also extends to the special effects and production design. Let’s just say the old dog of bullet time might have one last trick. Reeves and Moss also explore growth, love, and aging in a tender way through the characters of Neo and Trinity, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen and Jonathan Groff add humor and physical brutality to the iconic characters of Morpheus and Smith respectively. Lana Wachowski has crafted a film that is an engaging work of cultural criticism, a showcase for setpieces and worldbuilding, and also happens to be romantic as hell.

Overall Verdict: 8.0

TV Review: Gotham S3E6 Mad City: Follow the White Rabbit

season_3_posterMad Hatter sets his eyes on his next victims, forcing Jim Gordon to make some tough decisions. Meanwhile, Penguin and Nygma’s relationship evolves, and a familiar face comes back into Nygma’s life.

Gotham his season feels like it has a bit of an identity crisis as it doesn’t know what it wants to be and what it wants to focus on. There was Mooney and Indian Hill. There’s Bruce’s dupe. There’s the Mad Hatter. There’s Penguin as Mayor. Each episode feels like it focuses on something else in a series that suffers from ADHD.

This episode attempts to focus on two things, Gordon and the Mad Hatter and the bromance between Penguin and Nygma.

The Gordon/Mad Hatter duel is the strongest thing of the episode and series with interesting acting and some twists and turns that are actually frightening in some ways. This is a psychotic villain who’s obsessed with Gordon and wants to hurt him like he thinks Gordon has done. There’s a strangeness to it all and as things spiral, it’s the most entertaining with performances that both enthrall and scare a bit. There’s also some twists, especially at the end as the game becomes more and more deadly and the stakes rise at each level. It also forces Jim to face his feelings with his two latest loves as to which he cares more about.

Speaking of love, people will either love or hate the Penguin/Nygma plotline after this episode. Last episode there was some hints of a bit more than a bromance and this episode ups that to whole other levels with a Penguin that’s gay? Bi? It’s not quite laid out, but it’s a new take on that classic character. I’m not sure how I feel, but when I yelled at the screen last episode for them to kiss, I wasn’t that far off.

The episode has some good and it has some bad in the usual mix of a show that doesn’t know what it wants to be. There’s some solid acting as usual, it’s the story that tends to make no sense for the series or characters. Still, the season is stronger than last year, though that’s not saying a whole lot. If it could just focus a bit more, then it’d be something that’s really a must to watch.

Overall Rating: 7.45

TV Review: Gotham S3E5 Mad City: Anything For You

season_3_posterCrime in Gotham is at an all-time high, as Penguin struggles to uphold his promises to the city. Meanwhile, Butch goes down a dark path with the infamous Red Hood Gang and Bruce begins to investigate Ivy’s whereabouts.

Gotham has its strongest episode of the season as it gets back to its roots of gang fighting and away from freak of the week in some ways.

Most of the episode revolves around Penguin being elected Mayor and his dealing with the crime that has run rampant in the city. He’s attempting to look good but a new Red Hood gang is looking to cause trouble.

But, the real thrust of the episode is about the inner workings of his crew. They’re not getting along as various folks jockey to be Penguin’s number two… or do they really want to be number one? It’s an interesting episode when it’s focused on that.

There’s more thrown in there too.

We also have the search for Ivy, Bruce deciding what he should do as far as his feelings for Selina, and there’s Alice’s blood. It all comes together for the best episode of the season, but it still has a lot of bumps. I think the series’ struggle with identity continues as it still doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be campy, scary, or some gothic/noir thing. It bounces around with different tones throughout the episode, as many of them has done.

Still, it’s an improvement as the series moves away from the X-Men aspects of the series and the focus on proto-Batman villains. I don’t think it’ll last, but at least we get a bit of a break.

Overall Rating: 7.35

TV Review: Gotham S3E4 Mad City: New Day Rising

season_3_posterPenguin gains power as he narrows in on the nomination for Mayor of Gotham. Meanwhile, Gordon turns Alice (guest star Naian Gonzalez Norvind) into the GCPD for the bounty. Also, Bruce and Alfred race to find Bruce’s doppleganger after learning he’s assumed Bruce’s identity.

Gotham is a bit mixed in tonight’s episode. There’s the election, there’s the Mad Hatter, there’s Bruce’s doppleganger, it’s all packed in to an hour of television and the various plotlines make things very uneven.

Lets start with the Madhatter story which has him recruiting some help to retrieve his sister, plus Gordon is still under his influence too. There’s just a creepiness to this whole story that in today’s climate comes off horribly. The end of the episode doesn’t help matters at all only making things worse in many ways.

Benedict Samuel as Jervis Tetch/Mad Hatter is solid in the role though. He brings a really interesting style to the classic character, I just wish he was given something a bit more interesting and not so abusive.

Bruce’s doppleganger continues to be the weakest part of the series mainly due to lack of acting and the story as a whole is just silly. Who knows where it’s going, but I just don’t care as it feels so much more at home in the X-Men universe than it does in Batman. I’m positive that the plot line will intersect with Fish Mooney and Hugo Strange again, but at this point I just want it to wrap up.

Finally there’s the election which actually has some payoff this episode. My biggest gripe is there wasn’t more of this! This is seriously the quickest election I’ve ever seen and there’s not enough done with the ramp up. It’s the most interesting thing going on with the show and the election is decided tonight. What’s weird is if you put it together with the timeline of other events it’s maybe been a day or two since the announcement that Oswald was running… um, k, that doesn’t work.

This is an episode where things needed to be stretched out and others sped up because they’re so bad. As I said, a mixed bag that shows the good and bad of an uneven series.

Overall Rating: 6.95

TV Review: Gotham S3E3 Mad City: Look Into My Eyes

season_3_posterHypnotist Jervis Tetch/Mad Hatter (Benedict Samuel) arrives in Gotham to search for his sister, Alice (guest star Naian Gonzalez Norvind), and hires Gordon to help find her. Meanwhile, Penguin decides to run for mayor and Bruce’s doppelganger begins to channel him, causing some confusion around town.

Gotham improves with this episode that moves away from the “X-Men” aspects we saw in the first two episodes, it instead gives us the seeds of some new storylines that might actually be entertaining.

The Mad Hatter comes to Gotham, the latest in classic Batman villains to find their way to the small screen. While Tetch in the comics has often been depicted as a short twitchy man, this version feels like he has more in common with Ezra Miller in looks. He’s also an interesting person using his abilities to get what he needs and wants while trying to find his sister. There’s lots of potential here and as a plotline to give Gordon something to do, it works and works well. Samuel as Tetch/Mad Hatter is creepy enough bringing an engaging style to the character and show.

For Gordon we also get the return of Leslie Thompkins, which was shown at the end of the previous episode. We find out more what she’s been up to and there’s a twist there I didn’t see coming at all. While this at first feels like a typical story, there’s something more revealed that makes it a bit more interesting.

Then there’s Penguin who has decided to run for Mayor of Gotham, a plot line we’ve seen in films and comics before. We’ve seen it done, but this feels like it’ll have more in common with the mob story in early seasons than the plot of Batman Returns. It’s interesting and gives Robin Lord Taylor a chance to shine on the screen. His portrayal of the Penguin continues to be a highlight of the series.

The episode has a lot of small details that works really well too, especially Erin Richards as Barbara Keen and Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma. Keen is a character I’ve hated, but she gets her crazy on here that works and Smith is always entertaining as Nygma.

The bad continues to be David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne who now has double duty as his long haired emo mysterious copy. We learn a bit more about this plot, but so far it falls flat mostly due to Mazouz’s acting which just doesn’t work. It feels like he’s trying to play too old and/or it just comes off flat. Add in a story that’s just weird to add into everything else and you have the outlier of what could be an interesting episode.

A lot of good here in what’s been a bizarre season that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Maybe the first two were the anomaly and this is more what we should expect and I hope so, because this is a massive improvement over the first two episodes of the year.

Overall Rating: 7.15

TV Review: Gotham S3E2 Mad City: Burn the Witch

season_3_posterFish Mooney (guest star Jada Pinkett Smith) takes matters into her own hands to locate Hugo Strange (guest star BD Wong), forcing Gordon to reluctantly team up with journalist Valerie Vale (guest star Jamie Chung) to find her. Penguin rises in popularity after criticizing the work of the GCPD and Bruce’s investigation of the Court of Owls is compromised. Meanwhile, Ivy Pepper (Maggie Geha) is reintroduced into Gotham city.

Gotham is an interesting one with an episode that feels like it’d fit quite well with X-Men: The Last Stand. The search for Fish continues as Fish continues to search for Strange. Gordon makes deals with Vale and the GCPD takes on Fish’s gang leading to a battle in the latter part of the episode.

It’s an odd episode due to that final part which feels like I should expect Magneto to walk in at any moment and give a speech as to why he doesn’t have his mark. I mean, you’ve got a speedster in black leather wearing a lower mask covering some of her face. It doesn’t get more X-Men than that. All that was missing was someone saying the word “mutant” and politicians railing against them (though we get the Penguin to do that, so we sort of have that).

A confrontation with Fish is what a lot of this episode is about, and even then that is just a step to whatever comes next when it comes to her. This all feels like a series of events as opposed to a solid ongoing narrative.

The closest we get to a narrative instead of events is Bruce’s dealing with the mysterious group who is manipulating Wayne Enterprises from behind the scenes. Comic fans will know them as the Court of Owls, who stand out partially due to their anonymity and their masks. Of course that’s ruined within minutes as the person Bruce is talking to and we’ve only seen briefly removes her mask. It kind of kills the vibe of the group and the confrontation is so early in the season it also kills the mystery itself. This was a story that lasts less than two episodes. Way to kill that reveal and build up really quickly.

And then there’s the return of Ivy who is aged up now and that’s disturbing for a whole bunch of reasons. We’ll see how far they go with her character in future episodes and how creepy it is when you think about it. This episode though doesn’t give me high hopes there.

Gotham is currently the best X-Men television series on right now that’s not animated. As far as being a Batman series… that’s debatable.

Overall Rating: 6.05

TV Review: Gotham S3E1 Mad City: Better to Reign in Hell

season_3_posterGordon (Ben McKenzie) works in a monster-ridden Gotham as a bounty hunter and seeks to find Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) for answers about the Indian Hill escapees – and why their powers appear to be killing them. Meanwhile, Bruce’s (David Mazouz) doppelganger roams the streets, and Barbara (Erin Richards) and Tabitha (Jessica Lucas) open a new nightclub called The Sirens in the all-new “Mad City: Better to Reign in Hell…”

Gotham returns for a third season picking up where the second left off and setting up a lot of mysteries to come. The first episode is a mix of plotlines as the Indian Hill escapees are running loose in the city in a proto-Batman villain sort of way. There’s a guy that’s similar to Killer Croc, there’s a Man Bat knock-off, there’s a lot to make you want an actual series with the straight up rogue gallery we enjoy.

With the introduction of so many with varying powers, the first episode feels like the X-men’ing of Gotham, especially with Fish Mooney running around with her group of individuals. There’s a power for each moment’s needs and it includes some costumes that don’t help the comparison. And as far as that X-Men tone, the series feels more like X-Men: The Last Stand, than the more higher quality films. Watching the episode I awaited for the word “mutant” to be dropped at any moment. It’s a very odd tone and direction for the show, especially with Batman’s more horror roots, this at times camp feels a bit mixed in what it’s attempting to achieve.

The key players are back, though at this point Bruce is more front and center as he attempts to figure out the corruption at the heart of Wayne Enterprises. This mean David Mazouz has more on-screen moments, unfortunately known of that is good. Mazouz is the weakest point in the series with line readings that are flat and without any personality at all. Every scene he’s in drags killing any flow of the series.

Gotham is going in an interesting direction with a weird mix of Schumacher’s Batman and Ratner’s X-Men and in a way moving further away from the classic characters it’s based on.

Overall Rating: 6.75

Around the Tubes

It was new comic book day yesterday. What got everyone excited? What did you enjoy reading?

Around the Tubes

Greg Pak – Love Rocket Raccoon? Please consider donating to writer Bill Mantlo’s ongoing care! – Please help folks!

Kotaku – Lucasarts’ Star Wars Creations Return For X-Wing Tabletop Game – Very cool!

The Beat – Con Wars: Denver Comic Con co-founder La Greca pens open letter following removal – Sad to see this.

Kotaku – Japan’s Transformers Hotel Room Is More Than Meets the Eye – Well ok then.

CBR – She Has No Head! – “Johnny Come Lately” Has Another Name – Amen.

ICv2 – Caliber Comics Returns – Nice to see the return.

The Mary Sue – Jada Pinkett Smith Joins The Cast Of Fox’s Gotham – Interesting.

 

Around the Tubes Reviews

Comic Vine – Avengers World #3

Comic Vine – Batman and Robin #28

Comic Vine – Daredevil #36

Comic Vine – Ghosted #7

Comic Vine – New Warriors #1

Comic Vine – Night of the Living Deadpool #3

Comic Vine – Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #10

Comic Vine – Terminator: Enemy of My Enemy #1

Comic Vine – Uncanny X-Men #17

Amy’s Marathon of Books – War Brothers: The Graphic Novel

Talking Comics – X-Men: Legacy #24

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