By Christian DiMartino
So, I saw The Matrix Resurrections yesterday, and it’s a film I liked, but didn’t quite know what to write about. On one hand, what was enjoyable about it, was purely enjoyable. On another hand, over the last day I’ve had the itch to write about it but at the same time, there is so much detail to the plot that I felt like whatever I wrote about might not do it justice. Kind of like… well, The Matrix, which I had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen a few weeks ago and, even despite having seen the movie multiple times, it’s a movie of such great intrigue and such great detail that talking about what works about it might not add up.
That’s not to say that The Matrix Resurrections is in the same league as the original. It isn’t quite. Yet this new movie, the first in nearly 20 years, works well because it’s a reminder of what worked so well the first time, while also not quite reaching what worked the first time. It’s a reminder of what pleasures the first film brought, in terms of its ambition and scope; in terms of its huge ideas and the way that it was able to deliver upon them in such thrilling ways; the way in which it was able to capture all of these aspects in such thrilling ways. The DNA of The Matrix is present in The Matrix Resurrections, with the exception that the new films does sort of lack a kick-ass action sequence.
That being said, the new movie does have the spirit of the old… it just comes across as a little more of a slog. A mostly successful, creatively inventive, visually cutting-edge slog, but where the first film worked wonders, this one doesn’t quite reach. Yet it does work. Anyways, the reason behind this was because I feel like in order to talk about The Matrix Resurrections, you sort of have to talk about the whole movie, and the whole trilogy, and frankly, I don’t have the energy to do that because they’re pretty intricate. Instead, I’d like to shift my attention towards the Wachowski sisters themselves, because their place in filmmaking is rather interesting.
Typically the two work as a duo, but The Matrix Resurrections is solely directed by Lana Wachowski. Regardless, directing duo Lana and Lily Wachowski have been swinging for the fences for about 25 years now, and even though they’ve only made eight movies, the two never show signs that they’re particularly phoning it in. Even as a fan, it’s clear that at least their last three movies weren’t going to be for everyone, and we’re for everyone, in that they split critics down the middle and underperformed at the box office. The Matrix Resurrections might have the same fate, but only time will tell. In news that will surprise no one though, I am a fan. Not always, and again, some of their movies really don’t work. The thing that always brings me coming back though is the fact that they are usually giving it their all. Even if the returns are diminishing, we at least get the sense that they didn’t phone it in, and that’s not nothing.
So, I’m going to rank their movies, and maybe these rankings will come across as predictable. Sure, they might be. However, there will be stipulations. Such as, I haven’t seen their series Sense 8. I will also exclude V for Vendetta, which had a good amount of their involvement but wasn’t technically directed by either of them (if it was though, it would be at the top of the list, I friggin’ love that movie). For this ranking, we will just be talking about the movies that a Wachowski/ THEE Wachowskis have directed, and each will be determined by a letter grade instead of my usual star ratings.
8. Jupiter Ascending: By far their biggest blunder, and the film that put them out of commission until Resurrections. Looking back on it, it’s easy to see this movie as an homage to something like Flash Gordon. However, it certainly isn’t self-aware and it lacks humor in any degree to make it at least fun. Channing Tatum plays a dog man, Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, and Sean Bean plays a guy who is part bee (I think that’s right) and it’s almost as if none of them are having fun. It’s just a big, expensive dud. The only one who brings any entertainment to the party is Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne, who is unbelievably terrible but almost gloriously terrible in a performance the Razzie’s were made for. D+
7. The Matrix Revolutions: So I revisited this a few weeks ago and, it’s not quite as bad as people say, but it also doesn’t fully work. On the one hand, it is a visual marvel, and in ways improves upon the visual effects present in The Matrix Reloaded. The problem this time though is that, well, it sort of ends the trilogy with a thud. A lot of ideas are thrown into the mix, there are huge developments to the plot and the characters, and not only do some of the ideas not feel fully fleshed, but the developments feel unsatisfying. It’s not a particularly enjoyable movie, but it does lead to a rather spectacular climax. Just for it to end with a whimper. C+
6. Speed Racer: This might’ve been their biggest box office bomb, and perhaps the problem was that it was released a week after Iron Man. Admitted, I hadn’t seen this in its entirety until last year. So I’ll just say it: I kind of like it. There is no denying that in the visual department, not all of the effects have aged gracefully. It’s also a movie of big ideas, set in the context of a movie based on a classic kids cartoon from decades ago. But… it’s pretty visually insane- something close to resembling a cinematic acid trip. There is also fun to be had with it while you’re rolling your eyes, but you’re also rolling your eyes with it. It’s not a movie that particularly works, but I sort of defend it to a degree. B-
5. The Matrix Resurrections: Much has already been said about this new entry, and frankly I recommend the movie for its good ideas. It should also be said that part of what’s refreshing about this new movie is that it’s a sequel that has come nearly 20 years later, and yet it doesn’t feel like the retread it should’ve been. It retreads the original while paying homage to it, and also while building towards the mythology of it, while also managing to include the mythology of the less popular sequels. There are gripes though, such as the lack of Lawrence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving are noticeable, and the movie is entirely too long for a movie that is throwing a lot at us. At the end of the day though, the only reason to return to this world is to expand upon it, and while it may not satisfy everyone, it did a decent enough job of satisfying me. Particularly in the Carrie Ann Moss and Keanu Reeves side of things, particularly because both of them have aged marvelously. B
4. The Matrix Reloaded: I give this one the 4th slot by a hair- if Resurrections had lived up to its meta first hour, it would be taking this slot. Since it doesn’t quite though, the underrated Reloaded swoops in. There is stuff in The Matrix Reloaded that doesn’t work- not all of the visual effects have aged well, and it does throw a lot of ideas at you and expect them all to stick. What does stick though does stick. The production design, the ideas (and sometimes but not always the look) of the set pieces, particularly that awesome highway action sequence, the giant Zion orgy. Reloaded doesn’t always deliver, but when Reloaded delivers, it is a true knockout. B
3. Bound: This might be the most under-seen Wachowski film, and these two made Speed Racer. The difference this time though is that Bound is something of a great movie. A sexy, thrilling thriller that made Roger Ebert’s list of the best of 1996 (gee Rog, I wonder why), Bound is a knockout for a number of reasons. Their debut film is a really well made, somewhat noir masterwork anchored by the sexy performances of Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly (a pity they never worked with The Wachowskis again) and the menacing work of Joe Pantoliano. It’s also just richly stylish and completely satisfying, in the way that the best thrillers of the 90s and the 80s were. My hipster take from a year or two ago was that this was the best of their work. It’s been retracted since, but also… maybe. A
2. Cloud Atlas: Like Speed Racer, the box office bombing of Cloud Atlas was one that burned in the memory, but this one made more sense. It was hard to market, with the exception of the cast; it was three hours long; and it was rated R. The critical reception was also rather mixed. Seeing as it’s my second favorite, it probably goes without saying that, yeah, I love this movie. Cloud Atlas is the kind of movie I always respond to; one whose failings are understandable but one I’ll always root for. It tells six storylines, with the same group of actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Ben Wishaw, etc) in nutty disguises, and while it doesn’t always mesh, it meshes well enough for me. The film has tremendous production values, from its visual effects to its make up to its production design to its cinematography. It’s so stunningly beautiful and yet so puzzling and yet truly fascinating. To tell you the true true, it was never a movie made for everyone. It’s easy to see why the public turned their back on it and why nobody speaks of it… but it’s also a fascinating piece of work that nobody would dare touch, besides the Wachowskis and co-director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), who had the audacity to take a swing this large. It’s definitely not a film for everyone, but it’s one that I’ll fight to the death for. That it didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination makes me feel icky. A
1. The Matrix: Duh. Or, maybe, whoa. Anyways, revisiting The Matrix a few weeks ago, I was blown away all over again. Here is a film that has stood the test of time and passed it. The movie was made in 1999, and it’s still pretty damn awesome, and has aged better than a lot of todays movies will. It’s a great thrill ride with a giant brain, and that’s not always that can be said. I love that this film won four Academy Awards- two for sound, one for editing, and one for visual effects. It however wasn’t nominated for production design, cinematography, what about original screenplay? The Wachowskis changed the game with The Matrix in a number of ways, and imagine if they’d just made one film. Did they have the urge to make more, or did Warner Bros. crave more? In any case, The Matrix is such a tremendous triumph of a movie on its own that even if you don’t feel the need to watch its sequels, you’ll still feel as if you’ve watch something special with just this film alone. It’s a one of a kind, and even to this day, something of a remarkable experience. A+