Donald Borenstein’s review published on Letterboxd:
this is going to be the messiest review ive written on here, which is saying something because i basically only dump sporadic unedited thoughts on here, and im kind of a dummy even with the benefit of editing. but:
this film's existence is nothing short of miraculous. what clearly begins as an exercise of spite in the face of being strongarmed by WB into revisiting the world in order to keep everyone else's grubby little paws off of it, Lana Wachowski creates one of the most eloquently self-reflexive blockbusters in history -- rivaled only by, well, the other really good one to come out this year, 3.0+1.0 (there are also a lot of direct, i assume coincidental, parallels between these films that i think are really worth diving into).
If it was merely that, that would be accomplishment enough on its own, creating a metacommentary piece that somehow doesnt disappear up its own ass, a rich and combative look at how much the matrix films changed things within the medium and how much they, well, didnt (though, in my opinion not at all hostile to fans as some misguided writeups have claimed, but rather towards the aggressive repackaging of it by the very studio paying for this sequel that she, at least at first it seems, did not particularly want to make). I find it particularly interesting the way these parts of the film --which are definitely more front-loaded, and while great, not as strong as the film's remarkable second half-- dwell on the violence of the matrix that got fetishized. When you look at the Wachowski Sisters' post-Matrix work, it's pretty notable just how absent gunplay is from them for the most part-- Jupiter Ascending and Sense 8 have some, but in both cases the tone and way its shown is radically different. There's a clear discomfort I think with just how much "bullet time" became the unintentional --and against the creators' wishes-- takeaway from these films. More on this in multiple capacities in a second.
But this film is so, so much more than merely "meta" that it kind of bums me out that it seems like the primary focus of the discussion around it. All of that kind of feels secondary to it as an examination of... well, enough different things that I don't feel confident enough going too deep on just a first watch. A number of other writers far more eloquent and qualified than myself have already examined this film in the capacity of radical trans love & survival, and on mental health care as a force just as often weaponized against one's self as it is used in self-healing, but above all else, this film thrives in the same kind of space that the first one does-- the clarity that comes with realizing the truth of the world, and how that realization comes with the acceptance that the only two options are to roll over and die or build something better.
It's this clarity that I think is really the prevailing feeling of the film-- it is finding clarity in all this after decades of conflicted feelings. More specifically, it is Lana Wachowski herself coming to terms with her conflicted feelings on the legacy of her & her sister's creation, and aggressively reclaiming its meaning. Bullet time gives way to a staggered, undercranked slow mo that is reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai, one in which the characters and the audience alike are afforded all the time they need to see slowly developing, at first blurry and unclear movements congeal into what is clearly coming. The stylized green of the previous sequels gives way to an icier, more clinical look that feels at first like its treading dangerously close the soulless style of this era claiming yet another victim (as you've no-doubt seen a couple braindead youtube critics allege by now), but quickly reveals itself to be a powerful critique in its own right. Why build the matrix again out of the same old code? Why make that modal loop?
The answer, of course, is to break out of it-- to revisit it to liberate yourself from the past. To make peace with the ways you have changed since then, and the fact that it still means something to you, something very specific to you, even as the rest of the world has tried to rob you of that.
I am, of course, talking about Lana Wachowski when I say "you", but I do think Lana is also talking about you & I in this as well-- I think that's part of why I'm perplexed by the idea this film is hostile to fans. This film aggressively loves its fans, it is made *only* for its fans and doesnt give a shit about anyone else. In an age of reboots -- and a marketing campaign and initial narrative framework that suggested this would be one -- we instead get a dense coda to the series, one last revisit of all its major themes and lore.
More than that, though, this is about the clarity that comes with love-- a radical love that comes out of a will to continue existing. This is, again, explicitly and inseparably something rooted in trans identity specifically, and as such something I'm not particularly qualified to write about, but it also is about just continuing to exist in a worsening world, and the clarity that comes with identifying that you and what you see are not the problem. The first film obviously already explores this premise so deeply, but Resurrections does so in such a valuable way-- it engages with the idea that this clarity can be regained even when it is lost.
This meant a lot to me, particularly and personally, coming out of a four year stretch where I basically fell apart in every capacity and had to rebuild my entire sense of self. You can still recognize the world for what it is. You can put in work to better yourself and live better, sure, but youre not wrong if you start to thing some of those mechanisms are falsely built around learning to accept this bad world rather than working to change it.
And, like every film in this series, like everything the Wachowskis have ever made, this film is about the liberational power of love, in a way so few artists really get. It is about love as a force whose inertia is so unstoppable, you could wake up sixty years later and find a changed world in its wake. (as an aside, the fact that im writing sentences like this should tell you that i have absolutely no problem with the dialogue in this movie and i think everyone who does is kidding themselves about how "smart" or "dumb" people sound like when they talk)
lots of terrible culture writing was born out of hamfisted comparisons of Neo to Jesus in the original trilogy -not entirely wrong, but the trilogy was engaging more with the broad campbellian model of heroics, and also directly rejecting it-- but the way this film builds off of his sacrifice at the end of revolutions is really beautiful. when you get to see the thriving coexistence of Io, it feels like something really has changed for the better. its a reminder that even under the crushing heel of the powers that be, love itself --radical, unflinching, courageous love-- can be enough to make real victories.
I could go on pretty endlessly about the deep, mournful romanticism of this film -- I havent even gotten into the career-best chemistry between Reeves and Moss-- but ill spare you because i know im being ineloquent enough already here. and because im taking too long to get to the point: all of this would fall flat, of course, without a good movie to carry it. the matrix resurrections is a self-reflexive commentary that does not forget to give you a good time getting there. The action, while not quite at the heights of the original trilogy, is consistently inventive in a way that is always missing in the years we get between wachowski joints, and for all the hesitance i mentioned about gunplay before, there's some really tense, riveting stuff here. there's one particular setpiece towards the end that directly references, intentionally or no im not sure, a setpiece out of "the fate of the furious" but does so with so much more craft, and makes it about ten times as horrifying. this film specifically seems to engage with the horde-like violence that came to popularity with the rise of zombies in 2010s popculture, and has seemed to persist in the way setpieces are done nowadays even as the zombies themselves have at least partially subsided to cultural backwash status once more. but Lana Wachowski makes all these scenes of hordes of violent opposition tactile & horrifying in a way even ostensible horror films of the era have failed-- rather than faceless, indisitinguishable mobs, they're all people --or "people"-- who have a switch turned on that immediately turn them against you. There's, of course, more potent metaphors in this turn than you can shake a stick at, and its a testament to Lana's craft that for all the conceptual monologues in the movie, the densest commentary the film has to offer -- on trans identity, on the way mass culture at this point has absolutely zero tolerance for new ideas, on the parasitic nature of our society itself-- are best exemplified in the fights and setpieces in the third act.
I've lost my place here. see what I mean? i told you this would be a mess. This is the most poorly thought out review I've done on here, and i stand by every word. I'm so excited to watch this one again and again. I'm so excited to get into fights with people over it, because while I respect that everyone's tastes are different, not liking this film feels so deeply alien to me. I'm just so happy it exists.