I love the idea of crafting a hugely influential media franchise and letting it linger in total dormancy for nearly 20 years before returning to the scene with an ax to grind. There are spoilers ahead, so if you have not yet seen The Matrix Resurrections, then I strongly urge you to make better use of the holidays. I imagine that you will fall in love with this movie at precisely the same time I did: the 20 minute mark, when it’s revealed that Neo has been reinserted back into the unreality of Mega City as a videogame designer who is responsible for a trilogy of Matrix videogames that just so happen to recount the events of the original films.
So many revivals creak under the weight of the established canon, playing it safe to appease the rancorous stans in our midst, reducing what was once special and daring into gray, feelgood pablum like The Rise of Skywalker. Thank god Lana Watchowski was willing to go totally buckwild. Resurrections subverts expectations with an adversarial fervor, and it includes the single most withering critique of the gaming community I’ve witnessed since Hideo Kojima stuck it to us with Metal Gear Solid 2.
The Matrix Online, Enter The Matrix, and The Matrix: Path of Neo—the only game discs to ever bear the universe’s brand—aren’t very good, but all kinds of other videogames have borrowed the flair of the trilogy’s action scenes while casting away its tender questions about identity, humanity, and fate. Mirror’s Edge, Max Payne, and FEAR are just some of the culprits. Few cultural artifacts have been more thoroughly plundered than The Matrix. With doofus Trump scions and ghoulish oligarchs claiming dominion over the “Red Pill,” the fourth Matrix movie had no choice but to be in conversation with the mountains of meta sophistry that piled up in the years after the trilogy ended. In a stroke of genius, Lana Watchowski expresses her irritation by injecting Neo into the games industry, perhaps ground zero of America’s fractured political order.
There is no better illustration of The Matrix’s cultural treatment than a quiet, confused, elementally displaced Neo holding court with some incurious Hawaiian-shirt bozo who happens to work in his studio. Neo reaches out to him under extreme duress, right as reality starts to melt away—his colleague, with pitch-perfect 4Chan patois, responds with a cringey homophobic retort. Yes, this is the sort of man who is responsible for dreaming up the future of The Matrix, because the Watchowkis spent decades watching reactionary dunces exactly like him absorb all the wrong lessons from their masterwork. This point is underscored by a hilarious montage where a room full of developers shoot the breeze on what the trilogy means. Is The Matrix about crypto fascism? Trans politics? Capitalist exploitation? Nobody seems to know, but our doofus is convinced that their artistic true north ought to be “bullet time”—the phrase that emerged wholecloth after the first movie to describe the slow-motion stunts that became the series’ calling card.
The Watchowskis themselves have confirmed that The Matrix is a metaphor for queer self-actualization, but of course, this slimy dude is keeping his grip tight on the canon, utterly convinced that the gunplay is the only thing worth preserving. Neo’s sixth sense flares that something in this world is amiss, but this time around, the stench is emanating from the Steam charts and YouTube comments.
No auteur retains total authority over their creation. The Matrix was going to be abused by all sorts of different factions as soon as it was fully digested by our culture. If “Born in the USA” simultaneously exists as a Reaganite anthem and an incensed anti-war song—if Rush Limbaugh frequently spun Rage Against The Machine on his radio show—then clearly there is no hope for anyone who wants to seal off the interlopers. But it’s still awesome to watch Lana Watchowski say her piece after so many years.
She and her sister are enormous nerds—that much should be clear from the frequent anime references and the Speed Racer adaptation—and together they offered the community some of its core touchstones. In the first Matrix film, Neo transcends a staid corporate job to achieve a higher state of being. Now he’s overcoming a stifling videogame studio populated by the regressive forces bobbing in the wake of that film, one that I hope becomes shorthand for the countless toxic, dysfunctional workplaces that dot the real games industry.
But mostly, I hope that the people who created this universe can rest easy knowing that they’ve finally consecrated the perspective of The Matrix. Resurrections is a sublime rebuke to all the Red Pill chuds—at last, a happy ending.
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