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Review: Lana Wachowski’s ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ is a deeply felt, colorful remix

Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix Resurrections”
Keanu Reeves in the movie “The Matrix Resurrections.”
(Warner Bros.)

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When the Wachowski siblings, Lana and Lilly, changed the film landscape (and popular culture) forever with 1999’s “The Matrix,” a philosophical sci-fi film that questioned the very nature of existence itself, it was no surprise that Warner Bros., the studio behind the movie, asked them to make a few more. They obliged in 2003, with “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions,” though the sequels effectively killed off the idea that we’d ever hang with Neo and Trinity again.

But the powers that be will always want more, and so a sequel to the trilogy, “The Matrix Resurrections,” arrives 18 years later. But this isn’t just another rehash. Rather, the film asks us to question the utility of sequels, reboots and the constant churn of intellectual property, especially when the original lesson of “The Matrix” was to awaken oneself to the system, and then bring the whole thing crashing down.

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Lana Wachowski enthusiastically takes on this almost impossible task of plugging back into the Matrix to mine the code for new ideas. Lana’s sister Lilly sits out “The Matrix Resurrections,” but Wachowski has brought on writer David Mitchell, who wrote the novel “Cloud Atlas,” which the Wachowskis adapted to the screen in 2012, and a writer on their Netflix series, “Sense8,” to co-write the script. The result is a swift, self-reflective, often funny and always original reimagining of the material, which sees Wachowski reassessing the existing characters and lore of “The Matrix” while embroidering the text with new ideas and details. It’s less of a reboot than a remix, and this time, it’s a bop.

Wachowski has infused the world with an exciting new cast of characters, playing roles both familiar and fresh. It feels good to be back with these beloved characters, some of whom have taken on new and, it must be said, hotter forms (looking at Jonathan Groff and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, specifically).

The story of “The Matrix Resurrections” is indeed familiar too. A man named Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) leads a repetitive, uninspiring life behind a desk and has the nagging feeling that there’s something else out there for him. But this time around, he’s a video game designer, the brains behind a revolutionary game called “The Matrix,” the narrative of which is essentially the first trilogy of films. The game came from his memories of his time as Neo, not that he’s necessarily aware of that. As his boss, Smith (Groff) presses Thomas and his team for a remake of the game, a new group of Matrix-hopping hackers, including the awesome Bugs (Jessica Henwick), is ripping through the code, searching for Neo. When they find Thomas and once again offer him the red pill to escape the Matrix, the renewed Neo only has one goal: go back and find his one true love, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss).

This film is all about the “re” — the reboot, remix, reimagining, reassessment, the (literal) resurrection of the man who died for our machines — and the Neo myth has influenced a whole new generation, including Bugs and her tough, androgynous, multiculti crew. The new blood brings new life to the text, which could otherwise be just a clever dig at sequel culture, but the film is also deeply earnest and deeply felt, especially when it comes to the core love story, the swooning romance between Neo and Trinity.

Wachowski brings this unapologetic earnestness and sense of pleasure to “The Matrix Resurrections,” which is also a welcome reminder that big action films can be well lit, stunningly designed and, yes, colorful too. She invites the audience to have as much fun as she’s having revisiting this world that initially defined her career, and she seems to apply her full self to this text, bringing an irreverent and infectious zeal to the resurrection. The fact that this ends with an exaltation to “paint the sky with rainbows!” tells you all you need to know about her attitude in this latest trip into the Matrix.

Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

‘The Matrix Resurrections’

Rated: R, for violence and some language

Running time: 2 hours, 28 minutes

Playing: Starts Dec. 22 in general release; also available on HBO Max


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