The Matrix has always been a fun franchise, albeit one whose premise doesn’t stand up to too much scrutiny. It explores the possibility that we are living in a simulation. Although the scenario presented has always been a bit conservative, in that the human characters still have human bodies, rather than being simulations. (Another movie from the same year, The Thirteenth Floor, was less conservative, but was much more cerebral overall.)
The conservative take allows humans to break out of the matrix and fight the machine oppressors. But it’s that conservative aspect that doesn’t bear much scrutiny. The human body as an energy source is pretty questionable, although the original movie tried to get a little cover by vague references to some type of advanced fusion energy. But if energy from biological systems really made a difference with that kind of energy, there would almost certainly be better options than the bodies of an unruly ape species.
Other questionable aspects are the idea that if you die in the matrix, you die in real life. And that simply disconnecting you from the matrix, if you’re not in the right place, kills you. Along with characters showing signs of physical trauma when they’re getting beat up in the matrix, this all makes sense from a plot strategy of needing to preserve some jeopardy for the characters, but it makes little sense scientifically or technically. (When the original trilogy was running, I considered the possibility that it involved security code in the implants killing the host if they were disconnected, but then why doesn’t it kill the humans the rest of the time they’re disconnected?)
And that’s all before we get into the issues with downloading skills like martial arts. Or Agent Smith managing to possess a human in the real world. These plot points, while cool magic in the story, seem rooted in a simplistic version of computationalism that no understanding of the brain supports. (Again, some excuses based on the implants might be possible, but then why would the implants have those capabilities for meat batteries?)
But weaknesses in the premise aside, the movies have always been fun because the premise, if you do accept it, allows for a lot of very cool special effects and choreography.
A lot of people enjoyed the first movie, but considered the second and third to be pretty poor. I actually enjoyed the entire trilogy, but can definitely acknowledge the third movie being a pretty bitter pill. At the end, it looks like Neo and Trinity are both dead, although they succeed in creating a détente of sorts between humans and machines.
Anytime you make a sequel to something like that, a large part of it is going to be about how the characters managed to survive, or be resurrected. This one is no exception. A substantial portion of the new movie is about Neo and Trinity still being alive in the matrix, how they got there, why they don’t seem to recognize each other, how they climb out of this new hole and find each other, and the way it matters for the rest of humanity and the machines.
There were a few times watching it that I was worried it would be a lackluster story, similar to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Or that it would be too mired in nostalgia. It does have a lot of nostalgic moments, but with a purpose, to remind us of what happened in the earlier movies. (It’s been 18 years after all.) And the writers do manage to come up with enough fresh content to make this an interesting story in its own right.
Is it as good as the first movie? No, but that’s a tough nut to crack, being that it was the one that initially ripped the carpet out from under us. I’d say it’s better than the second and third movies. And it does manage to mix in some philosophical pondering, and bring in a new take on Trinity’s role in Neo’s capabilities in the original trilogy, which I liked.
It also has a few moments of self referential irony. Neo, at the beginning of the movie in his new matrix life, is Thomas Anderson, a world famous software designer who designed a trilogy of games called “The Matrix”. Despite having insisted he’d never do a sequel, he finds himself drafted into an effort to make a fourth installment, with committees trying to figure out what made the original trilogy so appealing. This is Lana Wachowski winking at us after years of her and her sister refusing to consider a sequel, which I found amusing.
So, I enjoyed it, and recommend it if you’re in the mood for this kind of entertainment. I watched it on HBO Max rather than the theater (an option I continue to love).