Running time: 148 minutes. Rated R (some violence and language). In theaters and on HBO Max Dec. 22.
In 1999, Morpheus said to Neo in “The Matrix,” “I’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
In 2021, I say, “Must you, Morphy? I’ll take the blue pill, please.”
The fourth movie of the needlessly prolonged franchise, coming 18 years after the horrendous “The Matrix Revolutions,” is “The Matrix Resurrections,” a descent not so much into Lana and Lily Wachowski’s ever-fascinating dystopian reality as our own madness.
Beyond the initial satisfaction of seeing Keanu Reeves, whom we regularly watch in plenty of much better movies anyway, and Carrie-Anne Moss return as sunglasses-lovin’ power couple Neo and Trinity, “Resurrections” is aimless, vocabulary-filled, talky tedium.
It’s set after the events of “Revolutions,” which had Neo pull a Jesus and sacrifice himself for the greater good while the Matrix — a digitized world that humans, trapped by machines, confuse for real life — is rebooted. These days, Neo is a video game designer who’s famous for creating one called — get ready to hurl — “The Matrix”!
The cringey self-awareness doesn’t stop there.
When his team tries to recreate the success of their earlier creation, another designer points out, “We need a new ‘bullet time,’ ” referring to the pioneering 360-degree slow-motion technology made famous by the original film.
Still, Neo, whose real name is Thomas, has a sneaking suspicion his memories of the Matrix, Trinity and the hidden human city of Zion might be real. He’s even been discussing it with a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris), whose black cat is named Deja Vu. When that feline moniker is revealed, you silently scream into your popcorn.
Turns out Neo was right. One day Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) shows up in the office bathroom and gives him the alternate-reality lowdown, only Morpheus no longer looks like Laurence Fishburne and also moonlights as one of the villainous agents. This change-up is confusingly explained in calm, condescending technobabble, like a cult leader telling why it’s obvious that aliens are on their way to pick us up.
Then, with the help of a new character named Bugs (Jessica Henwick), Neo takes the red pill and wakes up in one of those gross human pods all over again with one goal: Bring back Trinity.
No “Matrix” movie has ever matched the forceful simplicity of the first one (we are prisoners to machines and need to be free), and “Resurrections” is a full-on lecture at MIT.
As we flip through Lana Wachowski’s syllabus, there’s more talking than a 24-hour marathon of “The View.” The chatter problem began in “Reloaded,” as too many characters with perplexing motivations and silly names were thrown into the mix — the Merovingian, the Keymaker, the Architect — that made the story too video-game-like. Then “Revolutions” added the Trainman and Sati for good measure. The new movie shoves in yet more people who blather on about metaphysics and philosophy and attempt to advance plenty of underdeveloped plot lines.
We are quickly told, for instance, that the machines are now at war with each other on occasion, and Bugs and her crew (all unmemorable) have metallic machine pals who are in the shape of sweet animals.
So, who’s the villain? Sort of Smith, who explains that he is the old Agent Smith but also isn’t. But a bigger, profoundly unsatisfying baddie is revealed later on.
The best part is Moss, whose eyes still burn and whose outward gentility conceals a grave threat, but she’s not in it enough. Jada Pinkett Smith is given ridiculous old-age makeup as the leader of the humans.
With Lana Wachowski returning to direct, we at least hope for the visual dazzlement and boundless creativity of the fight scenes that made the first two films great. Sorry, guys. The fourth flick looks dollar-store cheap and during the battles, you’ll wish you were watching “John Wick” instead.
After two lousy sequels, here’s a pitch for Warner Bros.: “The Matrix Retirement.”