“The Matrix Resurrections” Takes the Franchise Past the Tipping Point

At the movies, it’s easy to save the world. Threats arise, heroes unite, and the evil is defeated. When there’s a sequel a villain may return but it’s usually after an era of peace. All was well under our hero’s watch — until the Bad Guy struck again.

It’s a satisfying narrative. It’s obviously bullshit.

When the Transgender Tipping Point was announced in Time Magazine, 16 years after the first entry in The Matrix trilogy was released, it promised an era of peace. The article — written by a cis person — began with fetishistic descriptions of trans bodies and ended with something like bafflement that a trans kid’s gender assigned at birth was undetectable. And in between these anecdotes, the article outlined the numerous ways trans people were still persecuted. But, it posited, now that gay marriage was legal and trans people were on TV, it was only a matter of time until this next wave of progress was achieved.

It was a satisfying narrative. It’s obviously bullshit.

With visibility comes a new kind of persecution. With progress comes backlash. The Matrix Resurrections comes out with Lana Wachowski’s real name in the credits and a wide understanding of the original’s trans subtext — it also comes out in a world where more anti-trans legislation is being introduced than ever before and online fascists have co-opted the film’s central metaphor of red pills. This is the real narrative. Good and bad all at once, progress and regression all at once, lines blurred between heroes and villains.

When I first heard Lana Wachowski was returning to The Matrix, I wondered what a 2021 Matrix might look like. Would the passing years allow the subtext to be text? Or would the queerness reflect your average franchise film more than the Wachowskis’ own Sense8? Would it find the sleek perfection of the original or the delightful imagination of the other sequels? With all of the Wachowskis’ influence on Hollywood and queer culture, what would it look like for one of them to return to the movie that started it all?

Resurrections doesn’t just answer these questions — it is these questions. Lana Wachowski has made a self-reflexive meta commentary out of a big budget Hollywood reboot. It won’t work for everyone, but throughout the whole experience I just felt so grateful to have a movie of this scope that surprised me from beginning to end.

This is a Matrix past the tipping point — many things have changed and many have stayed the same. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss are still our stars, but Keanu has a beard, and they’re both looking hotter than ever. Morpheus is back but in a younger model played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen III. And Jada Pinkett-Smith is back from the other sequels, but she’s made up to be about a 100 years older and has a botanist wife. They’re joined by newcomers such as standout Jessica Henwick — and about every cis cast member from Sense8.

There aren’t trans people, except a few cameos, because we’re just not there yet. We should be. We’re not. (Maybe this is why Lilly Wachowski is off making slice-of-life television where trans characters are now allowed.) Instead we find more subtext with the villains being played by Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris — two of the most famous cis white gay men.

The action sequences are reliably captivating and despite the film’s meandering plot, combination of tones, and heady sci-fi, it clips along as an entertaining spectacle. As the film reflects on the progress and lack thereof for trans people, it’s also a reminder of what we have to lose without inventive, intelligent big budget movies.

I’m not as doomsday about Marvel and friends as some — like queer history film history comes in waves — but I know how watching The Matrix Resurrections made me feel. I know that feeling is rare, and I know I want it more. I’ll take a fourth Matrix but what I really want is a film like the first Matrix, but this time made by trans people when they’re out of the closet and with trans people on screen. I want it to be as weird and inventive and bold as The Matrix — not just a checklist of representational politics. I don’t want a big budget movie that centers trans people. I want a big budget trans movie that centers trans people. I believe someday we’ll have that. It just takes time. It takes so much time. And then it takes some more.

The Matrix Resurrections is a movie about what happens after you save the world and it still needs saving. It’s a movie about the cyclical nature of progress — the reasons to fight the same battles we fought yesterday and will have to fight again tomorrow. It’s a movie about why an out trans person can write and direct their own sequel, but out trans actors cannot take the lead. The year is 2021, the machines are still in power, and Neo is still our only hope.


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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Thrillist, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew Burnett has written 313 articles for us.

26 Comments

    • One’s experience directly informs the stories that can be told by them. So, identity–while in some ways just a fancy collection of categories used to shorthand collective experiences–actually does matter a great deal.
      It’s not a substitute for personality, and I don’t believe Drew is making any kind of claim to say that. Instead, she is talking about how stories are told by–and filled by, structured by, embodied by–people. The embodied experiences of those people matter, and the disproportionate access certain people have to creating and performing in stories matters.

      But, sure, please continue being an inane little troll on a queer media site because the “personality” you show in doing so is *so* compelling. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go roll my eyes off into the ether.

  1. “Instead we find more subtext with the villains being played by Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris — two of the most famous cis white gay men.” …And a chill ran down my spine. Great review! I’m excited to see this (whenever it comes to streaming).

  2. I might be misunderstanding the intent, but this line jumped out.

    “Instead we find more subtext with the villains being played by Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris — two of the most famous cis white gay men.”

    Is this supposed to imply that cis white gay men are the bad guys, and that if the film is implying that, it’s a good thing?

    I hope not. NPH was born in 1973. When he was coming of age, it was the height of the AIDS epidemic when gay men were dying in droves, and the government did nothing to help them. There were still US states where gay sex was illegal (and discriminating against gay men in employment, housing etc was still fine and dandy).

    I am well aware that sometimes, groups of queer people are more oppressed than others due to intersections of race, gender, gender identity, disability etc. This does not make it ok to act like some gay men are a privileged group who deserve to be demonized. If that’s what this is about, it’s an ahistorical and ignorant view.

    • I don’t think Drew meant it that way? If so, I agree would with you.

      It would be especially ahistorical, because gay men were the only trans allies in the 1970s – 1990s, while most lesbians were busy kicking out trans women and trans men, and even physically attacking them (I witnessed that that more than once). It was also lesbian feminists and not gay men who were responsible for the redaction of trans health care in the 1980s, a time when the large majority of lesbians were terfs (80-90%) and The Transsexual Empire could be found in lesbian-feminist households all over the planet.

  3. “ Instead we find more subtext with the villains being played by Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris — two of the most famous cis white gay men”

    Can you tell me what subtext there is to find with villains played by gay actors? Like gay subtext? What kind of subtext? I didn’t understand this part.

  4. “This is the real narrative. Good and bad all at once, progress and regression all at once, lines blurred between heroes and villains.”
    Wish someone had shared this wisdom when I was younger, before I became idealistic.🤪 Resonated.

  5. Hey how are you?

    In your opinion what is the subtext of the gay white dudes being villains?

    I was very angered by the way NPH was brutally murdered not once but multiple times as the only ultra gore on screen.

    It made me feel yet again like this isn’t a community because I never would have made trans characters villains let alone brutally murdered them let alone brutally murdered them multiple times.

    It seems that there is no LGBT community if you’re a masculine man born as a man—no matter who and how we fight we are seen as the enemy.

    And I was thinking of making a character in my all male action film turn out to be FTM trans. I even wrote it in my notebook, as I watched at home, a line about how the trans guy is more of a man than a corrupt prejudiced guy will ever be.

    But then that final scene with NPH being brutalized over and over left my inspired might vanished and I wanted to throw up.

    Lana is vicious and it tells me a lot that you watched a cis gay man being brutally murdered multiple times and couldn’t be bothered to protest.

    So what exactly is this subtext that white gay dudes are villains?

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