BRIAN VINER reviews The Matrix Resurrections
No wonder Keanu Reeves looks perplexed. He probably can’t follow the plot: BRIAN VINER reviews The Matrix Resurrections
The Matrix Resurrections (15, 148mins)
Verdict: Spectacular but befuddling
The King’s Man (15, 131 mins)
Verdict: Nutty but great fun
The Wachowski brothers behind the 1999 sci-fi blockbuster The Matrix are now the Wachowski sisters, having both gone through gender reassignment.
Yet it’s not the most striking thing about them. That would be the ground-breaking series of movies they conceived, of which The Matrix Resurrections is the fourth instalment.
Directed by Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski on her own, and co-written with Aleksandar Hemon and the British author David Mitchell, the film is both dazzlingly spectacular and so convoluted as to be largely incomprehensible.
Doctoral theses have been written about subjects less complicated than its plot. No wonder the engagingly wooden Keanu Reeves wears the same mildly perplexed frown for the nearly two and a half hour duration, as if he doesn’t know where he is, or why. I felt much the same.
The first three films in the series were all released within four years, but in the long gap since 2003, computer-generated effects have come on apace.
The Wachowski brothers behind the 1999 sci-fi blockbuster The Matrix are now the Wachowski sisters, having both gone through gender reassignment
Yet it’s not the most striking thing about them. That would be the ground-breaking series of movies they conceived, of which The Matrix Resurrections is the fourth instalment
Some of them in this movie are genuinely breathtaking, as Neo (Reeves) once again straddles parallel universes, unsure which of them is reality.
As before, he is offered the choice made famous by The Matrix — the blue pill or the red pill — to help him decide.
Since the events of The Matrix Revolutions, he has re-assumed his original identity as Thomas Anderson, and the one-time computer hacker is now working in San Francisco as a brilliant but miserable video-game designer, with a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) to get him over the pointlessness of his existence.
But then, one day in a coffee shop, cutely called Simulatte, he meets a respectably married mother-of-two called Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), and recognises her, albeit deep in his troubled subconscious, as his former beloved, Trinity.
At its core, once all the bewildering metaphysics are stripped away, this is a rather touching mid-life love story.
But those metaphysics aren’t easily stripped, especially not by Neo, who at times gives the impression that he couldn’t strip paint.
The first three films in the series were all released within four years, but in the long gap since 2003, computer-generated effects have come on apace
As before, he is offered the choice made famous by The Matrix — the blue pill or the red pill — to help him decide
While everyone around him acts their socks off, Reeves keeps his firmly on. And yet, as ever, he somehow gets away with it, projecting a laconic charisma that, as in the John Wick films, keeps us rooting for his character even as he recites his lines, in a steady portentous whisper, like a handsome automaton.
In some ways he’s a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when acting skills frequently mattered less than looks and muscles.
Like Reeves, Moss is a beautifully-preserved relic of the first film, a thunderous hit which is often said to have redefined both the action and the sci-fi genres, not least with a whole new emphasis on hand-to-hand combat.
There’s plenty more of that this time and a slew of familiar characters, although in several cases the actors have been changed.
The most welcome newcomer is Bugs, a sparky revolutionary splendidly played by British Game Of Thrones actress Jessica Henwick.
She teams up with dissident government agent Morpheus (previously played by Laurence Fishburne, now Yahya Abdul-Mateen) in an attempt to find Neo, whose most dangerous enemy within his alternative reality seems to be his ‘real-life’ boss Smith (formerly Hugo Weaving, now Jonathan Groff).
‘Stories never really end, do they,’ says Smith, just as the worrying realisation begins to ripple around the cinema that Wachowski — who has recently suggested that the Matrix films are a powerful allegory for gender identity — might already have the next sequel in mind.
Still, there are enough visual treats in this film to build anticipation for another, including a properly thrilling climactic scene over the rooftops and through the streets of San Francisco.
And I suppose it’s also possible that some people might be able to follow every minute of the narrative. If you know your ‘ectomorphic particle codex’ from your ‘para-magnetic oscillation’, you’ve got a chance.
Christmas is a time for generosity of spirit, but very little of it seems to have been ladled in the direction of The King’s Man, the third outing in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman series.
Early U.S. reviews of his latest spy spoof, which opens in cinemas on Boxing Day, called it ‘dull’ and ‘dopey’. It’s neither. Some of it is uproarious fun.
The film whisks us back to the early 20th century to chronicle the beginnings of the Kingsman spy agency.
Of course, so-called origin stories are very often the recourse of directors and writers who, after a couple of movies, can’t think of a way of moving the narrative forward, so perforce move it back.
But this one, a revisionist account of World War I, is done with such nutty exuberance, such irreverent brio, that the smile hardly ever left my face — except when I was laughing out loud.
Above all, there is a scene in which our heroes, Orlando, Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) and his strapping son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) go to St Petersburg to visit Rasputin (a dementedly over-the-top Rhys Ifans) on a mission to poison him with a Bakewell tart laced with cyanide.
Christmas is a time for generosity of spirit, but very little of it seems to have been ladled in the direction of The King’s Man, the third outing in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman series
The film whisks us back to the early 20th century to chronicle the beginnings of the Kingsman spy agency
A mysterious shaven-headed Scotsman, plotting from his mountain-top lair and seemingly motivated by a psychotic hatred of all things Sassenach, has ordered the Mad Monk to manoeuvre the Russian empire out of the war so that Germany can focus on the English.
The Oxfords scheme to stop him, with a cake prepared by the formidable family nanny, Polly (Gemma Arterton), who has also secretly put together a global spy network of domestic ser- vants.
The logic is that because cyanide smells vaguely of almonds, a Bakewell will be the perfect cover.
But the ruse misfires, the unhinged Rasputin lives, and a fight ensues to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture that is one of the craziest, funniest sequences I’ve seen on screen all year.
Like a history lesson delivered by an escaped lunatic posing as a sober professor, the film benefits from Vaughn’s decision to present much of it straight, making its flights of fancy all the more cherishable and giving Fiennes the perfect showcase for the po-faced comedy at which he excels.
Of course, so-called origin stories are very often the recourse of directors and writers who, after a couple of movies, can’t think of a way of moving the narrative forward, so perforce move it back
But this one, a revisionist account of World War I, is done with such nutty exuberance, such irreverent brio, that the smile hardly ever left my face — except when I was laughing out loud
Tom Hollander, too, has a ball playing all three royal cousins, George V, Tsar Nicholas and Kaiser Wilhelm.
With Charles Dance as a pompous Lord Kitchener, Matthew Goode as his stuffy aide-de-camp, and Djimon Hounsou as the Oxfords’ loyal manservant Shola, it’s a top-notch supporting cast, which also includes Stanley Tucci and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
Best of all, especially since this is a time of year for extravagance, are the lashings of sometimes outrageous dramatic licence.
I’m pretty sure that nowhere in the O-Level textbooks I dimly recall studying was there anything about U.S. President Woodrow Wilson being blackmailed into bringing America into the war, purely to avert a sex scandal.
At times, Vaughn and his co-writer Karl Gajdusek try to have their Bakewell and eat it, wildly lampooning the politics of the Great War while gravely lionising those who gave their lives, but that’s nothing Blackadder didn’t do.
If you’re looking for festive fun, The King’s Man will reward a Boxing Day trip to the cinema . . . assuming we’re still allowed to go. Merry Christmas!
A Macbeth for tomorrow, and tomorrow
The Tragedy Of Macbeth (15, 105 mins)
Orson Welles and Roman Polanski both put Shakespeare’s story of Macbeth on screen, and as recently as six years ago, so did Australian director Justin Kurzel.
His version, with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, was a visual feast, saturated in colour. But now Joel Coen has gone all monochrome on us, and the result is even more striking.
The Tragedy Of Macbeth — the American director’s debut solo feature, without his brother Ethan — is an adaptation for the ages, one that I fancy will be used in A-Level syllabuses for decades.
The Tragedy Of Macbeth — the American director’s debut solo feature, without his brother Ethan — is an adaptation for the ages, one that I fancy will be used in A-Level syllabuses for decades
But whether you follow everything they’re saying or not, the ‘vaulting ambition’ of Denzel Washington as the thane, and the scheming of Frances McDormand, the director’s wife, as Lady Macbeth, couldn’t be clearer
Coen has cut some lines, but basically the dialogue is true to Shakespeare’s original. That can be hard work if you never studied Macbeth at school, with a set of Brodie’s Notes to hand.
But whether you follow everything they’re saying or not, the ‘vaulting ambition’ of Denzel Washington as the thane, and the scheming of Frances McDormand, the director’s wife, as Lady Macbeth, couldn’t be clearer.
Nor is there any ambiguity in the scene in which Macbeth murders King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson). Knowing what’s coming makes it no less shocking.
The uniform excellence of the acting is matched by the exquisite set and costume design, and above all by Bruno Delbonnel’s black-and-white cinematography, which at times gives the spooky impression that you’re watching a 1940s film noir, with Peter Lorre about to creep out of the shadows.
It’s a really impressive film. So, on paper, is the French-language Titane (★★, 18, 108 mins), which won the prestigious Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Newcomer Agathe Rousselle certainly makes an unforgettable debut in Julia Ducournau’s at times almost unwatchably gory horror-thriller, playing a disturbed young serial killer who disguises herself as a boy in an attempt to pass herself off as the long-missing son of a firefighter (Vincent Lindon).
It’s downright sweet in parts, with plenty to say about the nature of grief, but repeatedly turns the stomach in a transparent attempt to shock, and should never, in my view, have won the top prize at Cannes.
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