The Matrix Resurrections

In a rebooted Matrix — literally — a resurrected Neo, now oblivious to the truth, must once again choose to take the red pill and free his mind, in order join the rebellion against the systems holding the humans prisoner inside of the Matrix.

The Matrix Resurrections picks up decades after the end of the third film, which was supposed to definitively conclude the series. This new sequel manages to suck you back into this marvelous sci-fi world with great visuals and world-building, but fails to justify its existence beyond being a cash-grab that relies way too much on reminding you that the first movie exists. The movie tries to be meta and self-aware about sequels and corporate greed but this commentary becomes laughable in ways that I wasn’t sure it was trying to be, and it ends up becoming the exact thing it attempted to mock and satirize. The irreverence and over-the-top nature this movie was going for that tried to mimic the original film just doesn’t work when at the same time taken this seriously. It’s nice to see Keanu Reeves back in action as Neo, but his performance somehow doesn’t manage to reach the heights of his turn in a more recently launched franchise, John Wick. Carrie-Anne Moss also returns as Trinity, and so does Jada Pinkett-Smith as Niobe from the previous sequels, but Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is here replacing Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, playing an alternate version of the character inside the Matrix. Wouldn’t have been much more rewarding to see Fishburne return as one of the most iconic movie members and have the talented Abdul-Mateen play a new key character? The only real standout performance-wise is Jessica Henwick, whose part feels like a mix between Morpheus and Trinity’s roles in the original but Henwick gives a lot of personality here, which is saying a lot for this movie. Some of the supporting performances, like Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris, felt weak as they seemed to be over-acting the whole movie.

Though the music, world-building, and concepts are great, as well as the ideas around AI, choice, and free will, it’s hard to give this movie credit for all that because it’s all derived from the original. This film also makes way too many on-the-nose references to the original, including showing scenes again and having visual nods to the point that the first act is almost the same as that from the 1999 film. As a huge fan of that first movie, it’s cool to see the visuals of that outside robot-infested world done today, speaking of which the CGI in the real world is amazing, but the nostalgia for Matrix fans is all the movie has going for it. What made the original work is the incredible action scenes as well as the simplicity of the story and ideas, and this one ditches all that. The fights within the Matrix have headache-inducing editing, and the cuts make it hard to follow. Also considering the conceptually similar Free Guy, which was partly inspired by the original, came out mere months ago, as well as us getting a CGI-filled blockbuster every couple of weeks, it’s hard for this movie to feel that special, besides Lana Wachowski’s evident ambition. There’s also so much exposition needed to explain the gap between The Matrix Revolutions and now, as well as the rules of the world and action of this movie. These explanations are so excessive, confusing and convoluted that it took my friends and I the ride home to truly grasp all the rules. It felt like the final act ditches any sort of logic to simply go for cool visuals and a safe story structure. If you’re a big fan of 1999’s The Matrix like me, and want to see those visuals and that world how it’d be made today, then that’s the only reason to go see this movie. Otherwise, this feels like a rehash of that magnificent first movie that only seeks to bank on our nostalgia and give us more from what we liked 20 years ago.

The Matrix Resurrections.jpg

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home leaves off right after the previous movie, Far From Home, in which Mysterio exposed Spider-Man’s identity as Peter Parker to the world, which has repercussions on Peter’s life as well as his loved ones. He goes to Doctor Strange in an attempt to reverse it, but when a spell goes wrong, villains from other universes — and previous Spider-Man films — emerge and wreak havoc across the multiverse.

After the post-credits scene of the last movie, No Way Home by concept already had immense potential. Marvel Studios decided, however, to up the scale for the Spider-Man series and make it the most exciting film led by the web-slinger yet, by bringing in fantastical aspects and past franchises of the character. Jon Watts takes the style and tone of Homecoming and Far From Home and keeps the heart and lovability of the films but also makes this the darkest and most intense Spider-Man movie yet, with genuinely heart-pounding stakes and characters the audience is invested in. The threats span across multiple realities yet some of the internal conflicts have relatable roots, such as applying to college. Tom Holland’s character’s arc takes mature directions but he’s supported by a great ensemble too. Zendaya and especially Jacob Batalon are hilarious as Peter’s girlfriend and best friend, respectively. The three play off each other wonderfully and are a terrific anchor for the trilogy. Benedict Cumberbatch is great as the no-nonsense Doctor Strange and Marisa Tomei has her most substantial role yet as Aunt May. Actors also return from previous Spidey franchises, including Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina from the Raimi films starring Tobey Maguire, and Jamie Foxx as Electro from the Amazing Spider-Man films with Andrew Garfield. Dafoe is especially a scene stealer as Green Goblin, reprising the role after nearly 20 years, and the return of Doctor Octopus makes for a great action scene as well. The story, action, and execution up themselves and there are plenty of exciting moments that necessitate a theatrical viewing with an audience. There’s also plenty of surprises, so make sure to be careful with spoilers before seeing this one. There are a few iffy moments in terms of CGI and green screen but they’re redeemed by cool character designs and suits, as well as great fantastical visuals including the Mirror Dimension from Doctor Strange. The movie emotionally builds on its predecessors in a rewarding way while promising great potential for the multiverse in future MCU projects. It’s the most rewarding MCU project of 2021 and arguably the best live-action Spider-Man film to date. It could’ve easily felt like a retread of the conceptually similar animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but it’s the characters that Marvel has worked so hard to build that makes a movie like this work so well that it feels like the event of the year. This will be a delightful time for superhero and Spidey fans, even if it’s not always thematically a home run, by the end there are positive messages and emotional weight that feel earned through the execution and cast. As always, stay for two post-credits scenes that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Spider-Man No Way Home poster.jpg

West Side Story (2021)

In Steven Spielberg’s update to a classic, Tony and Maria fall in love despite being associated with rival gangs in New York, the Sharks and the Jets. It seemed like a daunting task to remake West Side Story, considering the status of the 1961 film as one of the greatest musicals — and films – of all time. However, Spielberg invigorates the movie with wonder and talent that makes this one of the rare remakes that rivals the quality of the original. The films are very similar yet this welcome reimagining hits all the right notes and assembles an amazing team in front of and behind the camera, filling the movie with passion and excitement. Ansel Elgort is great as Tony, and his standout moment is when he sings “Maria” — who is played beautifully by Rachel Zegler. Her film debut proves she’s a superstar and she embodies Maria perfectly, perhaps an even better singer and fit for the role than Natalie Wood in the original. Ariana DeBose is also lovely as Anita, and in a wonderful tribute, Rita Morena plays Valentina, a role with so much emotion and Moreno does substantial acting and singing even at 90! Mike Faist is also a great Riff here and has great screen time alongside Elgort. It seems like the key to making this movie work is Spielberg’s direction. You can tell someone who loves this story and material is taking charge here. The way he shoots on film, focuses on certain details and props for symbolism and foreshadowing, and the effort put into the costumes and production design are all simply dazzling. Leonard Bernstein’s booming legendary score gives the movie an old feel but the homage never brings the film down. Even as someone who has seen and loved the 1961 film, the story still made me emotional and watching scenes play out had me in awe. The numbers from “America” and “I Feel Pretty” to the powerful “Tonight” and the irreverent and fun “Gee Officer Krupke” are not just delightful to rediscover — but the production and singing are awe-inspiring and recapture what makes West Side Story resonate. The movie also casts Latinos as the Sharks and other Puerto Rican characters — believe it or not, Rita Moreno was the only Latina in a prominent role in the original film. The movie also highlights gentrification, racial tensions, the American dream, poverty, and other themes in a way that isn’t necessarily subtle or new — some themes are also even reflected in this year’s In the Heights — but still reflects what we see and must address now. The 156-minute runtime flies by and it didn’t feel nearly as long as it really is. For those of you who love the original, go rediscover a story with your loved ones with one of the greatest remakes I’ve ever seen and one of Spielberg’s best of his later career — and for those of you discovering West Side Story for the first time, be in for the greatest cinematic treat of 2021 so far.

West Side Story 2021 Official Poster.jpg


Maribel Madrigal, a member of the magical Madrigal family in Colombia, is the only Madrigal without powers, but soon discovers she’s the family’s only hope of saving their magic.

Encanto once again shows off the unlimited abilities of Disney’s animation team, already having a great year with Raya and the Last Dragon and Luca, as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda who has been everywhere this year, including In the Heights and Tick, Tick… Boom! One of the stars from the former, Stephanie Beatriz, delivers the (voice) performance of a lifetime as Mirabel, a role that feels written for her and she fits it beautifully. Her singing range is also wonderful and Mirabel is incredibly heartfelt as a protagonist. There’s one song in particular called “Waiting on a Miracle” in which her vocals, character arc and the emotion of the entire film especially hit hard. But the catchiness doesn’t stop there — although “The Family Madrigal” and “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” won’t reach the heights of other recent hits like “You’re Welcome” (Moana) or “Remember Me” (Coco), they’re still fun and the musical themes bring so much to the film. With that though, there are a few songs that aren’t as memorable. The animation is Disney’s most colorful yet, and it’s surreal to see them outdo themselves more than once this year but the shots of the Colombian scenery as well as the magic created in their home, an “Encanto”, is so beautiful it’ll invoke emotion just journeying through it. The story revolves around Maribel trying to fit in and find herself when the family’s dynamic is built on each one’s abilities and how they can contribute physically — but each of them is more than that under the surface. With this we also get a number of interesting examinations of Maribel’s connections with her parents, sisters, and Abuela. There are occasions, however, where the pace drags and you wonder where the story is going, but once you get there, it gets fun once again. The movie also continues Disney’s recent trend of ditching traditional villains for complex characters whose decisions conflict but are more complicated than that. While I wouldn’t put this in the same discussion as Coco, Moana or Zootopia, it’s a heartwarming and vibrant family film with strong cultural representation and themes and a lovely protagonist and animation style.

Encanto poster.jpg