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THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS – Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer

December 28, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In early 1999 an under-the-radar science fiction action movie called The Matrix opened and immediately became a pop culture phenomenon. It’s filmmakers, the Wachowski siblings, were lauded as icons of the genre, and were given the green light by Warner Brothers to set into motion two sequels. Both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions premiered in 2003, but the response to them was… shall we say… somewhat mixed, and the shiny luster that had been on the Wachowskis began to tarnish. While the visual scale and special effects of the sequels were top notch, the story was criticized for being impenetrably dense and overly-confusing, a mishmash of philosophical ruminations about destiny, free will, and the nature of reality, blended with enormous action set pieces. And then, for almost 20 years, The Matrix quietly disappeared into movie lore. The Wachowskis went off and made other movies – Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending – with equally mixed critical and commercial results. But now, The Matrix is back with a third sequel, subtitled ‘Resurrections,’ and it’s equally as polarizing as its predecessors.

The film is set many years after the conclusion of The Matrix Revolutions, and sees Neo, the prophesized ‘one’ from the original trilogy, again living as Thomas Anderson, despite him having apparently been killed at the end of the last film. Now, in a meta twist, Thomas is a successful video game designer, whose game ‘The Matrix’ is a worldwide phenomenon. Thomas keeps encountering Tiffany, a married mother who reminds him of his ‘Trinity’ character from his game, and he keeps having vivid dreams which lead him to believe that the story of his game is somehow his own actual past; his sympathetic therapist prescribes him blue pills to deal with his apparent delusions. Thomas’s world is turned upside down when he is contacted by a woman called Bugs, who explains to him that he is now inside a newly upgraded version of the Matrix, and that the inhabitants of the ‘real world’ have been searching for him for decades. The film again stars Keanu Reeves in one of his most famous roles, Carrie-Ann Moss returns as Tiffany/Trinity, and they are accompanied by an all-new supporting cast including Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jonathan Groff.

The Matrix Resurrections is an enjoyable film as an action sci-fi extravaganza, but it also wants to be taken seriously as another examination of reality and destiny, while also offering a clever meta-commentary on The Matrix itself. It talks about the nature of franchises and sequels, almost to the point where it pokes fun at its own existence – and this is where it might alienate mainstream audiences. The screenplay, and the underlying concepts that it discusses, are confusing almost to the point of obtuseness. The film is structured almost like a remake of the first Matrix, and the new actors are spliced with footage of the original ones, so that the intentional mirror images and parallels are made clear – Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Groff is Hugo Weaving, and so on. There are many other places on the internet where this is discussed in more detail, so I’m not going to go any further with that here, suffice to say that it is very visually impressive, and has laudable intellectual aspirations, but I spent most of the film not really having much of a clue who was doing what to whom and why.

One of the other significant elements of the first three Matrix films were their scores, which were written by Don Davis. When the first film was released Davis was a relative unknown, but by the time the third one came out he was knocking on the door of the film music A-list. His music was a combination of enormous booming sci-fi action scoring, infused with elements of avant-garde orchestral classical music inspired by everyone from Krzysztof Penderecki to John Adams. It was rightly considered groundbreaking at the time, but in the aftermath of The Matrix Revolutions Davis took some time away from film to work on his passion project, the opera Rio de Sangre. Around the same time Davis and the Wachowskis had something of a falling out during the pre-production of Speed Racer – which Davis ultimately did not score – and since then his career has somewhat fallen off a cliff. Since Revolutions in 2003 Davis has scored exactly five theatrical films, the most high profile of which was a Japanese film called Tokyo Ghoul in 2017. It’s almost inexplicable that a composer with his talent, who was riding the crest of a wave he was riding, should have such a precipitous career calamity. Needless to say, he did not score The Matrix Resurrections, although his stylistic fingerprints are all over the place.

While all this was happening the Wachowskis moved on and developed relationships with new composers; Michael Giacchino on Speed Racer and Jupiter Ascending, and then the composing trio of Tom Tykwer, Reinhold Heil, and Johnny Klimek on Cloud Atlas and the TV series Sense8. Tykwer, Heil, and Klimek together called themselves Pale-3, but Heil has since gone off on his own and moved to Hawaii, leaving Klimek and Tykwer to score The Matrix Resurrections alone. It’s an interesting combination; Tykwer is also a very accomplished director, having helmed such projects as Run Lola Run and Perfume: Story of a Murderer, and much of the music he and Klimek (and Heil) have written over the years is very good indeed, with Cloud Atlas being one of the best scores of 2012. However, with the best will in the world there was no way Klimek and Tykwer could hope to re-capture the lightning in a bottle of Davis’s original score, and considering the meta-nature of the film itself and one of the points it was trying to make, it could be that they didn’t try… but more on that later.

The score is a big, bombastic orchestral and electronic hybrid score which draws heavily from the Don Davis well, without ever really revisiting any of its themes. The circulating, pulsating horn motif that opened all three films remains intact, but everything else, including the iconic love theme for Neo and Trinity, has been excised in favor of new thematic material. The initial track, “Opening – The Matrix Resurrections,” is in many ways the score in a microcosm. It builds out of the pulsating motif into a series of impressionistic and occasionally ambient electronic drones and pulses, enlivened with explosions of dissonant orchestral clusters, and a lot of propulsive action material. This action material is energetic and intense, and usually builds out from a bed of thrusting cello ostinati, around which various thunderous orchestral and electronic textures are laid, with forceful brass sounds leading the way. There is a very cool, jazzy piano riff which emerges prominently around the 2:45 mark that reminds me of Henry Mancini’s theme from Peter Gunn, and the fact that the piano ends up being so prominent in so much of the rest of the score is something I greatly appreciate.

The score is heavy on the action material, and numerous cues stand out as being especially enjoyable, or as having an especially interesting component. “Two and the Same” has some fascinating rhythmic interplay between different parts of the string section which is very compelling – cellos and viola playing completely different percussive lines simultaneously – and ends with an overwhelming wall of sound filled with militaristic snare riffs. The opening moments of “I Fly or I Fall” have some graceful choral textures that combine with a peculiar synthesized wing-flapping effect that gives it a calm, religioso sound. “Into the Train” is buzzing, hypnotic, and almost ridiculously fast-paced, and again uses both choirs and pianos in curious ways.

I like the sense of scope and drama in “Exit the Pod,” the piano writing and the nervous rattling percussion in “Broadcast Depth,” and the incredibly intense “Exiles,” which makes terrific use of cello figures, pounding piano chords, breathless interpolations of Davis-esque brass. Others – “It’s in My Mind,” “Escape,” “Bullet Time” – are based around similar instrumental and rhythmic ideas and are less interesting from a compositional point of view, but do have a certain sense of energy and drama in context. Perhaps the best action cue of the entire score is the incredible “Factory Fight,” in which Neo and the crew of the Mnemosyne do battle with Agent Smith and his cohorts; Tykwer and Klimek really go for broke here, building out a keening, anticipatory opening filled with groaning strings and anxious piano chords, before exploding into a throbbing, overwhelming action sequence that features a savage pattern of chopping strings that is seriously impressive.

The new Neo and Trinity love theme makes its first fleeting appearance in “Meeting Trinity,” a cue that meanders with slow, ponderous string textures, electronic tones, and little piano chords. It comes back later in the opening moments of “Bullet Time,” and then reaches its peak in “I Can’t Be Her,” which underscores Tiffany’s revelation of her true identity as Trinity with angelic choral tones that illustrate the enormity of the moment. “Set and Setting” comes close to the tone and approach of horror music, and uses the piano in a more threatening way which is effective when it plays alongside more eerie, keening cello lines. “The Dojo” – which almost exactly mirrors the original training scene between Neo and Morpheus – is a festival of taiko drums and other Asian percussion items, gongs, and chimes, and adopts an almost dance/EDM vibe in its second half.

The two cues which deal with Neo’s return to the free human cities in the ‘real world’ outside the Matrix – “Enter IO” and “Inside IO” – begin with a sense of choral majesty and a sense of scope, before adopting a slightly more playful tone of discovery and innovation, with lots of pizzicato string work, lightly prancing rhythms, and eventually some soft, reflective hummed vocals and soft strings that underscore Neo’s reunion with Jada Pinkett-Smith’s now aged Niobe character. There are probably other recurring themes too, including one possibly relating to The Analyst, but thematic depth and recurring motivic ideas is not the score’s strong point, and they all play in subservience to its overall desire for energy and forward motion.

The finale of the score – in which Neo and his team try to rescue Trinity from her bio-pod, but having done so are then forced into a final confrontation with the Analyst and his army of ‘simulatte’ clones, followed by a daring motorcycle chase through endless city streets – is excellent. The “Infiltration” cue again has some fantastic rhythmic string writing, and is built around a memorable and prominent cello motif which plays against rising, heroic brass chords. “Simulatte Brawl,” “Swarm,” and “Sky Scrape” is an 8-minute set piece that brings everything together – orchestra, electronics, chorus, Don Davis textures and dissonances, fascinating ostinatos, action rhythms for piano and brass and strings – and provides a breathless and exciting finale to the score. The rampaging energy of “Swarm” is enthralling, and the use of trilling brass triplets recalls some of the best action moments from the original films. The conclusive “My Dream Ended Here” has a sense of scope through its rapturous choral textures, heraldic brass, and searching strings, re-affirming both the religious overtones of Neo’s destiny to be ‘the one,’ and Trinity’s equally messianic status as she joins him in control of the universe.

Clearly, from my point of view, there is a lot to enjoy and take from The Matrix Resurrections. Tom Tykwer and Johnny Klimek are very talented composers indeed and, even without any contribution from the excellent Reinhold Heil, still show the compositional wherewithal to write outstanding film music. If this score had been written for any film other than a Matrix film, I would expect it to have been received with a great deal more enthusiasm than it has – but it wasn’t, and as such comparisons with the music Don Davis wrote are obviously going to be made. As I said before, I still think all of the Don Davis scores are better than this one, but I wonder whether that was actually the point.

Lana Wachowski is an intelligent filmmaker, and Tykwer and Klimek are intelligent composers. Considering everything that the film is saying about metaverses, the nature of sequels and franchises, pandering to nostalgia, how facsimiles and copies are inherently inferior to original iterations, and so on and so on… would it be too much of a stretch to wonder whether the three of them intentionally decided to have the score be almost as good as a Don Davis score, but not quite? Was it a case where they put all the ingredients together – the orchestrations, the sound and tone, the little compositional touches – but then intentionally held back, or kept things just different enough, that it would feel comfortably familiar but just a tiny bit wrong? Remember, this is intended to be a different version of the Matrix, rebooted at the end of the third film – that’s why Trinity looks wrong at the beginning of the movie, why Morpheus is different, why Agent Smith is different, why Tiffany doesn’t know she’s Trinity, and so on. It might also explain why none of the original trilogy’s themes – especially the Neo and Trinity love theme – don’t come back.

Clearly I don’t have any factual information to support this theory, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this was not the case. Using the score in the fourth film of a franchise to provide an additional layer of self-referential commentary on the concept as a whole would be a bold thing to do, and would require a whole new level of compositional dexterity from Tykwer and Klimek to pull off. I’d like to think that this is something they could do, and if they have, it’s a masterstroke.

As heard in the film, The Matrix Resurrections sounds great; it flourishes and extends when it needs to, and offers the right level of support and narrative drive to keep the audience engaged. As an album listening experience, it’s a ton of fun – a step below Don Davis’s originals, for sure, but still packed with enough highlights to result in an entertaining 70+ minutes of material; I especially love the extensive use of piano rhythms, the fantastic pulsing string writing in the second half of the score, and the numerous textural callbacks to the first three scores. As an intellectual exercise, critiquing the nature of sequels and the meta nature of the film itself… well, it could be that with this Tom Tykwer and Johnny Klimek have tackled the boldest and most challenging score of their career to date, and that is perhaps the most impressive part of the score overall.

Buy the Matrix Resurrections soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Opening – The Matrix Resurrections (5:20)
  • Two and the Same (5:33)
  • Meeting Trinity (1:50)
  • It’s in My Mind (4:22)
  • I Fly or I Fall (3:13)
  • Set and Setting (2:34)
  • Into the Train (2:35)
  • Exit the Pod (2:49)
  • The Dojo (3:42)
  • Enter IO (3:10)
  • Inside IO (3:35)
  • Escape (2:15)
  • Broadcast Depth (2:52)
  • Exiles (2:42)
  • Factory Fight (3:45)
  • Bullet Time (4:52)
  • Recruiting (3:12)
  • Infiltration (2:38)
  • I Like Tests (2:29)
  • I Can’t Be Her (2:41)
  • Simulatte Brawl (3:03)
  • Swarm (3:34)
  • Sky Scrape (1:44)
  • My Dream Ended Here (3:14)
  • Neo and Trinity Theme (Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer Exomorph Remix) (5:46)
  • Opening – The Matrix Resurrections (Alessandro Adriani Remix) (6:17)
  • My Dream Ended Here (Marcel Dettmann Remix) (6:16)
  • Nosce (Almost Falling Remix) (3:58)
  • Bullet Time (Moderna Remix) (6:27)
  • Back to the Matrix (Eclectic Youth Remix) (5:14)
  • Welcome to the Crib (System 01 Remix) (6:46)
  • Flowing (Thomas Fehlmann Remix) (8:24)
  • Temet (Esther Silex & Kotelett Remix) (8:11)
  • Choice (Psychic Health Remix) (5:27)
  • Monumental (Gudrun Gut Remix) (7:05)

Running Time: 147 minutes 17 seconds

Watertower Music (2021)

Music composed by Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer. Conducted by Robert Ames and Hugh Brunt. Orchestrations by Gene Pritsker and Justin Bell. Additional music by Marcel Dettman, Justin Bell, Gabriel Mounsey and Gene Pritsker. Original Matrix music by Don Davis. Recorded and mixed by Sam Okell, Lewis Jones,/B> and Gabriel Mounsey. Edited by Gabriel Mounsey, Hans Hafner and Jonathan Shanes. Album produced by Lana Wachowski, Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer.

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