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‘The Matrix Resurrections’ is trapped inside its own endless feedback loop

Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix Resurrections.” (Murray Close/Warner Bros. Pictures)
(2 stars)

The familiar cascade of green hieroglyphics greets viewers of “The Matrix Resurrections,” assuring them of the dopamine hit they’ve been looking for. As one character observes in the course of this alternately pandering and perplexing sequel, there’s no better cure for anxious times than nostalgia.

Director Lana Wachowski, who created the original 1999 “Matrix” with her sister Lilly, leans into that concept with winks and nods that border on the passive-aggressive. (Wachowki co-wrote the script with novelist David Mitchell and screenwriter Aleksandar Hemon.) Larding the new version with Easter eggs, note-for-note recapitulations and even literal clips from the earlier film and its sequels, Wachowski seems to be at war with her audience, rewarding them with deep-cut callbacks one moment only to roll her eyes at the entire enterprise the next.

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The band that Wachowski gets back together is playing it straight, at least. Keanu Reeves, sporting a few vagrant gray strands to prove that he’s aged at all in 20 years, brings his distinctive brand of inscrutable solemnity to the role he created in the earlier films: Neo, or as he’s known as “Resurrections” opens, Thomas Anderson, a designer of video games for a San Francisco company called Deus Machina. His big hit — a labyrinthine mind-puzzle called the Matrix — has made him a tech star, but he’s having issues with his boss (played to smarmy perfection by Jonathan Groff) and is seeing a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) for the persistent problems he has distinguishing fantasy from reality.

Wachowski gets us into Thomas’s updated world through clever feints and “Isn’t that … ?” sequences; the name of the shrink’s cat, Deja Vu, tells you pretty much everything you need to know about a film that takes the concept to new and not always welcome levels. In an early, rapid-fire chamber piece, Thomas’s colleagues debate whether to reboot the Matrix, debating what made it special in the first place. “Senseless violence is not on-brand,” someone opines. Wachowski even sneaks in a line about Warner Bros. deciding to make a sequel whether the original creative team agreed to be involved or not.

Of course, that’s true, which makes it feel like Wachowski is making “Resurrections” with a very cool, very stylized gun to her head. With its famous “bullet time” visual effects, slow-motion action sequences and gravity-defying acrobatics, the original “Matrix” did a lot to make double-fisted gunplay sexy at the turn of the century, which is not such a good look now. Once Thomas is pulled into yet another arcane plot involving alternate realities, corporate control and the ongoing battle between free will and destiny, he announces that he has forsworn violence — only to realize with relief that he still knows Kung Fu.

That realization comes much later in a movie that is much too long and weighed down by fan-service baubles. The visuals still look good in “Resurrections,” even if Wachowski hasn’t come up with a memorable bit of business on a par with bullet time; as emotionally gratifying as it is to see Thomas’s alter ego, Neo, reunite with Trinity (played again by the sleekly uber-competent Carrie-Anne Moss, as eerily immune to the aging process as her co-star), the new players Wachowski has enlisted make suitably vivid impressions, especially Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the heir to a “Matrix” elder statesman and Jessica Henwick as a freedom fighter named Bugs.

That name is another reference, by the way. In fact, almost everything in “Resurrections” is meant to conjure something else, which is fun for a while but loses interest as the plot reaches what’s supposed to be an epic moment of fated romance but feels grandiose and predictable. (Some of the references, it bears noting, are unintended: One scene threatens to become its own remake of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” Harris’s jaunty 2008 musical collaboration with Joss Whedon.)

In addition to its hyperviolent aesthetic, “The Matrix” wound up having a more unexpected influence, with its red pill-blue pill conceit having now migrated into far-right fantasyland: Today, millions of QAnon followers believe they’ve been “red-pilled” and have embraced “true” reality in which the rest of us sheeple are being duped by a cabal of child-trafficking politicians and celebrities. “Resurrections” barely addresses this phenomenon (unless you count a throwaway line delivered by Harris’s character early on), which feels like a wasted opportunity for some gratifying subtextual side-eye.

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The shade, when it’s thrown, is aimed mostly at the Intellectual Property Industrial Complex, with its voracious appetite for repetition and shameless self-reference. Wachowski and her stars do their best to play the game with integrity, mixing some self-conscious humor in with the retrograde dopamine hits. But there’s no substitute for the thrill of authentic, out-of-the-blue originality. At one point early in “Resurrections,” someone observes that he and his fellow characters are “all trapped inside these strange repeating loops.” I know just how they feel.

R. At area theaters; also available on HBO Max. Contains violence and some strong language. 136 minutes.