The Matrix series is all about the cyclical nature of narratives. It is, reductively, about how things start, end, and start up again.
But with a fourth film, The Matrix Resurrections, primed to continue the story of Neo and Trinity, what story will Resurrections actually tell? Based on traces of promotional material, it seems The Matrix Resurrections is interested in telling the story of The Matrix all over again.
In 1999, The Matrix burst onto the scene like a firebird as a fresh amalgamation of influences mainstream audiences hadn’t seen before. It was a flashpoint moment in Hollywood that also foreshadowed what was to come.
Before the rise of superheroes, there was Keanu Reeves as Neo, flying to the screen as an enlightened cyberpunk demi-god. The coming out of writer/director Lana Wachowski in 2012, and sister Lilly in 2016 as transgender individuals, helped the critical analysis of The Matrix as a transgender allegory become more widely known. In 2021, that texture allows The Matrix to endure with newer generations.
The sequels, 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, were less warmly received than the first film. In the nearly 20 years since their release, the discourse around them has played the same tune. “What Went Wrong” are words associated with the sequels, appearing in article headlines and Reddit threads. Nothing actually went wrong, though cinematographer Bill Pope says shooting back-to-back might have been a mistake.
The sequels’ sole misstep was hinging the entire trilogy’s ingenious twist — that Neo’s awakening and rebellion wasn’t a holy prophecy but pre-determined programming — on a mind-numbingly dull but pivotal scene with actor Helmut Bakaitis in Colonel Sanders cosplay.
Here we are now, with The Matrix Resurrections written and directed solely by Lana Wachowski. When news of a fourth Matrix movie arrived in 2019, the only clue about its story was that Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss would return as Neo and Trinity, respectively. Other critical questions, like when the movie takes place — and how — were left in the air.
Now, with a full trailer imminent, it’s clear that The Matrix Resurrections will be set sometime after the events of Revolutions. We’ve now seen flashes of a gracefully aged Neo, played by 57-year-old Keanu Reeves, who once again must wake up from an artificial reality. (The Wachowskis have never been subtle artists, which Resurrections enforces with Neo walking towards a trendy coffee bar named “Simulatte.”)
The teaser trailer also offered a glimpse at Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s mysterious character. Rumors suggest he will play a younger version of Laurence Fishburne’s character Morpheus. At this time, Abdul-Mateen’s character has yet to be officially identified. But if he is Morpheus, that could mean Resurrections will be partly a prequel to the trilogy.
However, Resurrections is, in essence, a reboot of the first Matrix film. Beyond the fitting premise of an artificial reality that needs to be unplugged and plugged back in now and again, Lana Wachowski is once again probing the nature of narratives as she did with sister Lilly back in 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded.
Through the handful of visuals available to watch (before the full release of the trailer), it seems that Matrix Resurrections is purposefully replicating many of the first Matrix’s biggest moments. We see the bullet-time action choreography, the ominous black cats, and the famous kung fu dojo fight scene. That haunting “goo mouth” is also back, for reasons yet to be understood. And the plot again concerns Neo waking up after being subdued by a prescription of “blue pills.”
This is pure speculation, of course, but the evidence is hard to dismiss. Living up to its own title, The Matrix Resurrections is concerned with resurrecting the first film, likely to challenge people’s existing fondness for The Matrix, which has only become more beloved, special, and relevant in the years since its release. This is only par for the course when it comes to the Wachowskis.
While Reloaded was an unpopular film, its narrative demonstrated the Wachowski’s willingness to deconstruct their own mythological architecture. After the explosive success of The Matrix in 1999, which touted themes of rebellion and punk anarchy as ideals right at the dawn of the 21st century, in came Reloaded with the (awful) Architect scene saying in no uncertain terms that this supposed rebellion and anarchy was the direct result of the conformist system at work.
With The Matrix Resurrections, it’s unclear what Lana Wachowski wants to say now when the stature of the first film is as imposing as it’s ever been. “Reboot” is no longer a word belonging only to computer software but commercial art. What is a movie like The Matrix Resurrections going to be as it re-enters a culture it influenced?
It might tell the same story, but it might also create something new.
The Matrix Resurrections will be released in theaters and HBO Max on December 22, 2021.