When “The Matrix” hit theaters in 1999, it instantly became one of the most iconic, influential sci-fi movies of all time. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for its two sequels. Though “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” have their passionate defenders, the 2003 follow-ups also became a bit of a punchline for their ponderous philosophizing and random rave scenes.
In fact, you might remember the MTV Movie Awards or “Scary Movie” parodies better than you remember the sequels themselves. But with “The Matrix 4,” aka “The Matrix Resurrections,” hitting theaters and HBO Max on December 22, we’re here to help you brush up on what you need to remember before diving back into the Matrix.
The first film follows Keanu Reeves‘ Thomas Anderson, aka Neo, as he discovers his entire world is actually a computer simulation. The so-called Matrix is designed to keep humans pacified as they serve as living batteries for their robot overlords in the 22nd century. With the help of his mentor Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and his love interest Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Neo learns he’s a prophesied savior called “The One” and uses his special powers to defeat the evil Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) before flying off to free more people.
Though the worldbuilding of “The Matrix” is complex, its plot is actually relatively straightforward. It’s basically a non-stop thrill ride that boils down to a high-stakes rescue mission and some incredible action sequences. The sequels; however, get a whole lot more complicated.
Set six months after the first film, the stakes of “The Matrix Reloaded” come from an impending attack on the city of Zion — the last refuge of humanity in the grim and gritty real world outside of the Matrix. As the remaining humans prepare to make their last stand against a massive army of Sentinels, Neo struggles with the pressure of being a messiah and finds himself haunted by dreams of Trinity’s death. So he decides to return to the Matrix and seek answers from the all-knowing Oracle (Gloria Foster).
The quirky prophet sends Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity on a mission to find “The Source.” Along the way, the trio has to battle the villainous Agent Smith, who’s become a “rogue program” with the ability to clone himself. Plus, they meet mysterious figures like a snobby Frenchman called the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson).
“The Matrix Reloaded” basically mixes cool, propulsive action scenes — like an epic freeway chase — with long, confusing passages of dialogue that only the nerdiest of “Matrix” fans really understand. (It all boils down to a lot of metaphors about computer programming and free will.) The most important of these is Neo’s climactic conversation with the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) — the program that created the Matrix.
In a divisive storytelling move, the Architect upends everything we thought we knew from the first movie. It turns out the Matrix is actually on its sixth iteration and “The One” is an intentional part of its programming designed to keep things running smoothly. Neo now faces a choice: Either reboot the Matrix and get the chance to save at least some people in the process or let the Matrix crash and ensure humanity’s total destruction.
Ever the romantic, Neo ultimately chooses his heart over his head and decides to save an injured Trinity instead of rebooting the Matrix. “The Matrix Reloaded” ends on something of a cliffhanger. With our heroes at their lowest and the attack on Zion still incoming, Agent Smith manages to possess a human in the real world outside of the Matrix. Uh-oh.
“The Matrix Revolutions” picks up right where the second installment left off. More straightforward but also darker than “Reloaded,” “Revolutions” devotes a good chunk of its runtime to the massive Battle of Zion. It’s an exhilarating showcase for Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), Morpheus’ former flame and fellow captain, who’s a major presence in both sequels.
Meanwhile, back in the Matrix, a new version of the Oracle (Mary Alice) warns Neo that Agent Smith intends to conquer both the simulated world and the real one. To stop him, Neo and Trinity must travel to Machine City, the capital of the machine world. Even though Neo is brutally blinded in a sneak attack from Agent Smith’s human form, he develops the ability to “see” machine source code in the real world — bringing some of his special Matrix powers into reality.
The heart of “Revolutions” centers on Neo and Trinity’s doomed romance, which Reeves and Moss play to perfection. If the last film was about free will, this one is about love, choice, and bittersweet endings. After Trinity dies doing her part to pilot Neo to Machine City, Neo negotiates a more peaceful future between humans and machines. Following one last epic, rain-soaked battle with Smith, Neo gives his life to defeat the evil agent and save humanity.
As the people of Zion celebrate and Morpheus and Niobe embrace, Neo’s body is carried off by the machines. In the final scene of the movie, the Oracle and the Architect meet inside a park in a more colorful version of the Matrix. They explain that humans will no longer be forced to live inside the simulation if they don’t want to, and the Oracle hints they may even see Neo again one day.
It’s anyone’s guess as to how “The Matrix 4” will bring the world of “The Matrix” back to life. And whether you love the sequels or hate them, there’s a lot to look forward to in the new installment from original writer/director Lana Wachowski. Reeves, Moss, Smith, and Wilson are all set to reprise their original roles, alongside new cast members Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as an iteration of Morpheus. The trailer for “The Matrix Resurrections” shows Neo once again being offered a reality-changing red pill, and we can’t wait to take that journey with him.
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