Those attending last month’s CinemaCon in Las Vegas were treated to a sneak preview of the first trailer for The Matrix: Resurrections, the fourth installment in the hugely influential franchise that launched with the premiere of The Matrix in 1999. But the trailer was not released to the general public—until now. The Resurrections title is apt, since we do indeed seem to be going back to the beginning: an alternate version of that simulated reality, with some new faces and many similar shots, and very much the same theme of discovering (or in this case, rediscovering) one’s power. It’s at once familiar and fresh… in other words, sheer perfection.
(Spoilers for first three films in the franchise below.)
It’s hard to overstate the deep cultural impact of The Matrix. It redefined the sci-fi film genre and shaped an entire generation of fans—plus, it raked in $460 million worldwide, garnered multiple Oscars, and sent star Keanu Reeves’ already healthy career into the Hollywood stratosphere. We still refer to taking the “red pill” when searching for a metaphor to represent choosing between an unsettling, life-changing truth or blissful ignorance. Who can forget Reeves’ meme-worthy utterances (“Whoa!” or “I know kung fu”) or Laurence Fishburne’s fabulous sunglasses-wearing Morpheus? This is also the film that gave us “bullet time”: a special effect—used for the rooftop scene where Neo (Reeves) dodges bullets fired by one of the Matrix’s Agents—in which the shot progresses in slow motion while the camera appears to move at a normal speed through the scene.
Cyberpunk author William Gibson called The Matrix “an innocent delight I hadn’t felt in a long time,” and he named Neo as his all-time favorite sci-fi action hero. Writers/directors Lilly and Lana Wachowski followed up the film’s success with two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, both released in 2003. Reloaded was a box office smash, taking in $739 million worldwide—the most successful of the trilogy, although the cliffhanger ending was criticized. Revolutions earned $427 million globally and was critically panned as being an unsatisfying conclusion to the saga. The franchise also includes a collection of animated short films, comics, and video games.
The Wachowkis didn’t originally intend to make another Matrix film after Revolutions, but rumors about a possible fourth film have been swirling since 2012. Lilly Wachowski went so far as to call the prospect “a particularly repelling idea in these times” in a 2015 interview—a sharp critique of Hollywood’s preference for sequels, reboots, and adaptations. Nonetheless, Warner Bros. officially announced the fourth film in August 2019. Lana Wachowski signed on to direct and co-write the film with novelist David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) and Aleksandar Hemon (Sense8). Lilly Wachowski gave the project her blessing but declined to be involved, partly because she was busy with Showtime’s Work in Progress.
Reeves and Moss will reprise their roles as Neo and Trinity, respectively. Three actors will be reprising their roles in Reloaded and Revolutions: Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe, captain of the Logos; Lambert Wilson as The Merovingian, a rogue Matrix program with his own agenda; and Daniel Bernhardt as Agent Johnson. We’re also getting a host of new cast members: Yahya Abdul-Mateen III (currently lighting up the box office in Candyman), Neil Patrick Harris, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Toby Onwumere, Max Riemelt, Erendira Ibarra, Priyanka Chopra, Andrew Caldwell, Brian J. Smith, Ellen Hollman, and Christina Ricci.
On Tuesday, Warner Bros. released a teaser poster and urged fans to go to the website WhatisTheMatrix.com. Those who remember when the first movie was released in 1999 will recognize it as the original marketing site. It has been updated to allow users to click on a Blue Pill or a Red Pill, after which they are rewarded with one of 180,000 variations of a short teaser—brief glimpses of film footage in advance of today’s trailer. (You can see an example here.)
The trailer opens with Thomas/Neo talking to a psychiatrist, played to smarmy perfection by Harris. Thomas has been triggered by the sight of a black cat (“Deja vu”) in the psychiatrist’s office. “We don’t use that word in here,” Harris says when Neo cops to having vividly realistic dreams that make him worry he might be crazy. (We get a rapid series of images showing aspects of the Matrix as he does so.) Then the unmistakable notes of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” kicks in, and we see the new world the Matrix has wrought as humanity’s prison. It’s an entirely believable one, where Neo takes two blue pills daily (one assumes to “regulate his moods”) and everyone is glued to their iPhones and tablets—whatever it takes to keep the masses sedated. Trinity is there, too, but when Neo meets her, the two only feel a vague sense of having met before.
Then a bookstore clerk gives him a copy of Alice in Wonderland with a wink, and he follows the “white rabbit” down the rabbit hole once again—or rather, Neo literally walks through the looking glass, which serves as a portal to somewhere else. The movie is clearly leaning heavily into the whole “Wonderland” them, and we’re just fine with that. We see what is likely a new version of Morpheus (Abdul-Mateen III) offer Neo a red pill: “Time to fly.”
That’s when things start to get interesting for Neo. “The only thing that matters to you is still here,” Morpheus tells Neo as they square off in a callback to the classic virtual dojo scene. “I know it’s why you’re still fighting, and why you will never give up.” He goads Neo into unleashing that long-latent power to manipulate the Matrix.
There are Agents; explosions; time-warped, gravity-defying fight scenes; and a shot of Neo stopping a hail of bullets. The final shot is of Wilson’s Merovingian. “After all these years, to be going back to where it all started,” he says. “Back to the Matrix.” Our sentiments exactly.
The Matrix Resurrections will be released in theaters on December 22, 2021, and will simultaneously be available for streaming on HBO Max for one month.
Listing image by YouTube/Warner Bros.