Want to watch The Matrix Resurrections, but need the original Matrix movies explained? That’s why I spent my weekend watching all three of the original films — because I knew the reputation of The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions were so bad that people wouldn’t want to watch The Matrix movies again (they’re on HBO Max for what it’s worth).
So let’s turn my experience — and my need to watch all the previous movies to be caught up — into your benefit. But, seriously, buckle up. This is a long and winding road. And there’s no reason to think that The Matrix 4 won’t use story from all of these movies.
The Matrix explained: Is Neo … The One?
The Matrix movie you probably remember has the simplest story, though it’s still a bit wild. A band of renegades is hunting for a man they know as Neo (Keanu Reeves), who also goes by Thomas Anderson when he’s not breaking all of the computer laws in the world. The three primary renegades we meet are Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who has affection for him, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who believes Neo is The One, a being who will save humanity and Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) who is the obvious potential traitor in the group.
I say “traitor” because a bunch of suited guys, including one Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who are also chasing Neo, have an informant on the inside betraying the renegades. The fights and chasing to protect/apprehend Neo, though, defy our laws. Trinity beats up some cops with slow-mo aplomb, Agent Smith appears to be very good at jumping long distances and then Trinity performs an aerial dive that would make pro athletes extremely jealous. She then disappears from the agents when jumping into a phone booth.
This is all to set up the value of Neo, who is seemingly depressed and spending all of his nights trying to learn more about something called the Matrix. In an interrogation, Agent Smith seemingly melts Neo’s lips together and drops a tracking device robot (that was a needle, before it grew tentacles) into Neo’s belly button. Neo wakes up and tells himself it was a dream. But with a quick series of events, we learn it was not a dream. Trinity blasts the tracker out of Neo’s belly, and offers him a new path. She takes him to Morpheus, who offers him the choice between a blue pill (which would keep him in this life) and a red pill (which would allow him to see outside of his life).
Neo takes the red pill, and then notices a shattered mirror form into solid glass. When he touches the mirror, it moves like liquid, wrapping around his arm and body, bringing him to awaken in a pod, covered in slime. This pod is in a field of them, humanity is being farmed. A robotic beast called a ‘squid’ comes down, unscrews the connections from Neo’s body, and a robotic claw lifts him up throw an opening. Morpheus welcomes Neo to the real world, and they’re on his hovercraft ship, the Nebuchadnezzar. Morpheus then shows Neo an all-white room called the Construct, a virtual space where they run simulations, including Neo’s training (this is where he learns kung fu).
We learn that artificial intelligence was humanity’s downfall. Neo has a rough time acclimating to the Matrix because he’s a bit older than the people they normally free, but Morpheus broke those rules because he believes Neo is The One, a man born inside the Matrix who can change and remake the Matrix as he wants, who had freed humans from its grips before and can do it again. His return had been prophesied by the Oracle (Gloria Foster), who we see as a woman with a fondness for baking. Neo goes to meet the Oracle, who tells him he’s not The One.
But, it turns out she only told him that because it’s what Neo needed to hear. A few fights with the Agents later, including Cypher’s betrayal (he’d rather be ignorant and rich in the Matrix, than freed and miserable outside of it), Neo can see the code of the Matrix, and starts breaking the rules of physics and reality to fight the Agents. The movie ends with Neo soaring through the sky as Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing in the Name” blasts. He’s, clearly, going to free humanity. Or so we think.
In short: A savior is found, bullet-time is invented and the best Matrix movie was made. Neo breaks the rules of the system, which is how he can defy its Agents. Neo and Trinity care for each other very much, putting a bit of romance inside of a sci-fi masterpiece.
The Matrix Reloaded: So much for a savior
Four years later, we got the first of two Matrix sequels, The Matrix Reloaded. Explaining this movie is a lot better than watching it, so I’ll try and keep this brief, for all of us.
Neo’s been dreaming of Trinity’s potential death on a mission, and the Nebuchadnezzar docks in Zion, where the freed peoples live (and, famously, dance). The Nebuchadnezzar has a new pilot, Link (Harold Perrineau), who is filling the seat left empty by Dozer (Anthony Ray Parker) and Tank (Marcus Chong), who previously. Neo has a big fan in the Matrix, who we know as The Kid.
An emergency meeting of all of the ships of Zion has been called because of an army of Sentinels (the real name for the squids) that is a threat to humanity as it tunnels toward Zion. Commander Lock (Harry J. Lennix) orders all ships to stay to defend Zion, but Morpheus wants to use one ship to contact the Oracle. Quietly, Smith reappears — his fight with Neo broke his connection to The Matrix, making him a rogue program — and he infects a human named Bane.
Neo goes to see the Oracle, and he meets a guy named Seraph (Collin Chou), her new assistant. But in this moment, Neo figures out that neither of them are humans. The question of whether or not to trust the Oracle is brought up, but the more pressing action is that Neo needs to reach the Source of the Matrix — and that he needs help from a guy called The Keymaker. Smith pops back up to show that he can now clone himself, and Neo and Smith basically perform the most deadly game of 1 vs 100 ever. Neo retreats.
In order to find the Keymaker, Neo, Morpheus and Trinity visit the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), a snobby restauranteur whose wife Persephone (Monica Bellucci) is quickly upset by her husband’s obvious adultery. As an act of revenge, Persephone leads our heroes to the captive Keymaker. Many fights ensue, including those with Agents and The Twins, a pair of white men with dreadlocs who may remind you of a bleach-blonde version of John Travolta in Battlefield Earth.
Neo’s quest to find the Source is aided by other crews, as we see The One is nothing without sacrifices from the whole. One of those ships, the Logos (captained by Niobe, played by Jada Pinkett Smith), succeeds. The other, the Vigilant, is destroyed by a Sentinel. The Keymaker eventually opens the door to the Source of the Matrix, but he’s killed by Smith. Inside, though, Neo meets the Architect, who disassembles everything we know about this world.
The One, it turns out, isn’t a savior. The One is an intentionally-made part of the Matrix, and there to prevent a system crash that is tied to the concept of free will. The Architect says Neo can either let this crash happen which will lead to the deaths of everyone in it, or reboot the Matrix as usual and pick new survivors for the next Zion (the current one will be destroyed). At this very moment, though, Trinity is in peril, shot and falling to her death, so Neo skips the reboot at the Source and flies to save Neo. He removes the bullet in Trinity from her code.
And then The Matrix Reloaded jams a whole lot into a small amount of time:
- The Nebuchadnezzar falls
- Neo falls into a coma after finding he can now disable machines with his thoughts
- Our renegades are saved by a ship named the Hammer
- The other ships defending Zion were taken down by an EMP
- And there’s another guy in a coma: Bane, who is possessed by Smith.
In short: Neo isn’t quite the savior we thought he was; the Merovingian is annoying; the politics surrounding stopping Sentinels attacking Zion isn’t as interesting a story as anything in The Matrix; and Smith is even more powerful.
The Matrix Revolutions: Fighting for peace
Six months (in our world) later, The Matrix Revolutions came out.
Neo is in a limbo of sorts, the Mobil Ave subway station, where he meets a family … who are all programs. They tell him subways are controlled by the Trainman, who reports to the Merovingian (not him again) and blocks Neo from escaping. Seraph, Morpheus and Trinity go to Club Hel (really), another one of the Merovingians territories.
The Merovingian releases Neo, who learns from a new Oracle (Mary Alice, filling in for the late Gloria Foster) that Smith’s new goal is to end all existence: both the Matrix and the real world. Shortly thereafter, Smith assimilates the Oracle and gains her precognitive abilities.
The people of Zion are working to fight the war, including The Kid (who lies about his age to enlist) and Link’s wife Zee (Nona Gaye, daughter of Marvin Gaye), who is building rocket shells. Her friend Cas (Gina Torres), Dozer’s widow, tries to talk her out of it. But Zee convinces her asking, “what if it could help you see Dozer again?” Zee and The Kid play a central role in stopping an army of Sentinels, showing that a savior isn’t enough, you also need the power of the community.
Nebuchadnezzar and the Hammer find and reactivate Niobe’s ship, and a new defense of Zion is the topic at hand. Neo, of course, wants a ship to travel to the Machine City, to try and find a way to stop Smith. Niobe gives him her ship.
Bane, still possessed by Smith, takes Trinity hostage, and despite the way he says “Mr. Anderson” just like Smith did, it takes Neo a while to figure out that part of Smith has broken free of the Matrix’s confines. Bane blinds Neo in a fight, but Neo can still “see” the source code. In Machine City, Neo talks to a giant face of Sentinels, and explains Smith’s plan to destroy it all. Yes, that really happened.
Neo asks for a peace between machines and man, in exchange for his work to stop Smith. The face of Sentinals agrees, and the attack on Zion is over. The machines plug Neo back into the Matrix to fight Smith one more time. While it appears Smith is winning — Neo even allows Smith to assimilate his body — the machines destroy Smith by sending a blast through Neo’s jacked-in body.
Neo is the sacrifice, and his body is carried away in a very Christ-like manner. And just like the Architect suggested it would be in The Matrix Reloaded, the Matrix is rebooted. The Architect and the Oracle discuss the peace in the park, and the Architect promises to keep his word about this truce. Those who want to be freed will be granted their freedom.
In short: Basically, the Architect’s other option from The Matrix Reloaded is taken, but Neo’s sacrifice has (seemingly) destroyed Smith, and brokered a new truce. And in the end, we got here not just because of a savior, but because of work throughout all ranks in the rebellion. The original Matrix’s philosophy that we are waiting on a single person to save us all is shattered, as Neo even needed the machines’ help to stop Smith.
Where this leaves us for The Matrix Resurrections
As we’ve seen in The Matrix 4 trailer, Neo is “alive” and in San Francisco (or at least the Matrix’s San Francisco). His death, it seems, wasn’t entirely real. The Matrix movies give us no explanation for how or why we have a new Morpheus, but Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has seemingly taken over the character in the trailers.
Smith, it seems, is also back, but as Jonathan Groff, not Hugo Weaving (unlike the situation with Mary Alice replacing the late Gloria Foster, this was about availability). And it seems like Neo is about to take the red pill all over again. We’re guessing this new Smith is also here to destroy the world, but we’re not sure if Neo will want to work with the machines this time.