The fourth film in The Matrix franchise was announced on August 20th 2019 by Warner Bros. Had the global health crisis not put life on hold globally last year, we would have seen the movie released on 21st May 2021; odds are you'd be here reading a review, or an "ending explained" article. We'll now have to wait until 22nd December 2021 to catch the latest installment, though, so it will be a bit more time for those articles as well.
In the meantime, let us take a few moments to review the things that we do know thus far about the upcoming fourth installment in the hugely popular franchise. Please note that readers unfamiliar with the universe of The Matrix films may encounter spoilers regarding the earlier films and other mixed media associated with the franchise. These however, could well prove pertinent when discussing The Matrix 4.
Development of The Matrix 4
The earliest rumors regarding a new Matrix film began to gain traction as far back ago as 2012 when it was suggested that the Wachowskis had ideas for a further two Matrix movies and had even gone so far as to approach Keanu Reeves about the possibility of him reprising his iconic role as Neo. Another false rumor in 2014 - and subsequently debunked, stated that a treatment for an entirely new trilogy had been submitted to Warner Bros.
Back in 2015, during an interview promoting the Wachowski sisters film Jupiter Ascending, Lily Wachowski described a potential return to the world of The Matrix as a "particularly repelling idea in these times." This referred to the then popular and currently ongoing preference of studios for green-lighting prequels, or sequels, or of course the seemingly prevalent and oft-maligned culture of "rebooting" franchises for the sake of re-introducing older concepts to newer and younger audiences. That, however, is another article entirely.
Jumping forward a couple of years to 2017, The Hollywood Reporter claimed that Warner Bros. was in fact in the process of developing a relaunch of the Matrix franchise - apparently Zak Penn (with writing credits no less impressive than Men In Black, X2 and Ready Player One to his name) was in talks with the studio to write a treatment. Michael B. Jordan of Creed and Black Panther fame was supposedly attached to the project in a starring role.
Penn was quick to mollify fans concerned that the new Matrix film would be a reboot or a remake. In fact the rumors most rapidly circulating in 2017 suggested that with Jordan attached, the film could turn out to be a prequel starring Jordan as a young Morpheus - the role made famous by actor Laurence Fishburne - or perhaps a film set further within the timeline of The Matrix world, with Jordan perhaps playing a descendent of Morpheus (more on him a little later - it may well turn out to be important).
Penn would further confirm in March of 2018 that he was indeed attached to a future Matrix project - even coyly suggesting the possibility of a Marvel Cinematic Universe style shared universe (that other currently popular studio plaything - again, that'll have to wait for a future article). Penn added some clarity to his earlier comments when, in October of 2019, he stated that he had been working on one of two new Matrix projects for Warner Bros., but that his own project was a separate entity to the planned film.
The new Matrix project was formally and officially announced - after years of speculation it has to be noted - on August 20th 2019 with a script written by Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell (the Wachowski sisters directed the film adaptation of his novel Cloud Atlas) and Aleksandar Hemon (The Lazarus Project).
Who is directing The Matrix 4?
Unlike the previous films in the Matrix franchise which were directed by the Wachowski sisters as a tandem, the possibly still untitled movie (I'll get to that too; fear not) will be directed by Lana Wachowski alone. Due to an existing commitment to the Showtime series Work in Progress, Lily won't be dragging up a director's chair next to her sister. Lily has, however, given the cast and crew her full blessing, even going as far as to encourage them to present a story even "better than the original."
Filming officially began under the enigmatic code name "Project Ice Cream" in San Francisco on February 4th 2020. Other locations for the film have included Chicago and the Babelsberg Studio in Germany. Allegedly The Matrix 4 spent an eyebrow raising (or a Keanu "whoa"-ing) $420,000 dollars alone, just for the filming in San Francisco. An article from SFGATE reported that Adobe Pictures revealed that the sum was paid to the San Francisco Police Department, for their services during the location filming - ensuring that bystanders were not accidentally caught up in proceedings.
Given the budget of modern-day blockbusters, $420,000 may not seem like such a godly amount, but stack that against two upcoming and eagerly anticipated films that also shot in the San Francisco. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings spent $162,000, while upcoming Tom Hardy-centric sequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage topped out at a spend of $192,000.
What members of the cast will return for The Matrix 4?
What else do we know, for sure? Let's take a closer look at the confirmed casting for the upcoming film. Keanu Reeves as Neo: Formerly meek-but-inquisitive hacker Thomas Anderson imprisoned within the illusory confines of the Matrix, Neo would, with the help of Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) escape the computer generated prison of the Matrix and assist other awoken rebels (known in the parlance of the Matrix world as "redpills") in fighting to liberate the remains of humanity from the enslavement of the machines who bred humans as batteries, while keeping them docile by feeding them the dream world of The Matrix.
Neo would come to be known as "The One" - a messianic figure whose arrival was predicted through the prophecy of The Oracle ("herself" a computer program with her own agenda for the remains of the human race), for the purpose of leading humanity to freedom and absolute victory over the machines. The original Matrix Trilogy charted the awakening, rise and ultimately the demise of Neo as he was finally able to fulfil the Oracle's prophecy and broker a tenuous peace between man and machine.
Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity: Moss will be reprising her role as former hacker, turned latex-clad badass Trinity. Trinity was initially the second in command to Laurence Fishburne's character Morpheus, before eventually becoming the love interest (all while kicking a serious amount of ass) of Neo; the third film, The Matrix: Revolutions is as much their journey together as it the final showdown between man and machine. More on Trinity a little later, when we'll try to speculate on the plot of The Matrix 4.
Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe: Known as the best pilot of the human resistance (her hovercraft piloting under a ludicrous amount of enemy pressure in The Matrix: Revolutions is a spectacular justification of her reputation). Interestingly in the original trilogy, Smith's character Niobe was not a believer in "The Prophecy of The One" so this is perhaps the most surprising cast member to return to the Matrix universe.
Lambert Wilson as The Merovingian: Wilson would first appear in the second Matrix film, The Matrix: Reloaded, with another smaller appearance in The Matrix: Revolutions. A self-styled "trafficker of information", Merovingian, while a program himself, has no allegiance to either than machines or the human rebels. As an exiled program he exists inside the computer generated world of the Matrix as an exiled program, interested only in his own motivations.
Daniel Bernhardt as Agent Johnson: Bernhardt was another actor to debut in The Matrix: Reloaded - although until his casting being announced for The Matrix 4, Bernhardt only appeared in the middle film of the trilogy as Agent Johnson. The Agents are programs that police the Matrix, hunting down the human rebels when they illegally plug into the Matrix, along with hunting down any renegade programs scheduled for deletion. Able to jump into and out of the bodies of any humans still enslaved by the Matrix, they are immeasurably powerful phantoms - an almost guaranteed death sentence to any human rebel that they encounter.
Other roles have been cast for The Matrix 4, however details are being held very tightly about the nature of the new characters that we can expect to be introduced to. Other cast members include: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Neil Patrick Harris, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Toby Onwunmere, Max Riemelt, Eréndira Ibarra, Priyanka Chopra, Andrew Caldwell, Brian J. Smooth and Ellen Hoffman.
Notable absences include Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus - who had announced that he was not asked to reprise his role for the new movie. Also conspicuous by his absence is Hugo Weaving as rogue Agent Smith. Unlike Fishburne, Weaving had been asked to once again don the sunglasses as Reeves' nemesis, Agent Smith, however a scheduling conflict stemming from his involvement in Tony Kushner's stage adaptation of The Visit meant that sadly, it was not to be.
Is The Matrix 4 the final title?
The Matrix 4 is officially at least, still an untitled film. An article from ScreenRant in early 2021 speculated that the title of the fourth entry in the series would simply be titled Matrix - and went on to criticize this possibility, inferring that Hollywood was following an unpopular trend of recent sequels re-using their first film's title in with some small permutation (think Fast and Furious or the upcoming fifth film in the Scream series, simply going by Scream).
Earlier this year - in January, a tantalizing Tweet made the rounds, with a very real possibility of spoiling the film's title. Adding legitimacy to the Tweet was the claim that the image had been shared by a makeup artist who worked with the cast. While removed shortly afterwards, the image was quickly screen-grabbed and shared ad-infinitum. The potential name for The Matrix 4? Matrix: Resurrections.
What do we know about the possible plot of The Matrix 4?
Given the fates of Reeves and Moss' characters in The Matrix: Revolutions, this is, if nothing else, an incredibly apt title for the film. Also consider the few set photographs that surfaced during production; Moss' Trinity riding a motorcycle with a very un-Neo but definitely Jesus-looking Keanu Reeves riding pillion.
How on Earth is this possible? Neo sacrificed himself at the climax of The Matrix Revolutions in order to help the machines stop Agent Smith, in turn brokering a fragile peace treaty. Trinity too gave her life selflessly, assisting Neo on his journey (in the "real world" of the Matrix) to the Machine City in order for Neo to offer to stop Smith and barter for the survival of the humans in their last remaining city.
As of this writing, plot details are so scarce as to be almost non-existent - aside from the aforementioned (and also extremely scarce) photographs shared from on set. So what can we tell you about The Matrix 4 from a story standpoint? Perhaps the best approach in this scenario would be to
look at the series' past.
The Matrix franchise became a vast multimedia affair with video games, comic books, and an animated anthology filling in some of the gaps and exploring new avenues within the Matrix world. Perhaps the biggest question lies in in whether or not The Matrix 4 will hew close to the story that spun out of the now defunct massively multiplayer online game, The Matrix Online. The game was initially developed by Monolith Productions and later by Sony Online Entertainment. It was released in in the spring of 2005, published by Sega and Warner Bros. Entertainment.
The plot took place after the third film in the series, The Matrix Revolutions, and contended primarily with the fragile peace that Neo was able to secure for humanity with his sacrifice. Players were able to ally themselves with one of three factions; the machines, the rebels (Zion) or The Merovingian.
Perhaps the biggest and most important points of the game revolved around Morpheus distancing himself from all three factions - in effect going rogue - in order to convince the Machines to relinquish the real world remains of Neo and Trinity. This culminated, rather shockingly, with the murder of Morpheus by a character introduced in the game simply known as "The Assassin." In turn, adding another wrinkle, it transpired that Morpheus' killer had been hired by, you guessed it, The Merovingian. This also culminated with Niobe (remember, also returning in The Matrix 4) splintering off from the main rebel forces, to dedicate herself to "deleting" The Merovingian.
The Matrix Online introduced a plethora of new concepts to the lore of The Matrix - far too numerous to relate in depth here. It does however raise several interesting possibilities for the plot of The Matrix 4. Given that The Matrix Online servers finally shut down in 2009, that leaves nearly half a decade of lore to either fold into, or utterly discard for the sake of the new film. Consider that Laurence Fishburne was not invited to return as Morpheus, could this be indicative of Lana Wachowski maintaining continuity into the future via the events of The Matrix Online? It should also be mentioned that Agent Smith returned within the game more than once. With Hugo Weaving also not reprising his role as Agent Smith, this could be easily explained by referring to the ongoing lore that occurred with The Matrix Online.
This however could potentially prove problematic in and of itself. While The Matrix is no doubt a franchise with a dedicated fan base, how many fans of the trilogy played The Matrix Online? While the game did eventually wrap up due to low subscription numbers, the story is, to many people, a Series Finale complete and utter mystery. There may well be too many concepts remembered by too few people to introduce wholesale into a series that last graced the big screen eighteen years ago.
An obvious solution would be to, once again, launch a full multimedia assault around The Matrix 4, providing enough material for old fans and relative newcomers alike to fully catch up with where the story of The Matrix is picking up in the new film. If you'll recall back in 2003, before the release of the second film, The Matrix Reloaded, cinemas would screen the short computer animated film, Final Flight of the Osiris.
While also a great way to build hype for the upcoming film, Final Flight of the Osiris could also be considered the first true sequel to The Matrix, as The Matrix Reloaded dealt directly with the fallout from the events of Final Flight of the Osiris.
Given the scarcity of details surrounding the plot of The Matrix 4, it is perhaps conjecture to even speculate that the movie will take place after the events of The Matrix Online - or if the game will even be referred to at all. Perhaps The Matrix 4 will serve as a last hurrah for the returning cast members as they pass the torch to the next generation of actors in order to carry stories from the Matrix world further into the 21stSeries Finale century.
Eagerly anticipated and obsessively discussed, it's great that we're getting a new Matrix film so long after fans had believed that the series was complete after three films.
Hey, didn't the Oracle state at the end of The Matrix Revolutions that she suspected we'd see Neo again one day? As the character Tank exclaimed so long ago, back in 1999 during the first Matrix film: Very exciting time.
The Matrix 4 is set to release later this year - simultaneously in theatres and on the HBO Max streaming service (as part of Warner Bros. Pictures plans for the entirety of their 2021 slate) on 22nd December 2021.