Eighteen years after the last Matrix movie hit theaters, The Matrix Resurrections arrives to both restart and bring the Matrix franchise to a close. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss return as Neo and Trinity, respectively, Jada Pinkett-Smith returns as Niobe, and Lambert Wilson returns as The Merovingian, stepping back into roles they’ve not seen since 2003. But there are plenty of newcomers to the cast, as well. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is set to play a younger version of Lawrence Fishburne’s Morpheus, while Jonathan Groff will be playing a new, different version of Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith. Jessica Henwick joins as a new character named Bugs, Neil Patrick Harris as The Analyst, Cristina Ricci as Gwyn de Vere, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Sati, who is almost certainly the new Oracle.

When it hit theaters in 1999, The Matrix revolutionized both complex storytelling in blockbusters as well as storytelling through VFX. The Wachowskis have never been anything but ambitious, and if the reviews of The Matrix Resurrections are anything to go by, Lana Wachowski has done it again, deconstructing the concept of what a franchise blockbuster is. Still, to fully appreciate Resurrections, it’s worth doing some catching up on the first three movies. If you don’t have time to watch them again before Matrix Resurrections hits theaters and HBO Max this week, allow our recap of the story to get you up to speed.

The Matrix

The Matrix begins with Keanu Reeves’ Thomas Anderson just as clueless to the real world as the audience. A software developer by day, he’s a renowned hacker by night known only as Neo. Even with his double life, he can’t escape the feeling that something is missing, that there’s a truth to the world that he can’t quite grasp.

As it turns out, he’s right. He’s contacted by a shadowy collective led by a man named Morpheus. Morpheus leads a group of rebels aboard the ship the Nebuchadnezzar and there, Neo soon learns the “real” world he’s been living in isn’t the real world at all, but an artificial simulation meant to keep humans docile. As Thomas Anderson, Neo had believed he’d been living in the year 1999, but the year, in reality, was 2199, and humans were enslaved. They had artificial intelligence, and, as one might have guessed, the A.I. eventually turned on humanity and started a war between humans and machines. Soon, the Earth was in shambles and the last bastion of humanity lived underground in a city known as Zion, while the rest of humanity was artificially grown and harvested like batteries to power the A.I., known as the Machines. The Matrix was the artificial, virtual world the A.I. kept their human crops plugged into to keep them lulled into a false sense of reality and docile. Only a few humans, those living in Zion and those who had been unplugged from the Matrix knew the truth of the world.

But there is a prophecy that a Chosen One will be born and save humanity, and, as it turns out, Neo is that Chosen One. He is the one powerful enough to break the barriers of human understanding, to know that in the Matrix, nothing is real and thus, anything is possible. In theory, at least: when he visits the Oracle, she tells him he’s not The One–but is that the truth? In any case, Neo eventually does become The One, able to not only dodge bullets that the Agents, particularly Agent Smith, shoot but to slow them down and stop them midair so he doesn’t have to dodge them at all. He’s soon able to see past the facade of the Matrix to the code beneath, reading it as easily as words. In doing so, he even defeats an Agent Smith in combat, diving inside the Agent’s virtual body and breaking him apart from the inside.

As with everything in The Matrix, however, there is ambiguity: Is Neo The One because he chose to be The One (self-determinism) or did he become The One because he was always destined to be (fate)? Was the Oracle telling the truth? Or did she simply tell him what he needed to hear in order to get him to feel as though he had a choice in the matter? None of it is made clear.

The Matrix Reloaded

Just as The Matrix upended what we knew about blockbusters, The Matrix Reloaded upended what we knew about The Matrix. The action really plays out on two fronts in the sequel: with the inhabitants of Zion and with Neo and the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar. One one track, the people of Zion learn that the Machines are planning a wide-scale attack on Zion in just three days’ time, prompting Harry J. Lennix’s Commander Jason “Deadbolt” Lock to recall all hovercraft crews, like the Nebuchadnezzar, back to Zion to prepare for the Sentinels’ assault.

Back in Zion, the Zionites a huge party to cackle into the abyss. Neo and Trinity, who are deeply in love by this point, take the opportunity to slip away for some alone time. Unfotunately, their rare moment of peace is interrupted by a vision Neo has of Trinity falling to her death inside the Matrix simulation. He’s shaken but keeps it to himself. Later, he meets with the Oracle to learn more about the prophecy and she informs him that if he wants to fulfil his destiny and save Zion, he must go to the Source, and there, he’ll find the programming that sustains the Matrix. There’s only one problem: to get there, Neo will need the help of the Keymaster, who is being held captive by the Merovingian, and the Merovingian is a very powerful program indeed.

Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus head to the Merovingian. A spectacular fight ensues against the Merovingian’s henchmen, but thanks to his wife, Persephone (Monica Belluci), leading them to the Keymaster behind her husband’s back, the good guys win out. Now with the Keymaster in tow, a group of hovercraft crews led by Neo formulate a plan to get Neo inside the Source with the Keymaster to shut it all down. Meanwhile, the Sentinels have begun their attack on Zion and Neo, still shaken by his vision, asks Trinity to stay out of the Matrix until he completes his mission. Unfortunately, as he, Morpheus, and the Keymaster are fighting their way through legions of Agents Smith to get to the Source, Trinity is forced into the Matrix when the ship she’s on is destroyed. There, she herself begins the fight against the Agents that Neo saw in his vision, the one that will lead to her death.

Once Neo is inside the Source, he meets the Architect, and what the latter has to say to him blows Neo’s mind. The Architect is simply another program within the Matrix; the program, as it turns out, the one that created and sustains the Matrix in the first place. There, Neo finds out that everything he’s learned was a lie: Neo is not The One but the sixth “The One.” Five times before has a human known as The One come before and five times have they allowed Zion to be destroyed. As it stands, both humanity and the Machines depend upon the Matrix for survival. Not all freed humans can withstand the knowledge of the real world and, if the Matrix were not rebooted in cycles, the accumulated mass of their instability would crash the entire system, bringing everything–humans, the Machines, the Matrix, the real world–crashing down once and for all. The previous five version of The One have chosen to allow Zion to be destroyed and the Matrix to be rebooted, being allowed to restart it and Zion with a handful of freed humans.

As he learns, Neo himself is not what he tought. He’s not a noble, prophesied hero born to save humanity, but, as the Architect says, “the eventuality of an anomaly, which, despite my sincerest efforts, I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision.” Neo, in essence, is a bug in the system, continually spat out by a kink in the code that the Architect can not figure out. Neo is not a savior; he’s just bad code.

Or is he?

Unlike the other versions of The One, who chose to enter the Source and reboot the Matrix to save humanity, Neo chooses to open a door and step through it to save Trinity, instead. He arrives just in time to catch Trinity as she falls out of a window stories above, but she is struck in the heart with a bullet as she falls. Unwilling to let her die, Neo reaches into her virtual body and resurrects her by fishing out the bullet and restarting her heart.

Back in the real world, Neo and Trinity tell Morpheus that the prophecy of The One was just another means of control used by the Matrix and that Zion should prepare for the attack. As Zion is under siege, so is the Nebuchadnezzar and the crew is forced to flee the ship being attacked by Sentinels. As they leave the ship, however, Neo suddenly realizes he can sense the Sentinels the same way he was able to sense the Matrix, and he telepathically shuts them down in their tracks. However, the strain is too much and he falls unconscious. While he’s comatose, the rest of the Nebuchadnezzar crew is picked up by the crew of another hovercraft, who inform them they only found one survivor in their search and rescue mission, a man named Bane. Unbeknownst to any of them, however, Bane is not Bane at all, but a rogue Agent Smith. In fact, it’s the Agent Smith that Neo shattered in the first movie; the act had the effect of breaking him free from the code of the Matrix. Now he operates more like a virus, able to insert himself into other systems and programs to make copies of himself. That’s exactly what he did with Bane, hijacking his body while he was inside the Matrix to hitchhike in Bane’s body back to the real world and the heart of the human resistance.

The Matrix Revolutions

The Matrix Revolutions picks up right after the events of Reloaded. Neo is metaphorically lost, and Morpheus orders scans of the Matrix to find Neo, whose brain patterns read as though he’s plugged into the Matrix while his body still lies comatose. As it turns out, Neo is not exactly in the Matrix, but not exactly in the real world, either. Instead, he’s trapped in the Mobil Avenue train station, a limnal space that acts as a way station between the real world and the Matrix. Unfortunately, it’s controlled by the Merovingian, who now has bounties out on his head, along with Morpheus and Trinity.

There, Neo meets a few wayward programs: Sati (Tanveer K. Atwal), a little girl whose programming does not have a purpose; Rama-Kandra (Bernard White), a program who has adopted Sati as his own; and his wife, Kamala (Tharini Mudaliar). Sati and her parents are allowed to leave on the train, but Neo is stuck. However, Morpheus and Trinity manage to get Neo out after a Mexican standoff with the Merovingian.

Neo heads to the Oracle, who hits him with another twist. The seemingly omniscient Architect isn’t omniscient at all and his predictions about the demise of humanity should Neo choose to save humanity instead of rebooting the Matrix weren’t necessarily true. As a mathematical program, the Architect can not see what happens after Neo going rogue as he only treated humans like other mathematical variables; the program had not counted on a human acting so unpredictably. Neo also learns he has powers over the Machines that go beyond the Matrix and he still has time to save humanity. He must hurry, however: the rogue Agent Smith is quickly spreading like a virus and threatening to head to the Source and bring down the Matrix once and for all.

To beat him, Neo must head to the Source–the real Source, Machine City, the heart of where the Machines live. His ultimate mission is to broker peace between the machines and humans to save them all from Agent Smith. Trinity and Neo borrow a ship from Niobe, a Zionist and Morpheus’ ex-lover, to head to Machine City. But Bane-Agent Smith has snuck on board and a fight breaks out, whereupon Bane reveals his real identity as Agent Smith and then blinds Neo. However, even when blind, Neo reveals that he can still “see” the programs and Machines, indicating that the “real” world is simply another layer of the Matrix, and he uses this newfound knowledge to kill Bane.

He and Trinity reach Machine City, where they are met by a horde of Sentinels and are attacked. Their ship crashes, and Trinity sustains fatal wounds and dies–this time, there is no coming back for her. Nonetheless, Neo presses onward and meets the Deus Ex Machina, a giant Machine and the de facto leader of the Machines. Neo strikes a deal with the Deus Ex Machina: he’ll enter the Matrix and destroy Agent Smith if the Machines agree to leave Zion in peace. As the Matrix has already started to crash under the weight of all the duplicate Agent Smiths, the Deus Ex Machina agrees.

Neo enters the Matrix, hellbent on destroying Agent Smith, only to find hundreds of Agents Smith waiting for him. Having absorbed so many programs, Agent Smith is now as powerful as Neo, and as the two fight, Agent Smith slowly gains the upper hand. After all, Neo is still a human, even if one with heightened abilities. As Neo finds himself on the back foot, he suddenly realizes that he’ll never defeat Smith like this but has to do what Agent Smith will never expect. Thus, he opens himself up to Agent Smith and allows himself to be assimilated–but also opening up Smith to himself in the process. At the moment of his assimilation, the Deus Ex Machina floods his body with electricity, frying the Agent Smith virus and all its duplicates through Neo, but Neo sacrifices himself in the process. Neo thereby closes the circle of the prophecy, dying in order to save humanity. In honor of their agreement, the Machines uphold their end of the bargain. They halt their assault on Zion and retreat to Machine City, taking Neo’s body with them. The grand irony, then, is that of all the Nebuchadnezzar‘s original and adopted crew, Morpheus is the only remaining crew member alive to see the liberation of Zion.

A short time later, the damage wrought by the cataclysmic last battle between Neo and Agent Smith is being repaired in the Matrix. Near a riverbank, the Architect and the Oracle meet and he assures her that all humans who want to be unplugged from the Matrix will be freed. Before he leaves, he asks her if she had known all along that things would turn out this way. “Oh, no,” she replies. “But I believed.” Meanwhile, Sati, who has also found the Oracle, has created a beautiful sunrise in honor of Neo. She asks the Oracle if they’ll ever see Neo again and the Oracle tells her that if they believe, they will.

The Matrix Resurrections is in theaters on Wednesday, December 22.

Get tickets to The Matrix Resurrections.

  • Editorial