The Matrix explained: everything you need to know before Matrix 4

What is the Matrix? That’s the question… and we’re here to explain all. The Matrix Resurrections is arriving imminently, and before it lands, it’s time to brush up on the entire franchise.

Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne-Moss are back in The Matrix 4, along with newcomer Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Morpheus. The trailers have all been pretty mysterious, with Neo and Trinity no longer recognizing each other, Morpheus being played by a new actor, and one character looks to be Agent Smith in a new guise.

Whether you’ve devoured every last scrap of The Matrix franchise and need a quick refresh, or you’ve never watched a single movie and hardly know your red pill from your blue pill, we’ve got your back. We’ve taken a deep dive into the movies, the games, and the animated series Animatrix to pull together absolutely everything you need to know before the Matrix Resurrections arrives. Scroll on, follow that white rabbit, and get up to speed.  

The Matrix

The Matrix

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The Matrix follows Thomas Anderson, AKA Neo, who starts out as a computer programmer with a nagging sense that something isn’t quite right. He meets Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus and Moss’s Trinity, and is offered that famous choice – the red pill, or the blue pill? Taking blue will let Neo wake up at home as if nothing happened, while red will reveal the truth about his reality.

Naturally, Neo takes the red pill and learns that he’s been trapped in a simulation his whole life: the Matrix. Robots conquered the planet and machines have been using humans as batteries ever since. Free humans live in an underground city called Zion. Neo unhooks himself and wakes into a nightmarish situation, surrounded by rows and rows of sleeping humans encased in glass. He’s rescued by Morpheus and Trinity, along with the rest of their crew, and taken aboard their flying ship, the Nebuchadnezzar.

Morpheus thinks Neo is “the One,” a person prophesied to destroy the Matrix. He teaches Neo how to bend the laws of reality while he’s plugged into the simulation, giving Neo some serious fighting skills. Morpheus eventually takes Neo to meet the Oracle, who can see the future. Strangely, the Oracle tells Neo he’s not the One, and gives him an ominous warning: he’ll eventually have to choose between saving Morpheus’ life, or his own.

The Matrix

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The team are then ambushed by the sinister Agents, computer programs within the Matrix that are impossible to defeat, clad in suits and dark sunglasses. It turns out one of the Nebuchadnezzar’s crew, Cypher, wanted back into the simulation and made a deal to betray the others. They become aware of the trap when Neo notices a black cat walking by twice, and comments on his déjà vu. That’s a sign of a glitch in the Matrix, which happens when something is changed. The Agents take Morpheus captive, and all but Neo, Trinity, and another crewmember named Tank are killed by Cypher – who is then in turn killed by Tank.

Neo launches a rescue operation to save Morpheus, even though the odds are stacked against him. He and Trinity fight their way to their friend, and Neo discovers he can move fast enough to dodge bullets. They rescue Morpheus, who makes it out of the Matrix safely with Trinity. Meanwhile, Neo is pursued by Agents – led by Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith.

Smith shoots Neo dead, and all hope seems lost. In the real world, Trinity tells Neo’s body that she’s in love with him, and says the Oracle told her she’d fall for the One. Back in the Matrix, Neo wakes up, and, now believing he is the One, defeats the Agents and makes his escape. If you’re wondering about the Oracle, she only told Neo what he needed to hear at the time, and not the actual truth.

The film ends with Neo making a phone call warning the machines he’s going to show people “a world where anything is possible,” before he flies away Superman-style.

The Matrix Reloaded

The Matrix Reloaded

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The Matrix 2 picks up six months after the events of the first movie. We learn that the machines are sending robots down to Zion, and will be there in a matter of hours. We’re also introduced to Jada Pinkett Smith’s Niobe, captain of the Logos ship. 

Meanwhile, Agent Smith possesses one of the human rebels, Bane: after his fight with Neo, Smith is no longer in thrall to the Matrix’s rules, and his capabilities have leveled up.

Neo has been having nightmares of Trinity’s death, which are keeping him awake. He meets with the Oracle again, taken to her by her bodyguard Seraph, and she tells him to find someone known as the Keymaker. He’s tasked with reaching the Matrix’s Source – basically, the heart of the entire program. Neo also learns that the Oracle herself is a computer program, but decides he can still trust her. 

After the Oracle leaves, Agent Smith reappears. Except, there’s not just one of him this time around. Countless versions of the villain show up thanks to his new abilities, and Neo fights them all in a massive, reality-bending battle. Luckily, Neo is able to repel Smith’s attempt to absorb him.

The Matrix Reloaded

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

On the hunt for the Keymaker, Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus head to meet the Merovingian, who is holding him captive. The Merovingian, sometimes called the Frenchman, is yet another computer program – and he wields a lot of power. But, his wife Persephone takes Neo and co. to the Keymaker’s prison, and they start a rescue attempt. 

Neo, fully grown into his powers as the One, repels a ton of bullets and holds off the Merovingian’s guards while Morpheus, Trinity, and the Keymaker make their escape. The trio have a chase along a highway, pursued by the Merovingian’s guards and some Agents. Neo arrives just in time to save the day.

Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, and the Keymaker get to the Source with the help of some other human crews. Agent Smith stands in their way, though, and in the ensuing altercation, the Keymaker is killed – but Neo makes it inside, and meets the Architect.

The Matrix Reloaded

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

This is where things get confusing. The Architect is not one to speak clearly, but he reveals that Neo is in fact not a prophesied savior after all, but is actually a recurring “anomaly” in the Matrix with a connection to the Source. There’ve been five other versions of the system, which means five other versions of the One, too. While the Architect doesn’t exactly want this to happen, because he knows it’s inevitable, he has a way of controlling it – so he knew Neo was coming to meet him. 

The Architect explains that the first version of the system was perfect, but failed, so the next version had some flaws built in to reflect human history. Once again, this didn’t work. The Oracle – created by the machines to understand human nature – knew the problem: for everyone to accept the simulation, they had to have a choice. This is how the One came to be: through the capacity for choice. If Neo was left to his own devices, he truly could end the whole system. The same goes for the free humans of Zion: they all have to be controlled to prevent total disaster. The Oracle spreads the prophecy among the human rebels in each version of the Matrix to keep the cycle going. 

The Architect explains that Zion will soon be destroyed for the sixth time. What Neo has to do is go to the Source to reboot the system with the code he carries, and then he’ll be able to choose some survivors to repopulate Zion. If he doesn’t, the whole thing will crash, and everyone plugged into the Matrix will die. That, combined with Zion being destroyed, would end humanity for good. 

The Matrix Reloaded

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

It turns out that all five previous versions of the One had a general love for humanity motivating them, so they chose to save the human race. Neo’s love is more specific: Trinity. Neo now has to make a choice. He can go to the Source and save Zion, or go to rescue Trinity, who is in danger – just like in Neo’s dreams. He chooses Trinity. 

It seems Neo is too late – by the time he stops Trinity’s fall, she’s already been shot. But with his incredible powers, Neo manages to restart her heart by diving into her code.

Back in reality, the crew are chased by machines. Even though they’re in the real world, Neo’s powers work on the robots, and he stops them in their tracks. The One drops unconscious and is taken to safety.

Things went badly down in Zion, though not to the point of total destruction. Someone set off an EMP early, devastating humanity’s efforts to repel the machines – no prizes for guessing it was Smith/Bane behind the sabotage. The movie ends with Neo and Smith/Bane both unconscious on stretchers in the med-bay.

The Matrix Revolutions

The Matrix

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

The third Matrix movie starts just after the end of Reloaded. Neo and Smith/Bane are still both unconscious, and it turns out Neo is trapped in a strange space that lies between the Matrix and reality, taking the form of a subway station. There, he comes across a small family, who are trying to get their daughter, Sati, to safety. The family are all computer programs, and as Sati was created out of love, not for a specific purpose, her parents fear she’ll be wiped out of existence.

The station is under the control of the Trainman, who answers to the Merovingian. The Merovingian, of course, is not happy with Neo – so the One finds his access to the train denied. In fact, his powers don’t work in the station, so the Trainman is easily able to repel his attempt to get on board. Sati escapes to safety.

The Oracle’s bodyguard, Seraph, tells Trinity and Morpheus what’s become of Neo. The three of them go to the Merovingian’s club, and – after a lot of threats made at gunpoint – manage to rescue Neo. 

Neo goes to visit the Oracle, who explains his powers originate from the Source, which is why they work on machines outside of the simulation. She also reveals that the Architect can’t see beyond choices, so Neo doesn’t need to worry about the timescale he gave of Zion being destroyed that very day. According to her, the Architect’s purpose is to “balance the equation,” while hers is to “unbalance it.” 

She then warns Neo that Smith is out of control, and could destroy the Matrix and the real world unless Neo stops him. It turns out that Smith is the opposite of Neo, his “negative.” The Oracle also gives the One some words of wisdom: “Everything that has a beginning has an end.” 

Smith then arrives and possesses the Oracle, gaining her powers of precognition in the process.

The Matrix Revolutions

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Back in reality, Neo says he needs a flying ship to go to the heart of the machines, Machine City – he’s been having visions of the place. Trinity agrees to go with him. Smith/Bane wakes up and kills one of the crew. He makes it onto Neo and Trinity’s ship and ambushes the duo. In the fight that ensues, Neo is blinded, but is still able to ‘see’ Smith thanks to his powers, and defeats this version of the Agent with a particularly hard hit to the head.

Meanwhile, a huge battle rages in Zion, with humanity making its last stand against an onslaught of machines.

Neo and Trinity make it to Machine City, but they’re overwhelmed by Sentinels and crash. Trinity is mortally wounded and, before she dies, reaffirms her love for Neo, who presses on alone. He makes it to the figurehead of the Matrix, literally called the Deus Ex Machina. Neo warns the machine about Smith and says he’ll stop the rogue Agent in exchange for peace with Zion. The machine agrees, and Neo plugs into the Matrix once more.

The Matrix Revolutions

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

It’s time for one last fight – all the different versions of Agent Smith vs the One. Neo and Smith go careening through buildings and fly up into the air in their final battle, and in the end, Neo finds himself on the brink of defeat. Smith gloats that he’s seen this scenario before (thanks to his Oracle powers), and is supposed to say something at that moment. To his surprise, the words that come out are “everything that has a beginning has an end” – exactly what the Oracle told Neo earlier in the film.

Neo, after hearing the words, gives in and allows Smith to possess him, but of course, it’s not so simple. A bright light consumes Neo/Smith, which then spreads to all the other Smiths. This last effort kills Neo, and his body is carried away by the machines. The Oracle reappears, free of the Agent.

Back in Zion, the machines leave, and the survivors celebrate Neo’s victory.

In the last scene, Oracle and Sati are at a park within the newly rebooted Matrix, which is now bright and colorful, rather than that sickly green shade. The Architect approaches to speak with the Oracle, and it’s revealed that anyone who wishes to be free of the Matrix can now leave – and it seems the peace will last.

Sati creates a beautiful sunrise in Neo’s memory and asks the Oracle if they’ll ever see him again. Oracle says she thinks so, someday, and tells Seraph that she didn’t know what would happen, but she believed.

The Matrix video games

Enter The Matrix

(Image credit: Atari)

Enter the Matrix runs alongside The Matrix Reloaded, allowing the player to be part of the movie’s events, while The Matrix: Path of Neo lets you play through Neo’s journey from lowly computer programmer to being the One.

The key thing to know heading into Matrix 4, though, is what happens to Morpheus in The Matrix Online. The game picks up after the movies and reveals that humans are allowed to leave the Matrix – on the condition that they already know they’re living in a simulation. Since the machines refuse to relinquish Neo’s body, Morpheus begins to deliberately expose the nature of the Matrix, which prompts the machines to send an assassin after him. Morpheus is killed… and has stayed dead ever since.

Another rule change brought in was that, in the game, humans can be killed in the Matrix but survive in the real world. The bad news for Morpheus, though, is that the bullets used on him included “kill codes,” so his death sticks. Whether this rule was just a gameplay tweak, or is now part of the franchise’s lore, remains to be seen.

The Animatrix


(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

This animated series revealed a few key details about the lore of the Matrix franchise. It explores the backstory of how exactly machines came to conquer the Earth – in short: a robot rebelled against its human owners when they tried to deactivate it, and things spiraled out of control from there – and reveals that it’s very rare to escape the Matrix alone and without help. The series also explains that it’s difficult for the average person to become aware of the simulation, and usually only extraordinary people notice the irregularities in their reality.

That’s everything you need to know before heading to see The Matrix: Resurrections when it arrives in theaters and on HBO Max in the US this December 22, and lands in UK cinemas on the same day. Until then, check out our guide to all of 2021’s upcoming major movie release dates.

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