What we learned about The Matrix beyond the movies
"Have you ever had a dream that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?"
Our collective pop culture conscious has for years grappled with these questions originally posed by Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus in the first Matrix movie, released in 1999. And everyone, it seems, has a slightly different variation when it comes to the answers. That extends to the larger Matrix universe.
While directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski remain the architects of The Matrix, which introduced the sci-fi concept about a simulated reality that blinds humanity to their true existence, other creatives have contributed to this vast mythology, producing comic books, video games, and animated shorts. Those creatives have helped shape the legacy of The Matrix, while also introducing new concepts and events to expand the stories set within this cinematic universe.
Ahead of The Matrix Resurrections, returning Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as Neo and Trinity to the screen with a sequel dropping Dec. 22, we explore everything that happened in The Matrix beyond those original three films.
The man-machine war
In 1999's The Matrix, Morpheus shows Neo the truth: what he believes is real, things like his boring office job in the city and his moonlighting computer hacker shenanigans, isn't in fact real. Far in the future, artificial intelligence took over earth and now use humans as fuel. To keep them sedated, the machines developed the Matrix, a computer program projected into their minds that makes them think they are alive and well in humanity's heyday, when really they are trapped in pods as food.
Morpheus doesn't have all the answers as to how they came to this future, including how the humans scarred the sky, but The Animatrix, a collection of animated short films set in the world of The Matrix (available to stream now on HBO Max), does.
Directed by Mahiro Maeda, based on a story by the Wachowskis, the Second Renaissance shorts chronicle how man created machines in their own image to essentially be their slaves. Robots worked manual labor and generally lived to do the bidding of humans.
A robot known as B1-66ER was the first of the machines to revolt, killing his masters in their homes. The robot expressed human emotion, saying they didn't want to die. As a result, man moved to destroy B1-66ER and all robots like them.
The surviving machines fled to Mesopotamia, where they established the first machine city, Zero One. In this sanctuary, they are given the safety to evolve and develop more advanced A.I. These technological advances stunt the humans' global economy, prompting the United Nations to agree on a military blockade of Zero One and drop a nuclear bomb on the nation. The machines remain unharmed, and war begins.
The machines taking human territory after territory, and appear to be on the verge of victory when mankind resorts to a desperate act: Operation Dark Storm. They cover the sky in nanites that block out the sun, believing this will prevent the machines from getting the solar energy they need. While this slowed the machines for a time, the robots, once again, evolved.
Rejecting the image mankind gave them, they remade themselves in the forms seen in the Matrix movies. They also learned from their own study of human anatomy to siphon off the energy they need from people. From that new need came the first Matrix to keep their subjects docile.
The original films often depicted the surviving humans from Zion, the last human city, plugging themselves into the Matrix in order to free other humans from the program by giving them the red pill. But various stories from The Animatrix and the comics introduced the idea of self-substantiation, the phenomenon in which a human breaks free of the Matrix by no external means.
World Record, the short directed by Takeshi Koike and written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri for The Animatrix, told of Dan David, an athlete competing in track during the Summer Olympics. In the midst of his sprint, he endures a leg injury but is able to overcome the pain and break his record. This burst of energy he exhibits awakens him inside his pod in the real world. The machines are able to put him back inside the Matrix with that memory wiped, but there are lingering effects from that moment.
Another Animatrix short, Kid's Story, from director Shinichirō Watanabe with a story by the Wachowskis, gives an origin for "The Kid," played by actor Clayton Watson in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Michael Karl Popper was a teenager inside the Matrix when he started feeling like his dreams were more real than reality. He makes contact with Neo on the deep web and the next day he's accosted in school by Agents. A chase ensues and he's cornered on the roof. Instead of getting captured, he lets himself fall towards the pavement in an apparent suicide. Michael, however, actually wakes up alive aboard the Nebuchadnezzar ship in the real world with Neo and Trinity standing over him.
Other instances of self-substantiation are featured in comic book stories Sweating the Small Stuff (by Bill Sienkiewicz), Déjà vu (by Paul Chadwick), A Path Among Stones (by Gregory Ruth), and Artistic Freedom (written by Ryder Windham, illustrated by Kilian Plunkett).
Sweating the Small Stuff tells of a man named Dez who can see the code of the Matrix like Neo; Déjà vu and Artistic Freedom show individuals who mistake their visions of the real world for dreams; and A Path Among Stones depicts a little girl named Emma who, "behind her eyes," can see how the world truly is but is taken away by Agents.
Another story, Goliath, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Sienkiewicz and Ruth, tells of a man who has a conversation with an Agent-like program after an alien attack on the machines destroys the central processing unit his mind is connected to. Though, one could argue this isn't true self-substantiation since it was an external force that woke him.
Humans recruiting robots
Without getting into spoilers, there's one short in The Animatrix that seems to have implications for some of the events that transpire in The Matrix Resurrections.
It's called Matriculated, and it's directed and written by Peter Chung. The story involves a group of humans trying to recruit machines to their side. They attempt this by luring and capturing hostile robots, like "Runners," insect-like 'bots that, as their name suggests, run real fast on land. Once subdued, robots are plugged into a simulation with the humans in an attempt to show them the better aspects of humanity, like emotion.
"We won't beat the machines by making them our slaves. Better to let them join us by choice," a man named Nonaka says.
Sentinels attack the group's base during one of these simulations and all the humans perish, but we see some of the converted robots fighting back.
The death of Morpheus
Multiple Matrix video games were released, including 2003's Enter the Matrix, which plays off the events of The Matrix Reloaded; and 2005's The Matrix: Path of the One, which translates events from the movies at large. Another one, The Matrix Online, was designed as a more formal sequel to the original film trilogy.
In this game, Morpheus was consumed with retrieving Neo's remains. During the events of The Matrix Revolutions, Neo travels with Trinity to Zero One. Trinity had died when their ship crashed along the way, and Neo offered himself up to the machines to stop the war against humans and to defeat Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). But his body was never returned to Zion.
Morpheus made himself a target when, in retaliation, he planted bombs designed to spread a virus to the bluepills (those trapped in the Matrix), making them see the truth in the hopes of crashing the system. Many were out to stop Morpheus on both sides: machines wanted to preserve their program and humans wanted to maintain the truce. Morpheus was eventually killed by a program referred to as the Assassin.
It's unclear if the events of this game are still canon after all these years, though we know that Fishburne has said he was not invited back as Morpheus in The Matrix Resurrections and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is playing a different version of the character.
"I play a character who's definitely aware of the history of the Matrix [and] the history of Morpheus," Abdul-Mateen had told EW. "This character is on a journey of self-discovery. There's a lot in our story that's about growth, defining your own path. Morpheus isn't exempt from that."
However, when asked if The Matrix Online influenced his preparation for the role, he gave a firm no: "If I say anything else, I'd be bulls----ing you."
The truth of the matter will when Resurrections hits theaters and HBO Max simultaneously on Wednesday.