Note: The following contains spoilers for “The Matrix Resurrections”
“The Matrix Resurrections” is here, and the gray hairs in Neo’s beard aren’t the only thing that’s different from the original trilogy.
The fourth “Matrix” film – directed by Lana Wachowski, who co-wrote the screenplay with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon – both acknowledges what came before in the groundbreaking original trilogy, but also moves the franchise in a new direction. And that includes a new Morpheus, this time played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
When it was announced that Laurence Fishburne would not be reprising his role as Morpheus in the new “Matrix” movie, fans were displeased. “I have not been invited,” Fishburne told New York magazine. “I wish them well. I hope it’s great.”
Then, when the first trailer was released, it became clear that Abdul-Mateen II was playing Morpheus. But why was he recast? Is this a younger version of Morpheus? Well, the film answers a lot of these questions while posing new ones.
Morpheus in “The Matrix Resurrections” Is a Program
“The Matrix Resurrections” takes place about 60 years after Neo first sacrificed himself for Zion, and made a deal to keep a version of The Matrix in place. But in that intervening time, the machines began fighting one another, and Neo and Trinity were rebuilt and plugged into a new Matrix program populated by bots, under the direction of an evil machine known as The Analyst (played in the film by Neil Patrick Harris).
But also during that time, humans learned to live with machines and embrace new technology in the form of sentient machines that serve as allies. Moreover, programs can now take physical form in the real world thanks to new technology, and they work hand-in-hand with humans at the new civilization of Io.
When “The Matrix Resurrections” begins, this new Morpheus is working as an agent inside a modal created by Thomas Anderson – the Matrix version of Neo who now works as a game designer and who has been convinced that the events from the Matrix trilogy didn’t actually happen and are the story of a video game trilogy that he created and designed.
When real-world humans bust into this modal – in effect they plug into a simulation inside a simulation – they help make Morpheus sentient and break him out of the modal.
The New Morpheus Is a Combo of Morpheus and Agent Smith
When Neo is unplugged from his own little mini-Matrix, he’s jacked into “the construct” where he interfaces with this new Morpheus, who confesses he’s been learning about both Neo and Morpheus since being broken out the modal. He points to a little television showing scenes from the “Matrix” trilogy, which in “The Matrix Resurrections” are established as scenes from the video game that Neo/Anderton created. “Are memories turned into fiction any less real? Is reality based in memory nothing but fiction?” Morpheus asks.
It’s here where Abdul-Mateen II’s Morpheus explains who he is and where he came from. “As to my role in all this, my best guess is that you wrote me as an algorithmic reflection of two forces that helped you become you,” he says. “Morpheus and Agent Smith. A Combo Pack of counter-programming that was, let’s just say, more than a little crazy-making. But it worked because here we are.”
This explains why Morpheus is an Agent in the first scene in the film.
Why Is Morpheus Played by a Different Actor?
So why couldn’t Fishburne reprise his role as Morpheus for this version created by Neo? Well, that’s a bit unclear, but it is telling that the only two major actors who return in “The Matrix 4” are Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, whose Neo and Trinity form the heart and soul of the story that “The Matrix Resurrections” is telling.
Even Agent Smith gets “reskinned” with Jonathan Groff filling the role this time instead of Hugo Weaving, although he’s been placed as Thomas Anderson’s business partner and is also unaware of his past at the beginning of the film, so it makes sense why The Analyst would disguise him.
Why Neo’s video game features Fishburne and his modal features Abdul-Mateen II is murky, but it’s possible that because this Morpheus is a hybrid of Morpheus and Smith, he couldn’t be exactly the same. Whatever the case, Abdul-Mateen II is a delight in the role, and it was great to be surprised that he wasn’t simply playing a younger version of Fishburne’s character.
“The Matrix Resurrections” is currently playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.