‘The Matrix’ Trilogy Ending Explained: What Happened Before ‘Resurrections’

A refresher for those headed into “The Matrix Resurrections”

Matrix Revolutions
Warner Bros.

Are you ready for “The Matrix Resurrections?”

If your answer is “No,” that’s okay. In fact, it might be expected. The last entry in the franchise was “The Matrix Revolutions,” which hit theaters way back on November 5, 2003. It followed “The Matrix Reloaded,” which opened on May 15, 2003. Since it’s been nearly 20 years since there was a new “Matrix” movie out, we figured that a refresher might be in order.

And one small note: for the sake of our sanity and yours, we will not be factoring in the still-very-much-canon “Matrix” videogame “Enter the Matrix” (which features a ton of footage with the original actors shot by the Wachowskis), the animated short films contained within the “Animatrix” anthology or “The Matrix Online” game, an internet-based multiplayer game that continued the narrative of the movies after “Revolutions.” This is just the sequels, how they wrap up, and how they feed into “The Matrix Resurrections,” which hits theaters and HBO Max on December 22.

“The Matrix Reloaded” Recap

Warner Bros.

The two “Matrix” sequels, filmed simultaneously and released very close together, is a bramble. There is philosophical inquiry about the nature of choice versus destiny mixed with high octane action moments, including one of the most dazzling car chases ever put on film, and a plot so thick and full of detail that even attempting to restate it seems like a fool’s errand.

And yet.

The first sequel, “The Matrix Reloaded,” saw Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie Ann-Moss), continuing their battle against the robotic overlords that have enslaved humanity alongside Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). A transmission reaches the human base of Zion (near the earth’s core) that a group of sentinels, the large, squid-like robots, are en route, hellbent on wiping out the surviving human population. (Or, at least the ones that aren’t hooked up to pods, serving as batteries for the robots.) Of course, when faced with a desperate situation, Trinity and Neo strike out, trying to find an unorthodox solution.

The Oracle (Gloria Foster), revealed to be a program within the Matrix, suggests that they find a man called the Keymaster (Randall Duk Kim), who can take them to the Source of the Matrix. But even this task is tinged with suspicion; if she is a program how can she be trusted? They track the Keymaster down in the chateau of the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), a weird crime lord type figure who rules over a group of defective programs like the ghostly Twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment). Neo, Trinity and Morpheus rescue the Keymaster, who gets Neo to the Source but not before forfeiting his life.

Once at the Source, Neo meets the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis), who tells Neo that his emergence is part of a cycle that has been built into the Matrix. Every now and again a new messianic figure emerges, which coincides and facilitates a new version of the Matrix to be programmed. And each time there is a new Neo, he is given a choice: pick a handful of survivors to repopulate the next version of Zion (which will be destroyed by the sentinels), or refuse, and kill everyone in Zion and those hooked up to the machines. (The Architect gravely states that they have figured out gruesome ways of surviving without their human batteries.) The second option is more of a “hard reboot” scenario, like when you have to hold down on the power button and wait for it to cycle through.

Instead, upon learning of Trinity’s death in the Matrix, Neo leaves the Architect and races to her aid. Back in the real world, their ship the Nebuchadnezzar is attacked. Neo and Trinity escape and Neo shows off a new ability: he has powers in the real world and disarms the sentinels. He then falls into a coma and is moved to the med bay alongside a human (Bane) that has been possessed by the villainous Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). And that’s how “The Matrix Reloaded” ends, leaving everyone back in 2003 hanging for another six months.

“The Matrix Revolutions” Recap

Warner Bros.

By the time the third film arrives, both the Matrix and the real world are on the brink of oblivion. The sentinels are still very much headed towards Zion, with humanity ready to mount a desperate last stand (while wearing some very cool, anime-influenced mech suits), while inside the Matrix Agent Smith has copied himself infinitely, to the point that he is the only resident of the virtual world.

After a skirmish on the Nebuchadnezzar that leaves Neo blinded and Bane/Smith dead, Trinity and Neo decide to appeal to the robot high command. They travel to the Machine City (Neo’s new real-world powers are definitely put to the test) and communicate with the head of the machines, known as Deux Ex Machina (because of course). Upon their arrival Trinity is killed in a crash of their ship (the Logos).

Wounded and alone, Neo tells the machines that Agent Smith is a threat not only to the Matrix (where he has absorbed the Oracle and now has psychic abilities) but to the real world as well. The machines make a deal – they’ll plug Neo back into the Matrix and juice him up. If he can defeat Smith (and rid the Matrix of him), then they will leave Zion alone. It is a tenuous agreement, built upon peace instead of conflict, with Neo not having to make the decisions the Architect laid out, but the robots will take it. Neo knows that this is a one-way trip but agrees anyway. After all, his lady love was just impaled.

After a very exciting, anime-influenced fight, Neo is also absorbed by Smith, but the machines send more power through to the Matrix and he emerges from Smith, killing all the Smith copies along with him. Zion is spared. Neo’s body is taken away by the machines.

At the very, very end, the Architect and the Oracle sit on a bench, overlooking a sunny park. They note that the peace brokered between the machines and humans will last as long as it can, and if a human plugged into the simulation wishes to leave the Matrix, they will facilitate it. The Oracle tells Sati (a program Neo encountered when he was in his coma) that she thinks that she’ll see Neo again. The Oracle says that she didn’t see this unfolding but hoped that it would. It ends on a note not of optimism, but of sustained compromise.

Ripe for Resurrection

Matrix Resurrections
Photo: Warner Bros

So, yes, Neo and Trinity are both dead by the end of “The Matrix Revolutions.” But wait – you’ve seen the trailers for “The Matrix Resurrections” and they’re both back. Well, yes, it’s all there in the title isn’t it? How and why they are resurrected, and whether anybody else makes an appearance from the sequels, however, remains to be seen.

Recounting the sequels also brings up the historical detail that the Architect shared, about how there have been many earlier Matrix simulations and many more Neos. Is the Neo we have seen in the trailers a “new” iteration of Neo, or the same Neo from before (the one who was an office drone before becoming enlightened)? Again: more good questions and more that we cannot answer. (At least not yet.)

The only thing you can really expect from the “Matrix” franchise is the unexpected. So whatever it is you have in your head, whatever hypothesis you have formulated, is most likely incorrect (or at the very least misaligned). When “The Matrix Resurrections” comes barreling into theaters and on HBO Max on Dec. 21, it’s going to be something very, very different. And isn’t that the most exciting prospect of all?