After an 18-year gap, The Matrix franchise spawned a third sequel in The Matrix Resurrections, but it failed to live up to the expectations set by some of its predecessors. Similar to the situation with The Matrix Revolutions, the fourth film was met with poor reviews. Not only that, but it was also considered a massive box office bomb, as it performed significantly worse than all three of the preceding Matrix movies.

With only one Wachowski sibling returning to the directing chair this time, there was much enthusiasm surrounding the next installment in The Matrix franchise. After nearly two decades of stagnancy, hopes were high for The Matrix 4, especially when considering how much CGI has evolved since the first three movies. The other movies were made at a time when CGI development was still relatively young, whereas The Matrix 4 arrived in a much more technologically-advanced era. A franchise so dedicated to the very theme of technology seemingly promised a great deal, but in the end, The Matrix Resurrections didn’t reach the heights of the first two entries in the series.


Related: Resurrections Killed A Better Sequel Idea Than The Matrix 4

Laurence Fishburne Didn’t Reprise His Role As Morpheus

Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in The Matrix and Yahya Abdul-Mateen in Matrix 4

One thing that likely had an impact on excitement for The Matrix 4 was the absence of Morpheus. Instead of bringing back original Morpheus actor Lawrence Fishburne for the sequel, the producers opted to have Morpheus recast for Resurrections with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. This decision naturally frustrated those who adored Fishburne’s portrayal of the character in the first three films. Alongside Neo and Trinity, both of whom did return for Resurrections, Morpheus was widely considered to be a fundamentally important character in the story, for if it wasn’t for Morpheus locating Neo (The One) in the first place, there wouldn’t have been a story at all.

What’s worse is that it seems Fishburne’s exclusion from the film wasn’t unavoidable. The actor said in 2020 that he had “not been invited” to reprise his role [via New York Magazine]. The movie’s story ultimately made sense of the surprising decision to recast Morpheus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean leaving out Fishburne was the right move for the film. Since the movie’s success depended on its ability to appeal to its fanbase, The Matrix 4, instead of looking so different from what came before, could have at least tried to reunite the trio of actors that drove the popularity of the first three films.

The Matrix Resurrections Lowered The Stakes (Instead Of Raising Them)

Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in The Matrix Resurrections.

Another striking change Resurrections brought to the Matrix franchise was the stakes, which were lower than ever in the fourth installment. Although once again dealing with unique subject matter, the plot of Resurrections largely focuses on saving the life of one individual, as Neo tries to find out if his reality is a physical or mental construct. These are decidedly internal and sentimental struggles of the protagonist, rather than being about the life and death stakes of the masses, which is what the original trilogy centered on.

One of the many elements of the Matrix movies that makes them so compelling is the scale. Undergoing a dramatic narrative arc, the trilogy begins with the threat of technology keeping the human race in a dream-like state. The population has no agency over their own actions outside The Matrix simulation. The plot expands to center on the dystopian world itself, overrun by robots, and defending the vast city of Zion from the machines.

Related: Matrix 4: Why Neo Doesn’t Remember Who He Is In Resurrections

Resurrections, on the other hand, is about Neo saving Trinity in this Matrix film – otherwise called Tiffany – from the machines, while also dealing with Neo’s own mental health struggles. Going in this direction amounted to a noticeable shift in scale and one that risked that the movie not meeting the high bar set by The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded. From a franchise that is generally regarded as high box office cinema, audiences perhaps expected a more explosive and game-changing plot, especially considering the lengthy wait they endured.

The Matrix Resurrections Technophobia Might Have Been A Problem

Neo and the ending of The Matrix 1999

Though the idea of technophobia throughout the Matrix franchise has always been there, Resurrections is much more intense in its exploration of its downsides. In the original trilogy, the material is very much on-the-nose and easy to digest for audience members, as it easily provided thought-provoking pieces as well as popcorn entertainment. But here, the story leaned into darker and more depressing content.

The Matrix 4 is arguably the most meta film in the franchise. It’s a movie that’s extremely self-aware, self-critical, and even referential to its own franchise, something that audiences tend not to find in modern-day blockbuster cinema too often. It’s a particularly somber outlook on virtual reality, as well as sequels in general, and is pessimistic to the extent of ultimately holding a mirror up to the audience, and not flatteringly.

Unlike the red and blue pills in The Matrix, taking pills in this film no longer works, and neither does therapy. To escape, one literally has to hack into a mirror (the mirror that reflects a person’s own self-loathing). Employing such a dark tone may have played a part in turning audiences off from the movie, with The Matrix’s earlier entries celebrating more uplifting, exciting themes of realizing one’s own power and identity.

Related: Matrix 4 Debunked The Dumbest Resurrections Fan Theory All Along

The Matrix 4’s Hybrid Release Hurt The Film Commercially

Matrix Resurrections red pill scene in theatre.

Unfortunately for the movie, the circumstances and timing of The Matrix 4’s release impeded its success. Like many other Warner Bros. productions of late, The Matrix Resurrections released both in theaters and via a streaming service. In this case, Resurrections was available on HBO Max. This inadvertently encouraged some audience members to watch the new film in the comfort of their own homes rather than at the movie theaters, consequently hurting The Matrix 4’s box office success. Similar to other films that enjoyed a hybrid release, its domestic box office numbers were most assuredly impacted. It proved to be one of the many aspects that went wrong with The Matrix Resurrections.

Next: Where Agent Smith Went At The End Of Matrix 4 & What His Final Line Means

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