The Matrix Resurrections resurrects Thomas "Neo" Anderson for the first time since 2003's back-to-back sequels. You can call him older and you can call him wiser … but don't call him weaker. "I don't know if he's weak, but I would say that he's vulnerable," Keanu Reeves tells Yahoo Entertainment about his formerly high-flying alter ego. "He's in a vulnerable state and trying to figure out how to make it better." (Watch our video interview with the cast above.)
Regardless of which adjective you choose, the resurrected Neo returns to movie screens a different man than the One we saw at the end of The Matrix Revolutions. Discovering the reasons for his newfound vulnerability is one of the many delights of Lana Wachowski's bold and beautiful revival of the previously dormant franchise she created with her sister, Lily Wachowski, in 1999. And Reeves enjoyed his character's journey as much as the audience will.
"I love suffering in characters and in stories — it's really fun to play," the 57-year-old star says with a sly grin. "I think it's something we can all relate to: taking on and trying to change one's circumstances in a positive way. So it was fun to play Thomas Anderson and Neo in all of his 'weakness.'"
Conversely, Carrie-Anne Moss delighted in celebrating the strength of her fan favorite Matrix character, Trinity. After notably taking a backseat to Neo in the original trilogy — so much so that it led film critic Tasha Robinson to coin the expression "Trinity Syndrome" — Resurrections re-establishes her importance to the series's overarching mythology. "When I discovered the arc for Trinity, my mind was just like, 'Wow,'" Moss says. "I love that she reclaims her power. Like what Keanu was saying about Thomas Anderson's journey, I think everyone can relate to feeling disempowered and claiming one's self."
Picking up decades after Revolutions, the latest Matrix adventure features some familiar characters sporting different faces, for reasons that are central to explaining how the digital world has evolved since Neo sacrificed himself to forge a truce between humankind and machinekind. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays a new version of Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus, while Jonathan Groff is the next gen update of Hugo Weaving's Smith, who is no longer tied down to Agent status.
"I watched [Hugo] a lot and I thought about him a lot," admits Groff of how he prepared for the role. "I was relieved when Lana said she didn't want anything that felt like his performance, [because] this was new programming. But I still watched him a lot anyway ... because it's pure genius, his performance in those movies."
Abdul-Mateen also studied his predecessor closely. "You start with going back and watching the films and finding out the things that you love … and [finding] the opportunities to steal little characteristics," the Aquaman star explains. "And then based on the script, you ask: 'What are the new opportunities that I have to show a different side of this character? I'm playing a character who is stepping into his own form of personality … so he gets to experiment a bit and that's what my process was as well."
Jessica Henwick, on the other hand, got the chance to create a new character from the ground up. The Iron Fist star plays Bugs, a newly-freed mind of the Matrix who knows the legends of Neo and Trinity and seizes the opportunity to meet them in the flesh. In some ways, Bugs is the child of those mythic figures, although Henwick didn't model her performance after either Reeves or Moss. "It is a part of the story that Bugs knows the legend of Neo and Trinity and kind of idolizes them," she says. "But I knew it wasn't my task to do an interpretation of their performances at all."
One of the ideas that all of the cast members — the returnees and the noobs alike — confront in Resurrections is the extent to which the human citizens of the Matrix have grown comfortable existing in a digital world, even when unplugging is easier than it was in Neo's time. That reflects our own reality, where technological means of escape have grown in leaps and bounds since the release of the original film, as well as the sequels.
Asked whether the machines have won in our own world, Priyanka Chopra Jonas — who plays another existing Matrix character, Sati, previously seen as a young girl in Revolutions — sees the way technology creep has encroached on modern life. "I think they're getting closer to it, for sure," she observes. "I mean, look at our reality and how technology is so embedded in our lives. We can't imagine a couple of hours away from our phones and getting information from the rest of the world! So yeah, I think what The Matrix was when it came out, we are very close to that now, and you see that reflected Resurrections."
'As for the film's veteran digital warriors, both Reeves and Moss see some hope for humanity. "I don't know if they've won, but I think it's something we should pay attention to," notes the newly vulnerable Neo. And Moss says that she's raising her own kids to control the technology in their lives instead of the other way around. "A common question that I'm asking myself and asking my family to think about is: 'How do you remain human in this highly digitized environment that we're in?'" the 54-year-old star says. "It's a very important thing to be thinking about. I definitely think about it a lot — probably too much!"
"I am raising young people in this time of transition," Moss continues. "I love human beings and contact … I'm the person that calls and I'll wait until I can talk to a person. I guess I'm just old fashioned." Enter Neo with a question straight outta the Matrix. "Are you sure it's a person you're talking to?" Reeves asks playfully. "Oh no," Moss says, smiling. "I'm just gonna pull out of the Matrix completely."
— Video produced by Olivia Schneider and edited by Val Volpacchio
The Matrix Resurrections is currently playing in theaters and on HBO Max