The first trailer for The Matrix Resurrections, the first new installment in the dystopian sci-fi action franchise in over 12 years, sent the internet buzzing like an angry swarm of killer Sentinels. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss return for the four-quel as Neo and Trinity, respectively, along with original trilogy supporting players Jada Pinkett Smith and Lambert Wilson and newcomers like Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Neil Patrick Harris. But of all the new and old faces seen in the first look at the upcoming film, one iconic character is conspicuously absent: Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus.
We’ve known since the initial cast announcements dating back as far as 2019 that Fishburne, responsible for playing Neo’s stoic, mirror-shades-and-katana-touting mentor, wasn’t returning for the fourth Matrix outing alongside Reeves and Moss. “I am not in the next Matrix movie,” Fishburne told Collider in a recent interview. “[Y]ou’d have to ask Lana Wachowski why, because I don’t have an answer for that.” Which raises the question: Where exactly is Morpheus in The Matrix Resurrections, and if he isn’t in the film, why isn’t he?
The answer may in fact lie in the most unlikely of places: The Matrix Online, the now-defunct MMO spinoff of the Matrix trilogy that was released back in 2005.
When The Matrix Revolutions debuted in 2003, interviews suggested that the Wachowskis had no intention of releasing another installment in the series. Instead, the plan was to pass the reins of the series’ storyline to the audience itself by way of The Matrix Online. In the MMO, players assumed the role of a newly awakened “redpill” who chooses from one of several factions formed between the humans and machines in the wake of the events of the third film. The game had players interact with several main characters from the film trilogy, including the Oracle (Mary Alice), Seraph (Collin Chou), and, consequently, Morpheus.
“Our films were never intended for a passive audience,” said the Wachowskis in a 2005 interview with IGN. “We wanted our audience to have to work, to have to think, to have to actually participate in order to enjoy them. [T]he fact that the Matrix films are three of the most successful adult films in history [...] suggests that there are other people like us. Those are the people, the people who thought about it, who worked at it, who we ultimately made the trilogy for and it now makes perfect sense to us that they should inherit the storyline.”
In the events of The Matrix Online, which took place after the end of The Matrix Revolutions, Morpheus returned to the Matrix to consult the Oracle as to why, despite the apparent truce between the machines and humans, the machine had not yet returned Neo’s remains to Zion. Morpheus, along with a number of players who chose to join his faction, set about trying to reconstruct Neo’s Residual Self Image — his digitally generated avatar within the Matrix — as a way of hopefully resurrecting him. Frustrated by his failure to do so, Morpheus began demanding the Machines to return Neo’s body. With no other options, Morpheus then began detonating “code bombs” across the Matrix, compromising the integrity of the simulation as a whole as a way of forcing the machines to comply with his demands.
After setting off one of the code bombs, Morpheus was ambushed by the Assassin, a program created by Machines, and killed. Some players at the time theorized that Morpheus might have faked his death and gone into hiding, but this theory remained unresolved at the time of The Matrix Online’s cancellation in 2009.
Morpheus’ absence in The Matrix Resurrections suggests that the new sequel is not only a continuation of the Wachowskis’ original trilogy, but of all of the transmedia storytelling that was happening at the time. According to the events of the “official continuation” of the Matrix saga, he would be dead when Resurrections picks back up with Neo.
How likely is it that the events of a MMO that’s been shut down for more than 12 years would have any canonical significance on the events of the forthcoming Matrix sequel? Well, about as likely as there being a fourth Matrix film to begin with. Did Lana Wachowski pull a Yoko Taro/Nier move and weave a now-dead MMO into the broader mythology of the The Matrix Resurrections? If so, she’ll have to explain how the Matrix is still around despite everyone being crushed to death when the game went offline in 2009.