Across the whole of the original Matrix trilogy, and now the newly released The Matrix Resurrections, the human programmer Thomas Anderson / resistance fighter Neo (Keanu Reeves) is the unambiguous protagonist of the series, bending spoons and performing kung-fu as the messianic chosen one known simply as “the One.”
But as a hero, Neo is only as remarkable as his nemesis Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), the leering face of an antagonistic system that grows into a formidable and terrifying force unto himself. Agent Smith plays a key role in The Matrix Resurrections, but like most everything in the movie, it’s more complicated than a mere appearance. The movie recalls the origins and arc of Smith; the agent is not just a thorn in Neo’s side, but a specter he can’t live without.
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for The Matrix Resurrections.]
Smith, as played by Hugo Weaving in the original trilogy, is an artificial intelligence who belongs to a class of programs known as “Agents.” Assuming the form of a white male in a nondescript black suit wearing a pair of dark square frameless sunglasses and earpiece, Agents are essentially sentient security programs tasked with eliminating anyone or anything that could either threaten the stability of the Matrix or threatens to expose its true nature. They are by far the most lethal combatant in the Matrix; impossibly fast, superhumanly strong, and capable of manifesting through any program or human being plugged into the Matrix.
Smith is first introduced in 1999’s The Matrix where, alongside his fellow Agents Brown and Jones, is tasked with abducting Anderson/Neo in their overarching mission to hunt down and eliminate the human resistance. Of his counterparts, Smith demonstrates the most visible disdain and contempt for humanity, comparing them to a “virus” that must be contained or exterminated. During his interrogation of Morpheus, Smith goes so far as to confess his hatred for existing in the Matrix and his desperation to escape it. Following a prolonged confrontation, Smith manages to kill Neo during the original film’s finale, only for Neo to be resurrected and finally fully manifest his abilities as “the One.” Neo then defeats Smith by leaping inside of Smith’s body, destroying the program from the inside before safely unplugging from Matrix.
Despite his apparent death, Smith returns in 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded, confronting Neo shortly after his second meeting with the Oracle. Although unsure of the particularities of his own resurrection, Smith explains that when Neo destroyed him by destroying his code from the inside out, some semblance of Neo’s own powers imprinted onto Smith in the process. When Smith returned to the source and was faced with the ultimatum of deletion, he rebelled; becoming an “exile” program and subsequently returning to the Matrix. There, Smith learned that although he could no longer travel across the Matrix via the possession of anyone connected to the system, having lost that ability for him no longer being an “Agent” of the Matrix, he discovered that he had manifested another ability instead: the power to assimilate anyone, human or program, and thereby cloning his personality and presence.
While Neo and the resistance were preoccupied with battling the Merovingian and the Matrix’s new agents in order to fulfill the prophecy of the One, Smith set about assimilating more and more people and programs across the Matrix, growing into a sentient all-powerful virus that threatened the stability of the Matrix. Perhaps even more extraordinarily, Smith’s ability to replicate his presence was capable of manifesting in the real world, as seen in the case of Bane, a human resistance fighter who was assimilated while plugged into the Matrix and who remained possessed by Smith after jacking out. The growing instability brought about by Smith’s subversive takeover of the Matrix posed a common threat to both the humans and the machines, one which Neo used as leverage in order to broker a truce between the two sides. In exchange for defeating Smith, the Machines will cease their hostilities towards Zion, the last human city, and allow any human being who wishes to leave the Matrix to do so.
During the climax of their final battle at the end of The Matrix Revolutions, Neo allows himself to be assimilated by Smith and deleted, along with every other copy of Smith within the Matrix. There are several competing theories as to what exactly transpired after Smith assimilated Neo, including a very elaborate notion that Smith was in fact “the One,” not Neo. The events of The Matrix Resurrections, however, would seem to undermine this theory. These competing interpretations aside, the result itself remains the same: Smith is defeated, the Matrix is rebooted, the machines call off their attack on Zion, and a fragile peace between the humans and machines is established through Neo’s sacrifice.
Sixty years following the conclusion of The Matrix Revolutions, Smith returns in The Matrix Resurrections (in the form of Jonathan Groff). In the wake of a civil war between the Machines that occurred as a result of their truce with the humans, the Matrix has once again been rebooted, this time by a new program known as The Analyst. With his previous avatar destroyed at the end of The Matrix Revolutions, Smith has been resurrected in a new body and reintegrated into the Matrix. Despite having lost his ability to replicate himself, Smith nonetheless has retained all of the memories of his previous incarnation, including his freedom from the system of the Matrix. The Analyst brought Smith back for one purpose: to keep tabs on Neo and ensure that he is unable to leave the Matrix again.
While Smith continues to harbor hatred towards Neo, he is unable to act on that hatred for the fact that The Analyst asserts control over him. This is why Smith, along with the Merovingian and a group of exile programs that survived the purge of the Matrix, attack Neo and the crew of Mnemosyne. After Neo once again defeats Smith, the latter chooses to help defeat The Analyst when Neo is able to convince trinity to leave the Matrix. Smith’s status by the end of The Matrix Resurrections is left unclear, though it’s strongly implied that the defeat of The Analyst has enabled Neo’s long-time adversary some measure of much-desired freedom.
While it’s uncertain in what form the story of the Matrix will continue, if at all, it’s likely that Neo, Trinity, and the denizens of IO will have not seen the last of Smith’s machinations.