Of the many mysteries revolving around The Matrix Resurrections, the situation with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s new incarnation of Morpheus has been particularly interesting because of what it suggests about the direction the new movie’s story may take.
With so many of the original franchise’s actors returning to reprise their roles, Abdul-Mateen II—star of Aquaman and Candyman—seemingly taking over for Laurence Fishburne has stood out and suggested that the new film likely wouldn’t pick up immediately after The Matrix Revolutions. But as new as Abdul-Mateen’s Morpheus may appear visually, when audiences meet him this fall, he’ll be coming to the screen with plenty of awareness about his predecessor’s history. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, the actor opened up about how, after learning about who his character in the new film was, he immediately felt that it was neither his place nor desire to one-up Fishburne, who he thinks “already did what had to be done” with the Morpheus role.
The new script, Abdul-Mateen said, both respects the original incarnation of his character, while also creating a way for him to carve out a new arc and voice for him within the franchise’s larger continuing story. “I play a character who’s definitely aware of the history of the Matrix [and] the history of Morpheus,” Abdul-Mateen said. “This character is on a journey of self-discovery. There’s a lot in our story that’s about growth, defining your own path. Morpheus isn’t exempt from that.”
Though Abdul-Mateen didn’t go into detail about how the new Morpheus came to be, the actor’s comments and some of the visual similarities between the new film and the originals may point to Resurrections picking up after the events of The Matrix Online, Monolith Productions and Sony Entertainment Online’s canonical MMORPG from 2005. In The Matrix Online—which is set after Revolutions where Neo ultimately defeated Agent Smith in one instance the Matrix—Morpheus continues to rally in the real world against the Machines, who are reluctant to hand over Neo’s remains despite having agreed to an uneasy cease-fire with humanity. After Morpheus sets off a number of large-scale public attacks in the Matrix designed to reveal the constructed nature of its reality to large groups of blue pills who aren’t yet ready to be awakened, he’s eventually hunted down by a program known as the Assassin who’s hired by the Merovingian.
Because certain pieces of the game’s story were meant to be mysterious, there’s always been a fair amount of uncertainty and speculation within the fandom as to what exactly happened to Morpheus after the Assassin gunned him down. The game’s introduction of emergency jack-outs that allowed players to exit the Matrix at will might have provided Morpheus a way of escaping the Assassin. However, The Matrix Online’s cinematics and story pointed to the “original” Morpheus dying, and his eventually being replaced within the Matrix with a digital clone constructed by the General, the embodiment of the lead Sentinel who spearheaded the attack on Zion during the First Machine War (detailed, in part, in The Animatrix.)
While the general’s ersatz Morpheus was intended to create doubt, suspicion, and mistrust between the Machines and Humanity, the sentient program eventually came to be able to think for itself, so it’s very easy to imagine that the Morpheus we’ve been seeing in Resurrections’ trailer is a new form of this complicated program. Other characters like the Oracle have previously demonstrated how beings within the Matrix are capable of taking on new forms that, while similar to their original selves, present as physically different. That could very well be the case with this new Morpheus who clearly knows parts of this story very well despite his being completely new to audiences. Abdul Mateen also told EW, “What the viewers will come to understand is that there are many rules of the Matrix. Age, appearance, the things we identify as real, can be manipulated in that world. The Matrix is where anything is possible.”
While all of this creates a very convenient and canonically solid explanation for why Fishburne allegedly wasn’t asked to return for the new movie, it’d be a pretty big ask to expect people to recall details from a not-so-popular video game from the early aughts. More likely than not, though, The Matrix Resurrections is going to spell a significant amount of this mystery out when it hits theaters and HBO Max on December 22.
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