Sadly, thanks to production delays forced by the coronavirus pandemic, film lovers will not be receiving the ultimate cinematic gift next year when the fourth installments of both the John Wick series and The Matrix franchise were originally scheduled to drop on the same May weekend. That would have been a whole mess of nonsensical fun. Equally as sad is the fact that Laurence Fishburne, who starred as the wise, true-believing ass-kicker Morpheus, will not be joining Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and director Lana Wachowski for The Matrix 4.
“I have not been invited. Maybe that will make me write another play. I wish them well. I hope it’s great,” Fishburne said in a recent interview with New York magazine. “It is probably the role that I’ll be best remembered for, which is great; it’s not the only thing I’ll be remembered for, which is better. What I get with him is I’ve got Darth Vader in this hand, and I’ve got Obi-Wan in that hand. I’ve got Bruce Lee, I’ve got Muhammad Ali shuffled in there, and I’ve got kung fu.”
Well, if that isn’t the single coolest character description in the history of movies, I don’t know what is. While it’s disappointing we won’t be seeing Fishburne throw on his steampunk leather jacket again, here’s why it’s better “to let it all go,” as Morpheus would say.
For starters, it has been rumored that a younger version of the character may be featured in The Matrix 4 with rapidly rising co-star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Watchmen, Aquaman) seen as the logical candidate. Even if that isn’t the case, getting away from the established version of Morpheus and the numerous ties to the original trilogy is only healthy for a new chapter that is 17 years in the making. As we noted in a piece about the critical dos and don’ts of legacy sequels, it’s absolutely imperative to both pass the torch to a new generation of characters while also avoiding an over-reliance on nostalgia.
Along with Reeves and Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith will also be reprising her role from the original trilogy, which saw its three films earn more than $1.6 billion at the global box office from 1999-2003. New actors joining the series include Priyanka Chopra, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Jessica Henwick and Mateen. This enable the story to integrate new heroes and villains that carry their own back stories and compelling drama. Similar to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, new characters can attract a new swath of fans while feeding into the overarching narrative familiar to veteran viewers. It’s a strategic play.
What we also don’t want to see with The Matrix 4 is a generic and uninspired rehash of the same ground covered in the first three movies. Thematically, the absence of Fishburne doesn’t say anything with certainty, but it does suggest that Wachowski wisely won’t let the inertia of the previous trilogy carry the momentum of this new installment. That’s a lesson the Terminator franchise has failed to learn. It’s also an exciting prospect for The Matrix, which was originally steeped in turn-of-the-century computer hacking, coding and programming, given all of the new ways technology intersects with everyday society in 2020. When you free yourself from the shackles of the past, you open up new doors into the future.
“It’s the old story in a modern context,” Fishburne said of the original. “It’s the One, the Christ, the Buddha, the Godhead, the fully realized being told through the digital age.”
Yes, it’s disappointing that a fan favorite won’t be returning. But it’s also suggestive of a risk-taking push forward into something familiar yet new. That’s nothing but positive for a legacy sequel attempting to break from the standard outline recycled and reused every time a studio opts to revive a beloved older property in a soulless cash grab.
The Matrix 4 will jack into theaters on April 1, 2022.