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How To Start Watching The Matrix

What if life was nothing more than simulation? The topic seems like a simple premise, but nothing could be farther from the truth in "The Matrix." The film takes viewers on a quest through a world inhabited by humans and controlled by machines. Its bold vision of a society shaped by technology echoed a late '90s quickly embracing the growing tech movement.

The film also stans as a another major milestone in sci-fi, placing it alongside classics like "Blade Runner" and "Metropolis." Even today, this entry continues to influence filmmakers as much as it does fandom; much of the credit for its appeal goes to filmmakers Lana and Lilly Wachowski. The siblings revolutionized action sequences with then unheard of techniques — namely, the bullet time effect, slowing down time to show off the complexities of any given moment (via Film School Rejects).

Over 20 years later, the franchise returned for a new film that confronted themes of aging, love, and even technology's current influences. A new generation of viewers as well as those who never watched the original trilogy are looking for a doorway into this complex world. Here's how to get started with this signifigant sci-fi franchise.

The Matrix opens a door to the franchise

Begin with the first film; it may seem like the easiest conclusion but 1999's "The Matrix" is the best place to start. The film provides a framework for the entire "Matrix" universe while focusing on central characters that bring humanity to the technological dystopia. Right away, viewers meet Thomas Anderson, the programmer and hacker is recruited to leave the world behind for something far more involved than he could imagine.

Thomas, who later goes by the name "Neo," became a defining role for Keanu Reeves; the actor had tried out the genre with the less successful "Johnny Mnemonic" just four years earlier. While Neo became a pop culture icon, Reeves wasn't always sold on an action sci-fi trajectory. "I said, 'I'm tired and I just want to do Chekhov.' And they said, 'You can do Chekhov when you're older,'" the actor told Empire. Instead, the future "John Wick" would find himself leading an outstanding cast that included Carrie-Anne Moss and Laurence Fishburne; the trio would reunite for two subsequent films.  While "The Matrix" is a starting point, it's crucial for those who want a complete picture to go through the other three entries — "The Matrix Reloaded," "The Matrix Revolutions," and "The Matrix Resurrections."

Reloaded and Revolutions completed the (original) trilogy

A successful run in theaters along with home entertainment sales meant there was plenty of demand for more material. The Wachowskis were more than willing to oblige with two sequels, which built off their original core message. Still, there was trepidation on the filmmakers' part about their central theme's depiction. "The corporate world wasn't ready for an allegory – a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning – about transgender people," Lilly Wachowski said (via BBC).

"The Matrix Reloaded" sees Neo come face to face with a formidable central figure before choosing Trinity's fate. The film also gives viewers a more in-depth look into what life is like outside of those goo-filled tanks filled with "sleeping" humans. It ends with a powerful cliffhanger — leading into "The Matrix Revolutions." Coming six months after "Reloaded," "Revolutions" seemed like it was the finale of this cinematic franchise and saw its central characters facing one last fight as tragedy unfolds and hope rises again. While the trilogy might have seemed like an endpoint for the franchise, there was still more to come.

Fans got a surprising fourth installment in The Matrix Resurrections

Over two decades passed before "The Matrix: Resurrections" premiered. This installment in the franchise touches upon new topics and themes, such as aging and grief, as it considers the franchise's core tenets. In a change from previous entries, Lana Wachowski would direct without sister Lilly; the script would also come from Lana, who worked with co-writers David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon.

In the newest installment, Neo is once again living as Thomas Anderson, his life complicated by questions and concerns he can't answer. Meeting someone from the past draws him once again into the world between the Matrix and reality, where familiar faces and new figures collide. Keanu Reeves returns as the reluctant Anderson along with Carrie Anne-Moss as Trinity. Laurence Fishburne was a notable absence from the cast, with him deferring all questions about it to Lana Wachowski (via NME). Reviews were generally mixed for this film, but many cited the performances of its leads as a highlight (via Rotten Tomatoes).

Don't pass over The Animatrix

 One of the hidden gems that newcomers might skip in their viewing schedule is "The Animatrix." The unique addition to the "Matrix" universe came less than a month after "Reloaded" hit theaters. With hype surrounding "Revolutions" later in the year, it was easy for audiences to skip over this additional content.

Instead of a traditional narrative, the animated anthology expands the franchise with nine short films; each one has the goal of building a more expansive world while offering glimpses into the Matrix's backstory. Watching the shorts together, instead of by its original theatrical release schedule, also provides a more coherent view into these intriguing contributions. Critics were generally favorable towards the collaboration, citing its inventive approach to adult animated fare. "The collection comes across as an animator's dream project," wrote AV Club's Tasha Robinson. "A lush playground of the senses where no corners have been cut, and where imagination rather than budget is the limiting factor."