We’re just a few months away from the release of the fourth Matrix film, The Matrix Resurrections and fans are getting hyped to plug back into the real world. With the film set to release in December 2021, that gives fans a few months to rewatch the original trilogy before they take the red pill one more time. But there’s more to The Matrix than just the films. In fact, when the sequel films, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions came out, the brand was really diving into transmedia storytelling to tell a wider story. So, what did they do and did it work?
What Is Transmedia?
The Matrix franchise isn’t the first property to utilize transmedia storytelling to expand it’s lore. But, it did do it really well and the franchise arguably doesn’t get the credit it deserves. But you may be wondering, what is transmedia? Most of us consume our media via film or television and that’s the end of it. But with mega franchises, fans may find supplemental material in books or comics, such as Star Wars, which releases numerous books, comics and games in any given year. But these tales are more often than not stories about side characters or one off guests that don’t impact the larger narrative (unless it’s the novelization for The Rise of Skywalker, in which case it was poor storytelling). But The Matrix wasn’t just telling other stories disconnected from the primary arc. It was filling in the blanks and reinforcing the story of the two sequels by building on it through animated shorts, comics and video games that the Wachowskis made intentionally on other mediums. So instead of telling an unrelated story, you’d get pieces of the puzzle and of the greater lore through mediums you may never have considered. This means you may have had to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. If you did, the overall concept would be that much more rewarding as you dove down the rabbit hole.
Enter The Crossover
While Neo, Trinity and Morpheus are trying to save the day in The Matrix Reloaded, other members of the Resistance are working to help them behind the scenes. You may get hints of this in the films, such as a passing comment about the ship The Osiris. But what’s the deal with that? Well, while it’s not intengral to the plot of the movie, to find out you’d have to watch The Animatrix, specifically the CGI short Final Flight of the Osiris, which will enhance the overall experience.
This story involves the crew of the Osiris learning about the impending attack by the machines on Zion and their last stand effort to alert the city before it’s too late. They gather the data and Jue, the first mate of the ship, rushes to deliver the information to a post office in the matrix before their ship runs out. Thankfully, her mission is complete, but at the cost of her life. But what happens then? Well, you can find out in another medium, or you can keep watching the other shorts, which include the history of the machine war, side stories, how the Kid got unplugged and more. There are some that are better than others, but they all work to deliver something to the mythos.
To answer the question about the package though, you had to have played the Enter The Matrix video game. Was the game a smash hit? It was, but the mechanics were still a bit janky. That said, I still have fond memories of playing that game, which saw you play as either Niobe or Ghost from Reloaded as they recover the package from the post office and embark on a quest that parallels the movie. Ever wonder how she knew how to catch Morpheus on the freeway scene? That’s explored here, and the Wachowskis shot live action scenes while filming the movies to insert into the game, giving it real credibility and purpose.
The story of the matrix would later be explored further in the MMO video game The Matrix Online. While it was an online game where the players shaped the world, there are still some major canonical storybeats that happened in this universe, such as the supposed death of Morpheus, which may explain why Laurence Fishburne isn’t back as the character in The Matrix Resurrections, as the siblings saw the online MMO as canon-at least back when it came out. Who knows if such a standing still exists today, but if Lana has her way, it almost certainly will still be.
The Wachowskis Want You To Work For It
As you can see, especially during the Reloaded era, the stories being told by the Matrix team are all a sum of the same part, which is the heart of transmedia. Crossovers and cross platforms are plentiful but the stories are often standalone and have little impact on the greater narrative. The Matrix told an entire backstory through video games, an animated anthology series and even comics just to flesh out the world in their world. When talking with IGN back in 2005 about The Matrix Online and why critical storybeats and lore could only be found in an MMO video game, the Wachowski’s had this to say on the matter:
“Our films were never intended for a passive audience. There are enough of those kinds of films being made. We wanted our audience to have to work, to have to think, to have to actually participate in order to enjoy them.“
So while most of us know the story of The Matrix through film, there’s so much more lore to discover that the creators intentionally left scattered around in other mediums, waiting to be unearthed. With the dawn of a new age as the franchise gets, ahem, resurrected, it’ll be interesting to see if the franchise goes back and redefines transmedia storytelling in this age of social media and digital appeal. The franchise is one of the few that comes to mind that actively encouraged fans and casuals alike to dive into the lore of the world. If you were unable to play these games, pick up the comics or get a copy of the anthology, you could also simply research the details in a wiki, but the point is the creators intentionally left breadcrumbs and wanted you to leave the comforting and familiar medium of film to try something new, such as animation or gaming, to get a broader sense of the world.