Rolling out the green carpet in San Francisco for a world premiere of The Matrix Resurrections may have seemed an obvious choice because portions of the film were shot in and around the Bay Area, but for filmmaker Lana Wachowski, the decision was personal.
“I love San Francisco. I love this theater,” the filmmaker told The Hollywood Reporter while standing on the press line behind the historic 1,400-seat Castro Theatre. “I’ve seen so many important films here, and 27 years ago, when I was unsure about whether or not I was going to be able to be a filmmaker in my life, the Castro was where we had a premiere of Bound for the LGBTQ film festival Frameline. It was such an extraordinary experience, and that was a touchstone moment in my life. I thought it would be nice to come back here, give something back to the city, give some energy to the city and say thank you to the city. This theater seemed like the perfect place.”
There was plenty of energy flowing through the Castro on Saturday night as the entire street outside the theater was blocked off, and the sidewalks lined with hundreds of fans on a chilly night in San Francisco with temperatures hovering around 50 degrees. Before the arrival of crew, guests, producers and cast, led once again by Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, a fleet of motorcycles including a Ducati raced up and down the block. A Mercedes-Benz wagon was on display inside an inflatable red pill, and event staffers tossed Matrix Resurrections swag (including weather-appropriate beanies) to frenzied fans.
The anticipation is easy to understand. The Matrix Resurrections is the fourth installment in the Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow franchise, and it arrives close to two decades after the trilogy revolutionized the action genre, cemented Lana and Lily Wachowski as A-list auteurs and became a billion-dollar box office juggernaut. The first entry, 1999’s The Matrix, grossed north of $463 million at the worldwide box office, and Reloaded far exceeded that, grossing $741 million worldwide while the last entry, Revolutions, earned $427 million.
In today’s reboot-heavy world, resurrecting the franchise is a no-brainer, but the Wachowskis had long insisted that they were done with the Matrix universe as they focused on television projects like the beloved Netflix series Sense8. But after losing their parents — Lana moved home to care for them and has said that the painful experience led her to seek out something soothing in the form of writing as comfort — she found a way back into the story. Lily, busy with Showtime’s Work in Progress, stepped aside, leaving Lana to write with Cloud Atlas scribe and collaborator David Mitchell and Sense8 collaborator Aleksandar Hemon.
“When mom and dad passed, I went to [Lily] and said, ‘Look, this idea came to me. I can see that it’s about me working with my grief, and I was thinking, do you want to work on it together?’ I thought maybe it would be cool that we go back, and we go back together and this thing that where we started. And she said, ‘I get it, I know, I see, I feel it, but this is not what I want to do,’” Lana explained to THR on the green carpet. “‘I need to do it my own way.’ That’s what grief does. Grief spirals us off in different directions, and you can see that there’s a lot of Mom and Dad in Work in Progress. She’s doing something similar, but not the same. I wanted to go back and feel this thing again, and she wanted to go off and do this other thing.”
The fact that the film got made and allowed for cast and crew to revisit the world created by the Wachowskis, even if it meant Lana doing it solo, had many pinching themselves while trying to process the fanfare waiting on the other side of the press line and at box offices worldwide. “I don’t know if I want to even try to explain it, because I really want to be present,” said Moss, outfitted in custom Oscar de la Renta. “Doing this kind of an evening can sometimes just be all about your dress and your makeup and your hair. I just want to feel it. How do you come to one of these things and just be grounded, and actually just take the person in that you’re talking to and not think about what you’re going to say? I mean, I’m going to try. It’s not easy because there’s so much energy.”
Back @ Castro Theatre for tonight’s #MatrixResurrections premiere. Sidewalks packed w/fans, green carpet down, metal detectors up and everyone is waiting on Lana Wachowski, Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Priyanka Chopra, Jada Pickett-Smith, Yahya Abdul-Mateen, Jonathan Groff… pic.twitter.com/ljmjUstLRj
— Chris Gardner (@chrissgardner) December 19, 2021
Standing on the ground in San Francisco to promote his role as Smith in Resurrections was enough to make Jonathan Groff emotional. “Oh, my god, don’t make me cry,” the star said to THR of how much the Bay Area means to him as a person and an actor. “I came here in my early 20s on a pilgrimage, when I was in L.A., because I started reading Tales of the City. From the minute I got here, it felt like magic. Then I came here and did [the HBO series] Looking, and it helped me come out truly and own my identity. To be back here, making The Matrix with Lana, was just the most magical experience. So to be here at the Castro Theatre, which is my favorite theater I’ve ever been in, my favorite movie house, watching this film, I’m elated — jumping out of my skin.”
Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who plays Sati in the film, said the scene was striking. “It’s so cool,” she told THR. “Seeing that after two years of not seeing people is crazy. But you also see fans and their commitment to The Matrix and the commitment to this movie. After I was cast in the movie, I realized the fandom of it. It’s incredible to see the love.”
Mayor London Breed was among the guests, but she wasn’t just another notable face in the crowd. She played a pivotal role in helping filmmakers secure the necessary permits, and she also was invited to join the cast, playing the role of Calliope. “I got a nice scene in there,” she said on stage in kicking off the premiere. In her remarks, she expressed gratitude to Warner Bros. for hosting the event there, while also honoring the infusion to the local economy across hotels, restaurants and crew.
Also offering pre-screening remarks was producer James McTeigue, who said it was great to be back in the city on what could be a final bow in the franchise. “For some of us, this will be the end of an almost 20-year-plus journey from the first movies through to this,” he said. He then welcomed to the stage the “fantastic collaborators” who helped make the film, including cast members Reeves, Moss, Groff, Chopra Jonas, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris and Jada Pinkett-Smith. Also there: Toby Onwumere, Brian J. Smith, Ellen Hollman, Eréndira Ibarra, producer Grant Hill, co-writers Mitchell and Hemon, executive producers Garrett Grant, Michael Salven, Karin Wachowski, Aimee Allegretti, editor Joseph Jett Sally and composer Tom Tykwer.
Reeves got a rousing response from the audience when he was introduced by McTeigue. “Hello, San Franciscooooo! Thank you, San Franciscooooo,” he said. “Thank you so much for being here, and I know I can speak for myself, and I think I can speak for everyone: We’re all so grateful that you’re here this evening to share this. … What an amazing experience we had on this amazing film.”
Moss then shared a few words, saying she had no idea how much she needed to play Trinity again opposite Reeves’ Neo. “I just hope from the bottom of my heart that you all love the movie,” the actress said. “We loved every minute of making it. It was such a beautiful experience to come together with Lana Wachowski and all of these beautiful artists to create this film, so I hope you love it.”
Those who have already seen it are praising the chemistry between Reeves and Moss, and the former told THR that they work so well together because “we share a common sensibility on how we work, a respect and an appreciation. We have fun working together and supporting each other as we do.” Moss also weighed in: “We’re such good friends, and there’s so much true care there, and respect. It’s just our friendship, I think.”
While the event — presented by Mercedes-Benz, Unreal Engine and Bitdefender — marked the biggest Hollywood premiere to ever hit the legendary LGBTQ enclave, not all in the neighborhood were celebrating. Several local news reports posted in recent days quoted frustrated small business owners as they expressed concern over lost parking spaces on the final weekend before the Christmas holiday, typically a bustling shopping period. Multiple sources also criticized city leaders and Warner Bros. for not expressly detailing plans in advance.
Others remained unbothered. THR spoke with Sam of Rossi’s Deli and Sandwiches, located directly across from Castro Theatre, and he said in his 45-plus years of running a business on the block, this is the biggest premiere he’s seen in an area that, pre-COVID-19, had long hosted large-scale crowds for festivals, events and block parties. “I hope it increases business,” Sam noted, adding that the street closures did not block off sidewalk traffic in the pedestrian-heavy city.
As Sam was speaking, a customer named Michelle spoke up and said she was excited to see all the activity on the street. “I think this is great,” she said. “Because of COVID-19, we haven’t been able to have big events like this in years.”
And because of COVID-19 — specifically rising infection rates due to the omicron variant that have led to a wave of high-profile cancellations in recent days, from Broadway to the sets of major Hollywood productions — Warner Bros. required all guests to test negative within 24 hours of Saturday night’s premiere. Media on site, like THR, had to provide proof of vaccination and a negative test and remain masked on the red carpet.
It didn’t damper any spirits. The energy flowed through the screening and after-party, held on the Bay at Embarcadero restaurants EPIC Steak and the Waterbar, capped off with an epic fireworks display.
Warner Bros. will get to see if the film lights up the box office when it hits theaters and HBO Max simultaneously on Dec. 22. And though the exhibition business has been an unpredictable rollercoaster amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the record-setting showing this weekend of Spider-Man: No Way Home has given many in the industry hope for a full rebound.
Lana is among those who are optimistic. After being welcomed to the Castro Theatre stage by Reeves (who called her “our ray of light” and “our gravity”), as well as a standing ovation (spurred in part by Groff), the filmmaker offered a heartfelt moment of self-reflection tied to her trans identity.
“I love movies theaters, and I grew up in them. My best childhood memories were when my family took the day off from school, and we all ran to the movies and packed as many movies as we could into a single day,” she said. “My whole life, movie theaters have sustained me. When I was in high school and I was struggling with my identity, I would run to the movies for popcorn, sticky floors and a kung fu movie, and everything seemed like it was going to be okay.
“It’s been hard to be without movie theaters and have them cut off from us and have them closed down. It’s been hard because the collective dreaming that happens in these spaces is how we imagine different futures, different lives, different possibilities, different kinds of hope and different kinds of love. In my own life, I didn’t always believe in this world. I didn’t believe that I could be a Hollywood director. I didn’t believe I could be an out trans woman Hollywood director,” she continued, once again citing Bound and the Castro Theatre as significant touchstones. Aside from special events, Castro Theatre is among the locations that have been shuttered.
“That act of imagining a different kind of outcome for that kind of movie allowed me to imagine a different outcome for my life,” Lana added about her 1996 thriller. “I’m hoping that one day we can get back into movies like this, like tonight, and we can sit shoulder to shoulder again, and we can collectively imagine a different future than maybe the one we’re in right now. Maybe that starts tonight.”
Lana Wachowski says it’s been hard to have theaters closed “because the collective dreaming that happens in these spaces is how we imagine different futures, different lives, different possibilities, different kinds of hope and different kinds of love.” #TheMatrixResurrections pic.twitter.com/bBDI5r1YrP
— Chris Gardner (@chrissgardner) December 19, 2021
“My whole life, movie theaters have sustained me. When I was in high school and I was struggling with my identity, I would run to the movies for popcorn, sticky floor and a kung fu movie and everything seemed like it was going ot be okay,” Lana Wachowski #TheMatrixResurrections pic.twitter.com/HbggAKNDBD
— Chris Gardner (@chrissgardner) December 19, 2021