In retrospect, it should not have come as any kind of surprise that The Matrix Resurrections replaced Hugo Weaving’s stone-faced, black-suited Agent Smith with a sleek, sociable, no-socks corporate douchebag played by Jonathan Groff. Regardless of what one thinks about the actual recasting — I did miss Weaving’s eternal glower, myself — a new Smith makes sense not just for the new film’s world but also for our current reality. In the neo-noir-inflected first Matrix, Weaving delivered a compelling, kung-fu-powered pastiche of the emotionless, low-voiced G-man archetype, a familiar figure from the iconography of classic Hollywood. But the fourth film notably does away with the original trilogy’s brooding aesthetic. During the colorful, brightly lit early scenes in the dreamworld of this new picture — set, of course, in a revamped Matrix — Agent Smith (or just “Smith” in this case) is the obsequious business partner of Keanu Reeves’s Thomas Anderson and the head of their gaming company.
This new Smith certainly plugs the film into a more contemporary template. The tech bro has been our go-to movie villain for some time now, but the past several years have really seen a profusion of such characters. Think of Riz Ahmed as bioengineering honcho Carlton Drake in the first Venom in 2018 — or for that matter Riz Ahmed as social-media honcho Aaron Kalloor in Jason Bourne, two years earlier. Or Harrison Gilbertson’s pallid, shy cybernetics visionary Eron Keen in Upgrade, also from 2018. There’s Harry Melling as the ruthless, hoodied-up pharma bro Steven Merrick in 2020’s The Old Guard and Taika Waititi as preening game developer Antwan Hovachelik in last year’s Free Guy. These tech-bro villains have joined a 21st-century pantheon that already included the likes of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor in Batman v. Superman, Samuel L. Jackson’s cell-phone mogul and ecoterrorist Richmond Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service, Oscar Isaac’s charismatic CEO Nathan Bateman in Ex Machina, and B.D. Wong’s bioengineer Dr. Henry Wu in Jurassic World. (To say nothing of all the tech bros on television, from Silicon Valley to Succession.)