It took months of work — between the city of San Francisco, Warner Bros. and the good folks at the Castro Theatre — and featured many movie stars, starting with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss. But on Saturday, Dec. 18, the U.S. premiere of “The Matrix Resurrections,” partially shot in San Francisco, was most of all a tribute to its visionary director, Lana Wachowski.
Twenty-five years ago, she and her sister Lilly Wachowski — then known as the Wachowski brothers — had a Bay Area premiere of “Bound” at the historic Castro district movie palace during Frameline, the largest LGBTQ+ film festival in the world. Lana, a transgender San Francisco resident directing on her own this time, was determined to bring the latest chapter of the “Matrix” series to her favorite theater, which turns 100 next year.
“In high school I was struggling with my identity. I’d go to the movies with popcorn and sticky floors, and it was a kung fu movie, and I knew everything would be OK,” she told the crowd. “I didn’t believe I could be a Hollywood director. I didn’t believe I could be an out trans woman and be a director.”
The Castro screening of “Bound” helped her “imagine a different kind of outcome for my life,” she continued. And now, “I want to say ‘Thank you’ to this beautiful city, where I fell in love with my wife 20 years ago.”
Karin Wachowski, who was in attendance, is an executive producer on the film.
No doubt the premiere of “The Matrix Resurrections” was a more gargantuan affair than “Bound.” Castro Street was shut off in front of the theater and security was tight, with even SWAT team members stationed on the roof.
“It’s like the president is coming,” one Castro employee said.
A video was projected upon the theater’s front, and people who couldn’t get tickets for the special screening could wait in a “fan zone” for Reeves and his fellow cast members to wave a hand and maybe sign autographs.
Mayling Suazo stood at the front of the fan zone with books, magazines and a “John Wick 3” Blu-ray featuring Reeves. Suazo and her husband made the drive in the morning from Sacramento to get a spot, despite the fact they didn’t have tickets, with hopes to catch Reeves’ attention.
“Maybe he’ll sign my album,” Suazo said.
Fans began gathering as early as 9 a.m. for the 7 p.m. event. Castro Theatre owner Steve Nasser, whose grandfather built the theater that opened in 1922, bought coffee for everyone who was there early.
“This is one of the largest premieres we ever had,” Nasser said. “It rates right up there with ‘Milk’ as a premiere,” he noted, referring to the 2008 biopic by Gus Van Sant that starred Sean Penn as the San Francisco gay politician Harvey Milk.
The premiere and after-party, which spanned Waterbar and Epic Steak along the Embarcadero complete with a late-night fireworks display on the bay, was filled with celebrities: Reeves, Moss, Wachowski, Neil Patrick Harris, Bay Area native Yahya Abdul Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, new star Jessica Henwick, Jada Pinkett-Smith and son Jaden Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and husband Nick Jonas, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and even former San Francisco Giants player Hunter Pence, who danced the night away at Waterbar with wife Alexis Cozombolidis.
— Mariecar Mendoza (@SFMarMendoza) December 19, 2021
In opening remarks at the Castro, Breed noted that “when ‘The Matrix’ came to film in San Francisco, Lana Wachowski made a commitment to this city and made a commitment to do more.” That meant creating jobs, even for some local children from Opportunities for All, a workforce development program for San Francisco youth, who served as paid interns.
Wachowski responded by thanking the mayor, who makes a cameo in the film, for “turning nos into yeses” during filming throughout the city.
Reeves, notably shy during public appearances, also enthusiastically thanked San Francisco onstage before quickly passing the mike to Moss, who delivered one of the most moving speeches of the evening. Although she has been constantly in demand since her breakthrough with the first “Matrix” in 1999, appearing in two Marvel series — “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil” — and many other film and television projects, she hasn’t become the breakout star that some predicted.
“The Matrix Resurrections” should remove all doubt: At 54, she’s still got it. In fact, her pairing with Reeves, age 57, makes the film one of the few action franchises featuring a middle-aged romance.
“I didn’t know how much I needed to be Trinity again,” she said of her Matrix character. “From the bottom of my heart, I hope that you love the movie as much as I did making it. It was such a beautiful experience with Lana and all the beautiful artists who made this film.”
“The Matrix Resurrections” (R) opens in theaters Wednesday, Dec. 22.