Keanu Reeves has had a veritable renaissance over the past decade, in no small part because of one of his best movie(s), John Wick. But as awesome, interesting, and enjoyable the John Wick franchise is, there’s one Keanu Reeves movie that just can’t be beaten, and it’s not really fair to other movies. That’s because Keanu’s best movie is 1999’s The Matrix. While it’s not really a big surprise, it just needs to be said. The Matrix is that good.
In fact, The Matrix is so good that it arguably changed modern cinema as we know it. At the very least, special effects owe a huge debt to this movie. The famous bullet-time sequences captured the minds of audiences everywhere and brought a new dimension to on-screen fights. Despite coming out before the new millennium, the special effects in this film still hold up. And Keanu Reeves absolutely anchors the film with his performance of Neo.
In case you haven’t seen The Matrix (you’re lucky, you get to experience it for the first time), it tells the story of Neo (Keanu Reeves) aka “The One.” The Matrix is set in a dystopian future where humanity is trapped in a simulated reality, acting as batteries for machines. Neo is meant to bring about the revolution of humans to defeat the machines and escape. The rest of the cast is rounded out by the humans seeking to help Neo, including Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), Tank (Marcus Chong), Dozer (Anthony Ray Parker), Apoc (Julian Arahanga), Mouse (Matt Doran), and Switch (Belinda McClory). Of course, The Matrix wouldn’t be as great as it is without a fantastic villain, and Hugo Weaving definitely brings the menace as the stoic Agent Smith.
The whole film is brought together beautifully by the Wachowskis, who served as both writers and directors of the film. Their vision brought the film to life and the performance of Keanu Reeves made us believe that humans could triumph over machines. It’s almost unbelievable to think Reeves almost missed out on the role. Will Smith was actually offered the part but turned it down. As great of an actor as Will Smith is, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role after Reeves embodied it. Reeves, and the rest of the cast, all trained extensively in martial arts and wire-fu to further portray their characters. This would further influence Hollywood to incorporate Hong Kong cinema-style choreography in their films and hire coordinators like The Matrix’s Yuen Woo-ping to help create more dynamic fight scenes.
The Matrix was such a success and fan-favorite that it would go on to spawn sequels with The Matrix Revolutions and The Matrix Reloaded in 2003 and the most recent film 2021’s The Matrix Resurrections. Though these sequels failed to reach the lofty heights of the original, they’re worth watching in their own right, at the very least for some of the amazing effects and for the consistently great performances of Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Laurence Fishburne.
The story of The Matrix is not one that quickly leaves the mind after watching. The movie is rife with philosophical ideas, religious and mythical allegories, symbolism, and interesting themes. The Matrix is a movie that people can return to time and time again and always get something out of it. You can come for the choreography and action, you can come for the performances of Keanu Reeves and company, you can come for the questions it raises, you can come for the effects, or you can come for the cultural touchstones like the “red pill and blue pill.” The Matrix is the movie that keeps on giving and is still relevant as ever over two decades after its initial release.
I can rave about The Matrix all I like, but critical and audience consensus agree too. The Academy even agrees, granting the Matrix four nominations and then giving them the win for each of them. Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, and of course, Best Effects were the trophies it nabbed. If you haven’t seen The Matrix yet or if it’s been a while, do yourself a favor and put on this Keanu Reeves classic. You’ll be glad you did.