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Why Keanu Reeves Was Perfect For Neo In The Matrix

In the spring of 1999, the Wachowskis released The Matrix on an unsuspecting world, and the film industry was never the same. An innovative original concept that blended sci-fi and philosophy, The Matrix tells the story of a dystopian world where robots have overtaken humans entirely, using them as living batteries within the Matrix, a simulation that mimics life as it was before the machines took over.

Thanks to its mind-blowing concept, game-changing special effects techniques like "bullet time," and unbelievable action sequences, The Matrix was an immediate success, grossing over $460 million at the box office and earning rave reviews from critics. Aside from its innovative fight scenes and gripping story, the film needed a stellar cast to succeed, and luckily, it boasts plenty of great performers, including Carrie Anne Moss as Trinity, Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, and Hugo Weaving as the evil Agent Smith. 

To this day, however, when most fans look back on The Matrix, they'll think of Keanu Reeves, who starred as Thomas "Neo" Anderson. After cutting his teeth on films like Point Break, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and Speed, Reeves shot to global superstardom thanks to his turn as Neo. Now, it's impossible to imagine anybody else playing this pivotal lead role. Here's why Keanu Reeves was perfect as Neo in The Matrix, and how the role changed his career forever.

Keanu Reeves brought real heart to the role of Neo

As The Matrix begins, Reeves' Neo hasn't yet discovered his true destiny. Still living within the computer simulation as hacker Thomas Anderson, his world is turned upside down by chance encounters with Trinity and Morpheus, who save him from Agent Smith's clutches. Eventually, when Morpheus offers Neo the chance to "take the red pill" and learn the truth about the Matrix, he does, waking up in the real future to see humans encased in pods that turn them into nothing more than energy sources.

Eventually, with Morpheus and Trinity's help, Neo discovers that he is the long-prophesied "One," a man with the power to somehow defeat the machines and help his fellow humans escape their lives of unconscious servitude. However, when Smith and his army of agents, who can move throughout the Matrix and control it with ease, capture Morpheus and torture him, Trinity and Neo must act quickly to figure out how to overcome the system from within. In the end, it all comes down to Trinity's own prophecy, which foretold that she would fall in love with "the One," and when Agent Smith kills Neo in the Matrix, Trinity kisses him in the real world, reviving him so that he can finally defeat Agent Smith, save Morpheus , and spark the revolution against the machines.

People may have made fun of Reeves' trademark monotone delivery over the years, but the truth is that throughout The Matrix, Reeves is the perfect actor to help the audience fully experience the film's winding journey, and his understated acting is the ideal approach. Beyond that, it set Reeves up as an action star to watch, defining his career and leading to even bigger opportunities.

The Matrix wouldn't be Keanu Reeves' only action franchise

After appearing in The Matrix's two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions — both of which were released in 2003 — Reeves showed up in plenty of films, including other science fiction outings like A Scanner Darkly and romantic comedies like Sweet November, but ultimately, his role in The Matrix directly led to his biggest hit, years after the franchise came to a close.

In 2014, Reeves, who had been offered a starring role in screenwriter Derek Kolstad's action flick John Wick, contacted two stunt coordinators from The Matrix, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Not only did Reeves get the pair involved with the project, they ended up co-directing the story of John Wick, an incredibly lethal assassin who gets back into the business after the death of his wife. It was a rousing success, and two sequels (both directed by Stahelski) followed without much delay. John Wick: Chapter 4 was quickly greenlit, and it's currently expected to be released in May of 2022.

Reeves is also returning to The Matrix franchise for a fourth film, which is currently set for a May 2021 release. Thanks to the John Wick series and self-aware cameos in comedies like Between Two Ferns: The Movie and Always Be My Maybe, Reeves has drummed up more goodwill than ever, making it all the more exciting that he'll return to one of his signature action franchises soon to play Neo, his defining role, once again.