Sad Keanu 2: why The Matrix without Reeves would be a journey down the wrong rabbit hole

The classic cyberpunk flick is getting a reboot without the everydude who seemed to embody its entire worldview. Can somebody wake us up from this nightmare?

It’s doubtful any other actor in Hollywood could have inspired such outpourings of motherly concern as Keanu Reeves a few years back, purely on the basis of a single paparazzi shot of the Point Break star sitting on a park bench contemplating a sandwich, in a pose suggesting quiet but abject misery. Ben Affleck’s own “sad Keanu” moment a few years later, during publicity for the execrable Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was the source of mean-minded hilarity, but the sight of Reeves caught in a freeze frame of apparent tristesse just made us want to cuddle him.

It’s even arguable that Reeves has rebuilt his career on the back of audiences’ desire to see him cheer up. It is surely no wonder that Reeves’ most idiosyncratic role of the last decade has been as the hitman John Wick, a single guy in his 40s who only wants to sit at home on his couch watching old Bill and Ted movies with his beloved pooch but is denied even that gentle idyll by his gangland tormentors.

That stoner dude meets Peter Pan quality to the Canadian actor, of course, made him the perfect choice for the Matrix movies, with their suggestion that geeky no-mates types everywhere need only open their eyes to behold the gates of a new, techno Jerusalem. There is a reason the Wick movies are styled after first person shoot-em-up video games: the audience for these films are also gamers and their star necessarily carries himself as a vision of couch potato alpha male masculinity - he was just like you if you knew kung fu and had access to high-end tailors. His quintessential screen persona is, essentially, that of a vastly more handsome, rather more detached and perhaps slightly dimmer North American version of Simon Pegg.

In the first Matrix movie from 1999, Reeves’ Neo symbolises the triumph of insouciant youth over effort. Why waste years learning martial arts when Morpheus can jack you up with that shizz via a simple USB upload? Spend all your time in front of a computer wondering how you will ever get to bask in the glory of a few precious moments with a real live human female when you never leave the flat? Forget it! Here’s the luminous Carrie Anne Moss to make all your dreams come true. Crack open another tin of pale ale, spark up a reefer and go another 10 rounds with Kitana on Mortal Kombat, because you’re the chosen one anyway and all that’s good in life is going to fall right in your techno-lap.

You might think this air of eternal boho youth would make Reeves deeply unsuited to the role of a returning elder statesman – a la Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Jeff Bridges’ Kevin Flynn in Tron: Legacy – in a new Matrix movie. But the idea of anyone making a new film - current reports suggest Michael B Jordan is being lined up as the new Neo - without involving the actor who seemed to embody the saga’s entire worldview is outlandish.

If the Wachowski siblings did not create their multifaceted techno-world with the Bill & Ted star in mind, he must certainly have been their ideal choice for the role. No other actor of the era would have plugged so perfectly into The Matrix’s phantasmagorical netherworld of sliding code and Lewis Carrollian intrigue. Brad Pitt? Affleck? Leonardo DiCaprio? None quite has Reeves’ enigmatic outsider quality.

It is at this point that I have to admit that I have no idea how a future Matrix director - with luck, the Wachowskis themselves - should bring Reeves’ Neo back from the dead, though 2003’s misfiring Matrix Revolutions certainly left open the potential for further episodes. The current plan is presumably to remake the original film and spin off from there, rather than set up the new movie as a Force Awakens-style sequel-come-reboot. And this in itself would make Reeves’ involvement problematic.

On the other hand, this is the Matrix we are talking about. Once you know its rules, you can bend reality, fly, perform open heart surgery with your bare hands and even assimilate your enemies. In short, anything is possible. Which means the powers that be should certainly be able to find a way to bring back everybody’s favourite loveable everydude, if only to ensure we never need to think of him as “Sad Keanu” again.

Contributor

Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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