Keanu Reeves has now been the central figure in two enormous action film franchises, as Neo in The Matrix and now John Wick. Both trilogies have been praised for their action sequences and their incredible special effects and fight choreography, but which one is the better franchise?
They do fall into slightly different genres. John Wick is a true action franchise. It is a movie about a seemingly indestructible character taking on the world by himself in revenge for the death of his dog and the theft of his beloved Mustang. The Matrix is most definitely a science fiction movie, also about a seemingly indestructible character taking on the world of machines with the help of a ragtag bunch of freedom fighters.
So how do they compare to each other? Is there a definitive “winner” between the two as a better overall franchise? Let’s discuss.
When it was first released in 1999, The Matrix was a groundbreaking, game-changing film. The Wachowskis had huge ambitions and The Matrix would become a huge trilogy and franchise, succeeding to an amazing degree. The action sequences were groundbreaking, the special effects were awe inspiring, and the ambitious plot-line was exciting.
At the heart of it all was “The One” or Neo, Keanu Reeves’ character that went from reluctant computer hacker to world saver over the course of the three films. It all starts, of course, when he takes the red pill…
Over the course of the franchise, Neo would become the strongest force fighting for the humans in both the real world and the artificial world of The Matrix. Recruited by Trinity and Morpheus, who see him as “The One,” the person that would save the world as seen by The Oracle in a vision. The Oracle doesn’t think he is at first, though she would eventually.
Of course, in the end, Neo is the one to save the world, or so we think. The storyline through the three movies tends to meander and sometimes can’t hold up under the weight of its lofty ambitions. There is peace between man and machine in the end of the third installment, The Matrix Revolutions, but there is a question to how long it will or can last. Still, Neo is a classic hero in the end and the final sunset at least gives the trilogy closure, even if the future is less clear.
It’s nothing new to say that The Matrix Trilogy isn’t wholly satisfying, plot-wise. The complicated sci-fi story involves two worlds in one and the jump back and forth is sometimes confusing and sometimes annoying. It’s the biggest failing of the series and the reason that the third one has been so criticized over the last two decades.
The movies have remained incredibly popular though, with talks of a relaunch of the franchise and numerous additions to the franchise in other media, including video games, comic books and an animated series that explored the world of the Matrix in much more detail.
The other, more important reason, for its huge success is, of course, the incredible special effects. “Bullet Time,” an effect named for the scene in the original Matrix where Neo dodges Agent Smith’s flurry of gunshots in slow motion, has become a ubiquitous term for action sequences that use the same technique, which itself has become a ubiquitous technique scene in seemingly every action movie since.
The Matrix created a world so ambitious, so unique, and so flat out cool that anything like it had rarely been seen on film. People compared it to the original Star Wars trilogy and contrasted it the second Star Wars trilogy, which began around the same time.
John Wick is different kind of action movie. Like Neo, John Wick is a reluctant hero, or really, a reluctant anti-hero, that finds himself forced (back) into a world he originally had no intention to be a part of (again). Once back in the world though, he pretty much acts as “The One,” an unbeatable force, no matter the odds.
While it’s definitely a stretch to say that the world of John Wick is grounded in reality, it’s not science fiction like the Matrix. John Wick is living in a world that at least on the surface resembles real life. But underneath lies the incredible world of 5-star hotels that operate to serve an interconnected worldwide web of criminals and assassins.
The world building in the John Wick franchise has been great. The world has a unique modern style accented by old-world charm. It has all the trappings of modern society, but with great throwback motifs and sets. Take, for example, the operators that take and disseminate the assassination orders. They are dressed in mid-20th century fashion but covered in ink, giving them a cyper punk-meets-21st century hipster-meets 50s throwback look that works extremely effectively, without feeling too forced or fake.
The hotel that the action revolves around, The Continental, is at once old world and modern, highlighted brilliantly in the third film, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, when John Wick battles with Zero and his students in a very modern, glass-walled room within the hotel. It’s another shining example of the very cool world building within the John Wick franchise.
Like The Matrix trilogy, at the heart of what makes the John Wick movies great are the action sequences. The fight choreography in the John Wick films has become legendary. The character John Wick walks through dozens of enemies at time, like a character from a video game, taking them down one by one or two by two. He shrugs off injuries in combat and slices through his enemies like Bruce Lee in some of his older movies. When you see the films in a packed theater, the crowd cheers along with the most violent acts he commits, as it’s so over the top, it certainly doesn’t feel “real.”
The Matrix V John Wick
So, of these two epic franchises led by Keanu Reeves, which is the better one? Just like the combat in the films, John Wick always wins. It’s not just the “new shiny object” effect either.
The number one reason John Wick is superior is that it has built an interesting and unique world, but it has so far stayed in its lane. It’s never been dragged down by weighty moral questions like the ones raised in The Matrix. John Wick knows what its fans want, serious action and an (anti) hero that only has two things motivating him: revenge and survival. Neo motivations are… love? Saving the world? How did Neo go from a hacker slacker to the hero the world needed?
John Wick keeps it simple where The Matrix gets overly and often unnecessarily complicated. The Matrix keeps asking questions and pushing its audience to ask questions, and while it easy to appreciate the ambition, the questions are not all answered.
The second reason that John Wick comes out ahead of Neo and The Matrix is that sadly, the Matrix fell apart in the third film, The Matrix Revolutions. It’s a film that really gets lost in the complicated (for an action movie) plot and keeps introducing new characters that overly complicate things as well. In John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum the simple story is built upon in easy ways that makes sense. It doesn’t bite off more than it can chew. While each universe keeps getting bigger, John Wick does it in a way that it’s never overshadows what makes the movies great – John Wick killing and destroying everyone and everything in his way.
John Wick may not be able to beat Neo one on one, but John Wick does beat The Matrix on the whole.
In the end, both trilogies are great cinema. Both have legions of fans dedicated to them and while The Matrix hasn’t made a new film in 15 years, the franchise still holds up for modern audiences. There is something to be said for that. Matrix fans are hoping that talks and continued excitement around the franchise lead to new films.
Now, what about that other film franchise that Keanu Reeves is a major part of, the Bill & Ted series, what strange things will be afoot at the Circle K next summer? The world is definitely ready for lots more Keanu. Until the next installment of that series is released, we would like to hear your take on The Matrix and John Wick franchises. Which one do you enjoy watching more? Which one do you think is better? Take some time to get your thoughts together and then vote in our poll below and then sound off in the comment section below that.