The Matrix trilogy is kind of a mixed bag. The first flick holds up pretty well, even 15-plus years later, despite how dated the then-cutting edge technology now seems. The sequels are extremely hit-or-miss, however—the action sequences are still impressive (for the most part), but the would-be “philosophy” that runs through the storylines of both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions seems even weirder and more heavy-handed now than it did at the time.
Another part of the Matrix series that falls into the hit-or-miss category is Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus. As the Merlin to the Arthur that was Keanu Reeves’ Neo, Fishburne delivers the right levels of gravitas in the films’ more serious moments, but his Morpheus seems to have no other setting. Even when things are going well, and he and his crew are celebrating victories over their sentient robot overlords, the erstwhile Cowboy Curtis sports the same dour, unsmiling countenance he wears in the heaviest of the movies’ scenes.
Part of this can surely be chalked up to the writing—the Wachowskis ain’t exactly Shakespeare. But with just a few different choices, Fishburne could’ve given Morpheus more of a “human” side with, you know, emotions and stuff. Reportedly, Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson were also considered for the role. You know where we’re going with this…
Tom Wopat would’ve been just the guy to play Morpheus. He’s got the dramatic chops The Matrix’s heavy scenes require, and the sense of humor he’s displayed in The Dukes of Hazzard, Cybill, and other roles would’ve made the character more rounded and more likable.
That being said, Wopat just wouldn’t look as cool in the role as Fishburne did. Fishburne lent an unmistakable style to the role, with his shaved head and mirrored pince-nez sunglasses. Wopat’s Morpheus would almost certainly have had hair (who would ask him to shave that glorious mane?), but it would’ve had to be something unique to make him more visually distinct from the similarly dark-haired Reeves. And it’s hard to imagine that anyone other than Fishburne could’ve pulled off the aforementioned shades, so Wopat’s Morpheus would’ve had to sport a different look—perhaps mirrored Ray-Ban aviators?
As the two actors are roughly the same height and build, the fight scenes could’ve stayed mostly the same. Wopat is ten years older than Fishburne, but in the world of The Matrix films, this wouldn’t matter—as Morpheus explicitly says in the first flick, “Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles, in this place?” In the Matrix of The Matrix, age is irrelevant; all it takes to be a world-class kung fu master is the knowledge that nothing around you is really real—that there is no spoon.