How powerful are The Matrix‘s main trio of heroes and their smartly dressed nemesis? In 1999’s seminal The Matrix by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, Neo is awoken from mankind’s digital prison by the arrival of Morpheus and Trinity – two mysterious, leather-clad figures claiming to be from a post-apocalyptic reality where machines have overtaken Earth. Neo follows his new friends down the rabbit hole and joins their crusade to end the ongoing war. In time, Neo comes to be recognized as The One, a savior of prophecy meant to lead humanity to freedom, and the most powerful of all humans inside the Matrix.
Neo can only fulfill his destiny by defeating Hugo Weaving’s evil Agent Smith – a security program with a passionate aversion to those made from flesh and blood instead of 1s and 0s. As Smith grows in power, he becomes a threat to all, and Neo agrees to take this common enemy down in exchange for peace between man and machine.
Naturally, The Matrix is a franchise where normal rules don’t apply. From impressive gun gymnastics and impossible martial arts to tricks like bullet time and assimilation, the big players in the Wachowskis‘ world have an array of abilities that leave viewers open-mouthed and slightly jealous. However, these powers are often subject to rules, or evolve as the story progresses, and the trilogy’s complex mythology can obscure how powerful The Matrix‘s main characters truly are.
When Neo’s journey begins as Thomas Anderson the office worker, his only real power is his hacking ability. While the knowledge to crack databases and mine passwords pales in comparison to his later feats, Neo’s advanced computer skills are actually useful for a bluepill; so much so that he attracts the Agents’ attention and begins to question the nature of his reality. Evidently, Neo was a high achiever even before his liberation, and his hacking skills earn Mr. Anderson a comparison to Jesus from a satisfied customer – one of many Christ allusions in The Matrix.
After Neo is freed, Morpheus begins training his new recruit for combat inside the Matrix simulation. The protagonist is uploaded with expert-level kung-fu skills, firearm lessons, and other survival essentials for the digital world. Although this should, technically speaking, only bring Neo up to the level of other Zion soldiers, his potential as The One shines through immediately when he almost bests Morpheus during one of their first sparring sessions. Neo’s physical fighting abilities continue to develop across the Matrix sequels, making him Zion’s most formidable martial artist.
While the coding of The One makes Neo a better fighter than his colleagues, his true power lies in the ability to alter the physics of the Matrix at will, and once he masters this skill, battles suddenly become a lot easier. Neo can dilate time to dodge attacks, stop bullets in midair with his mind, fly at great speed and, for whatever use it may be, bend spoons. As part of Neo’s limitless nature inside the Matrix, he can also phase through objects, which can be used as a combat technique (passing through attacks), or to revive fallen allies (massaging Trinity’s heart). In the first Matrix movie, Neo is brought back to life by a kiss from Trinity. Although the mechanics aren’t explained exactly, this too is surely down to Neo being The One. Neo’s powers generally don’t carry over into reality, but his unique coding does create an inherent link to the Machines, meaning The One can affect mechanical enemies even in the outside world.
Neo’s One abilities put him far above the likes of Trinity and Morpheus. Without that coding, he’d still be a fearsome opponent, but his strength would fall more in line with his two friends. Scaling Neo’s power is easier when comparing Keanu Reeves’ character to Agent Smith. Before fully awakening his potential, Neo is soundly beaten by the Agent, but overtakes the enemy program after evolving into The One. When Smith becomes an exile in The Matrix Reloaded, however, his assimilation redresses the balance, eventually making Smith equal to Neo (more on that later). Only by conspiring with the Machines and taking advantage of his enemy’s hubris does Neo defeat Smith in the final battle.
Outside of the Matrix, Trinity is arguably more useful to have around than Neo. Before her rescue from the simulated world, Trinity was a hacker, similar to Thomas Anderson but with a far more storied reputation. Before Neo meets her in real life, he speaks of Trinity in almost mythic tones, highlighting her legendary computer skills, and these translate over to Zion too, with Carrie-Anne Moss’ character far more comfortable behind a keyboard than her boyfriend, proving there’s a limit to his Christ-esque power. Trinity is capable of holding her own in a real world fight, but only slightly more than the average citizen.
Once inside the Matrix, however, Trinity’s strength is a different story entirely. With a head stuffed full of fighting knowledge and weapons experience, Trinity is easily one of the strongest Zion rebels, demonstrated by her victory against an Agent. At the beginning of The Matrix, Morpheus explains how Agents are far stronger than plugged-in Zionites, and only The One could hope to defeat them. Beating an Agent without Neo’s fabled gravity-defying antics is testament to how tough Trinity is inside the Matrix, purely through hand-to-hand combat and weapons. As well as Agents, she also puts up a respectable fight against the Merovingian’s followers who hail from an older, more violent Matrix reboot. She might not be able to fly, but Trinity’s all-round skill in fighting, shooting, hacking and driving makes her invaluable both within and outside the Matrix.
As Neo’s mentor and a leading figure among the various crews of Zion, Morpheus is naturally more powerful than most (if not all) of his fellow citizens. When Neo spars evenly with Morpheus in the first Matrix movie, the onlooking crew are amazed, and this speaks to their captain’s reputation as a combatant inside the Matrix. Through his various fights against Agents in the Matrix trilogy, it’s clear that Morpheus is not to be underestimated, and is perhaps a little above the level of Trinity. When Morpheus and Trinity are both pitted against Agents in The Matrix Reloaded, it’s the Nebuchadnezzar captain who appears to fare better, although the individual circumstances of their respective battles might’ve played a part in this. With his greater experience and slightly higher kung-fu skill, Morpheus could likely edge Trinity in a scrap. Naturally, Morpheus doesn’t compare to Neo, but if he did, Laurence Fishburne’s character never would’ve come looking for The One in the first place.
As for where Morpheus gets his strength, an explanation could lie during his training scenes with Neo. During their sessions, it becomes obvious that Morpheus possesses an unrivaled knowledge of how the Matrix works, knowing that the secret to digital strength is in the mind, not the body. While his words are intended to unlock Neo’s potential as The One, Morpheus’ in-depth understanding of the simulation’s rules gives him an advantage over almost every other human character not called Neo.
With that said, questions have been raised about Morpheus and Trinity getting an upgrade between movies. In The Matrix, Agents are presented as near-invincible foes that shouldn’t be challenged head-on, but in The Matrix Reloaded, Neo’s friends (Morpheus especially) are able to clash more evenly with their enemies. This could be a simple narrative trope – in almost every action franchise, the henchman become less troublesome as bigger villains emerge. But from an in-universe perspective, some have suggested that Neo “upgraded” his allies in the gap between movies thanks to his One powers.
Of all The Matrix‘s central figures, it’s Agent Smith who experiences the most drastic transformation. As an Agent, Hugo Weaving’s villain is already incredibly dangerous when the Matrix tale begins, easily besting the pesky rebels of Zion whenever the two sides encounter each other. And since he’s the de facto leader of the Matrix’s Agents, there are very few (perhaps with the exception of Seraph or The Oracle) who could’ve defeated Agent Smith before Neo burst onto the scene. At the end of the 1999 Matrix movie, Smith is decommissioned as an Agent and left to rot as an exile, but this is where his transformation truly begins.
Freed from the purpose for which he was born, Smith effectively becomes a virus within the Matrix, able to override other pieces of software and corrupt those plugged into the simulation. In practice, this allows Smith to absorb the power of others, and he spends the two Matrix sequels possessing and assimilating anyone and everyone, including The Oracle, on his road to becoming a sentient multi-man army driving by one mind.
The purpose of Agent Smith within the Matrix is to balance out the “equation” of Neo, and by the time his spree ends, Smith has attained power and abilities equivalent to The One, as well as those he swiped from The Oracle. The end product is a flying, fortune-telling, super-strong version of Smith that even the Machines are worried about, since their former Agent is now powerful enough to threaten even his makers. In his final form, Smith is equal and opposite to Neo. The villain only “wins” the final battle because Neo chooses to sacrifice himself, and Neo is only victorious because of his alliance with The Machines. Ultimately, Neo’s defining advantage over Smith in The Matrix is the capacity for love – as cheesy as that might be. Where Smith’s hatred and rage corrupts his rationality, Neo’s love for Trinity (and others, but mostly Trinity) allows him to make the necessary sacrifice.