It's Keanu Reeves' world and we're all just living in it
by Derek Lawrence
A year ago, much of the EW staff relocated from New York to Los Angeles, blending the two offices together. Very quickly, a group of us bonded over many things, but specifically our endearing love for Keanu Reeves. We started trading adorable GIFs and photos of our beloved star, even naming the group text chain “Keanu Fever.” (A broken phone led to the current sequel “2 Keanu 2 Fever.”) Well, the fever is now hotter than ever — and spreading.
The previous height of Keanu Fever was a span of a few days in March when the world was graced with an abundance of prime Keanu content, between the first look at his new Toy Story 4 character, a special message about Bill & Ted 3, and the latest trailer for John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum. And all of that came a week before The Matrix‘s 20th anniversary and a few months before Speed turns 25. How could it possibly get better than that? Well, fast forward two months and John Wick 3 dethroned Avengers: Endgame at the box office on the way to making over $200 million, John Wick 4 was officially announced, and Keanu stole the show in Netflix’s delightful rom-com Always Be My Maybe, playing a fictional, Mother Teresa-loving version of himself. We’re truly living in the Keanussaince.
Reeves’ career can be separated into three distinct periods. His memorable early career run was really kickstarted by his performance as time-traveling slacker Ted in 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Two years later, he’d return for Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, but simultaneously he was beginning to transition into an action star with the perfectly ridiculous Point Break (I honestly don’t think anyone else could pull off playing an FBI agent named Johnny Utah). And where most actors would have just started riding that action train (don’t worry, the bus is coming), Reeves scowled it up as the evil Don John in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing. Find you an actor that can do Point Break and Shakespeare. Then came Speed, a true adrenaline masterpiece that made everyone — including Sandra Bullock — fall in love with Reeves. His successful decade was capped off by the pop culture phenomenon The Matrix and the role of Neo, for which he’d always be known as — until an vengeful hitman came along years later.
While The Matrix should have catapulted Reeves to new heights, it instead marked the end of one era and the beginning of a mostly disappointing 15-year run consisting of critical and financial disappointments, with the only true hits being the less buzzy Matrix sequels and Something’s Gotta Give, which didn’t have much to do with Reeves. And still, I will ride for a few films in particular from this period. The Replacements is fun as hell and I’d definitely take Shane Falco as my all-time movie quarterback (it’s close between him and Willie Beamen). Sticking with the sports-theme, Hardball might not be a great movie, and maybe it’s just because of the age I saw it at, but it’s considered a classic for my generation, who definitely all cried when G-Baby got shot (Vince Staples will never forgive Michael B. Jordan). Also not a great movie is Street Kings, and despite that, I’m always in for a movie about dirty cops that comes from the guy who wrote Training Day and stars Reeves, Chris Evans, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Naomie Harris, Common, Terry Crews, and The Game. Sold.
And yet, come 2014, it appeared that Hollywood had sold all of their Reeves stock. From 2009 to 2013, his filmography featured four films that made under $6 million at the box office and a big budget disaster in 47 Ronin. It didn’t look like anything was going to reverse this course, especially some action movie about a retired assassin who seeks revenge for the death of the dog that his dead wife gave him. I distinctively remember seeing the trailer for John Wick and thinking, “Really? They killed his dog? The dog that his dead wife had delivered to him posthumously? Hard pass.” And why should I have been excited? Reeves hadn’t been a legit action star since the last century and John Wick was being directed by stuntmen/first-time directors. But then the reviews were so shockingly great (EW’s Chris Nashawaty gave it an A-, calling it a “return to badass form” for Reeves) that I felt forced to see for myself. I would end up basically running out of the theater to text my equally skeptical brother that the hype was indeed real. He continued to resist, before, thankfully, he and a lot of others eventually relented, turning themselves over to the cult of John Wick — making it the most unlikely franchise since Fast & Furious and fully bringing Reeves back into our lives.
Now to be clear, John Wick hasn’t made Reeves bulletproof at the box office, but it has given us Reeves voicing the titular cat in Keanu, the revelation that he might be married to Winona Ryder, more Bill & Ted, Canadian’s greatest daredevil Duke Kaboom, Halle Berry as a dog-loving assassin, and Randall Park’s must-listen track “I Punched Keanu Reeves.” If you can’t appreciate all of that, then you truly don’t deserve Keanu Reeves.