From “Whoa” to ‘Wick:’ The Evolution of Keanu Reeves

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The week’s most viral video has arrived.

Has anyone in entertainment had a better last few years than Keanu Reeves? Don’t answer, it’s a rhetorical question, because of course no one in entertainment has had a better last few years than Keanu Reeves. This time early 2014 he was sitting on a string of disappointments that stretched back pretty much to the end of the Matrix trilogy, and that seemed to suggest an A-lister who had lost his focus. Constantine did okay, and I guess The Day the Earth Stood Still wasn’t total trash, but outside of these flicks you either saw Keanu turning in brief and odd supporting roles like those in Something’s Got to Give, Ellie Parker, or The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, or you saw him trying to establish himself as a leading man outside of the action and sci-fi genres in flicks like the romantic drama(?) The Lake House, which attempted to capitalize on past successes by reteaming Reeves with his Speed co-star Sandra Bullock, as well as more straightforward crime dramas like Street Kings and Henry’s Crime before settling back into what he thought audiences wanted to see from him, martial-arts-driven flicks like 47 Ronin and Man of Tai Chi, the latter of which Reeves directed.

The Mount Rushmore of Hollywood Action Stars

But then something amazing happened in 2014, something called John Wick. Overnight Reeves was back and bigger than ever. Wick became for Reeves what Taken had been for Liam Neeson: a slight tweak to a familiar context that suddenly revealed the true movie star each was meant to be; by making Reeves’ character an anti-hero instead of a hero, it unlocked a reservoir of angst and bitterness and general badassery in the actor the likes of which we hadn’t seen from him before. Add to this turn other darker roles in films like Knock Knock and The Neon Demon, and boom, it’s 1996 again and we’ll watch Keanu in anything. Like Chain Reaction.

The Year in Keanu

But the path of Keanu to here has not been easy. Like a little Buddha he has sat patiently as Hollywood tried to fit him neatly into a preset role, Keanu the stoner, Keanu the protector, Keanu the automaton, even Keanu the victim. But Keanu conforms for no man. He has no master, no teacher, and no guru. He has no parallels either historically or contemporarily, he is an actor unto and of himself and the Keanu you see on screen today (or rather this Friday when John Wick Chapter 2 opens nationwide) is a creation of the man himself, solely, and not some publicity machine or industry laboratory. Keanu is a singular as his name, and this upcoming chapter of his career holds more promise, for my money, than any before it.

To fully appreciate the Keanu of now you have to respect the Keanu until now, and to help with that we’ve got this video from Burger Fiction that traces the evolution of Keanu from the “Whoa” days to Wick, and all the peaks and valleys in-between. What it reveals is an artist constantly evolving, and occasionally devolving, but always sticking fiercely to his uniqueness, even when attempting to conform to Hollywood standards.

This is the Golden Age of Keanu we’re living in. Bask in his radiance below.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist