On Keanu Reeves’s Cyberpunk pedigree
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On Keanu Reeves’s Cyberpunk pedigree

Alex Kane
22 September 2020

Before Cyberpunk 2077 arrives, take a trip down the rabbit hole of the sci-fi subgenre behind it.

It’s impossible, I think, to reach a certain age without being exposed to the “cyberpunk” aesthetic that became so potent in the 1980s.

People who have never seen Blade Runner are probably aware of it, thanks to the 2017 sequel. Those who watch nothing but anime are still familiar with seminal works like Akira and Ghost in the Shell.

And, soon enough, Warner Bros. will even release a fourth film in the Matrix series, once more starring Keanu Reeves in the role of Neo.

I’ll never forget seeing the new Cyberpunk trailer at E3 2019, which I was covering remotely for Variety at the time, and typing out the most obvious headline in the world: “CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 will star Keanu Reeves.”

Truly — who else?

In college, my main preoccupation wasn’t video games or dating but writing science-fiction stories, and reading things like William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which to this day feels like a fairly unique text.

People can be pedantic when you start talking about the literature of science fiction, and nobody seems to agree what cyberpunk’s supposed to mean, exactly. But you know what it looks like; the subgenre’s angry, postpunk politics aren’t any great secret.

If Cyberpunk 2077 looks novel to you, and your curiosity is peaked, there’s nobody better to serve as your guide into that weird, wired realm than the game’s very own “rockerboy,” Johnny Silverhand.

If you’re already a Blade Runner fan, then you probably know about the Philip K. Dick novel it’s based on: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick wasn’t one of the cyberpunk movement’s founders — he’s too early for that — but his influence on the genre goes even deeper than Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece.

And, wouldn’t you know it, his novel A Scanner Darkly has a film adaptation starring Keanu Reeves. So there’s a couple movie recommendations for you, as well as two or three really worthwhile novels.

Years before Keanu was John Wick, he was bumbling his way through wacky science-fiction movies cut from the same cloth as Cyberpunk 2077.

I’ve already mentioned Neuromancer. Author William Gibson also wrote a short story called “Johnny Mnemonic,” published by Omni magazine in 1981 and later collected in a volume called Burning Chrome.

Guess who starred in the 1995 film adaptation of “Mnemonic.” Keanu Reeves. It’s about as cyberpunk as it gets, and it’s aged as well as can be expected of a film about a guy whose job is essentially to be a walking flash drive.

That role, in retrospect, feels like an awkward audition tape for Reeves’s turn in The Matrix — which borrowed heavily from the great 20th-century cyberpunk works even as it transcended them.

If you’re sitting around devouring every tidbit of information on Cyberpunk 2077, and you’re dying to get your hands on that game, you’ve still got over a month and a half to check out the Matrix trilogy, Johnny Mnemonic, the works of William Gibson and Pat Cadigan and Bruce Sterling…

There are so many great cyberpunk stories to discover, and a lot of them had a direct influence on the things players are going to discover in CD Projekt Red’s next wildly ambitious RPG.

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