2019 has been dubbed the year of the Keanussance, which is sort of a misnomer because he never really went away. Rather than a career revival, this year has showcased both the goofy and serious aspects of Keanu Reeves' performance that have endeared him to different generations — is he the one thing we can all agree on? Sure, he is objectively attractive with his rockstar mane and grey-flecked beard, but there is more to his longevity and internet boyfriend status than his good looks.
In a 30-plus year career, Keanu has steamed up the screen in slacker attire, wet T-shirts, and leather pants. A mid-'00s blip still delivered a dreamy knit-clad Keanu in the time-travel romance The Lake House. Suits have long featured in his on and off-screen wardrobe, including the futuristic pressed stylings of Johnny Mnemonic and the rumpled charm of John Constantine. Even with this long resumé of effortlessly cool sartorial moments — regardless of the dress-code — the release of John Wick in 2014 kicked off a new phase in the Keanu thirst-inducing wardrobe canon.
An assassin wearing a suit isn't particularly revelatory; nevertheless, when combined with this character's precision and unique reason for going on this spree, it feels brand new. A man committed to the memory of his late wife, who also goes on a revenge-fueled bender after the death of his puppy, and still takes the time to look impeccable throughout isn't your typical action hero. It also makes him irresistible.
Separating Keanu Reeves the actor from the character of John Wick shouldn't be that hard. After all, one is pretending to be a deadly assassin, whereas the other is racking up a body count across New York City and beyond. However, during the various press tour events over the last five years, details like his choice of red carpet attire certainly blur the lines between the two. A suit is never just a suit and while it is unlikely that Keanu's is bulletproof, stylist Jeanne Yang knows how to work movie premiere method-dressing without it turning into cosplay.
A visible penchant for comfy Merrill and Grenson hiking boots ensures that we'll recognize this as Keanu and not the character he plays. These dorky dad shoes shouldn't be hot and yet, here we are, lusting over sensible outdoor footwear. Brown shoes with a black suit are also frowned upon stylistically, but again, he is somehow making it work.
The zero expectations placed on the shoulders of the first John Wick meant we weren't prepared for this next phase in Keanu's career. Hollywood loves a safe bet — it is why there are so many reboots and sequels — so anyone who says they saw this $20 million assassin movie turning into a multi-million dollar franchise is a liar. That it has become this huge property is the gift that keeps on giving, not only for fans of seeing Keanu kick ass, but also guaranteeing a thoughtful, charming, and ultimately enigmatic press tour every few years. The memeable and gif options are endless (particularly when puppies are thrown into the mix) and the internet notoriously has zero chill when it comes to one of its designated boyfriends — but in a sea of bad news, we have to take these dreamy moments when we can.
During John Wick: Chapter 3 promotional obligations, he went on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (in a very Wick-like suit) and regaled the audience with talk of fight sequences — it is also very hot when he acknowledges the efforts of his talented stunt team. Humble is sexy and Reeves took the time to shout out other crew members and cast from the movie, ensuring their work is celebrated. He also gifts us with swoon-worthy philosophizing about death. This dude contains multitudes.
A smoldering Saint Laurent campaign and a subsequent jaw-dropping GQ cover story further melted hearts and minds. In that profile, Alex Pappademas gets to the heart of his appeal, including his inherent timelessness (and not just because he is a vampire): "Every generation gets its own Keanu Reeves, except every generation's Keanu Reeves is this Keanu Reeves."
The concept of the "movie star" doesn't exist in the way it used to, as social media has broken down exclusivity barriers. Keanu has unexpectedly remained the rarity, as he maintains an aura of cool and unknowability. He isn't going to hop on Instagram Stories from a personal account, but he also isn't going to deride those who do.
The same goes for the many memes generated by his horse riding through New York, looking sad eating a sandwich on a bench, or the vampire rumors. His response only makes him more endearing: "they look like they're having fun and doing some cool sh**." The recent release of Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe, in which Keanu plays an over-the-top, heavily fictionalized version of himself, proved he has a sense of humor — and there is nothing hotter than someone prepared to laugh at their image and have it captured on film.
As John Wick, Keanu utilizes years of action movie experience to deliver something so absurdly enjoyable. But at the heart of this franchise is a devastating conflict (that the actor described in swoon-worthy detail to GQ) between "[the] John who was married, and John Wick, the assassin. John wants to be free. But the only way he knows how is through John Wick. And John Wick keeps f***ing killing people and breaking rules. We're really watching a person fight for their life and their soul." Sure, John Wick can turn anything (including library books) into weapons, but underneath the ridiculous scenario is an internal struggle. Despite the bloody nature of his emotional release, someone who feels this much ticks those desirable boxes. We would like to swipe right.
Loyalty is another major turn-on, which is why the backstory of how first-time director Chad Stahelski and producer David Leitch got the John Wick gig is indicative of how much Keanu values his professional relationships. Stahelski was his stunt double (and later stunt coordinator) throughout the Matrix trilogy and Leitch came on board for the sequels, which is why he turned to them for the action-heavy John Wick. Instead of reprising those roles, the pair got a promotion. The relative shoestring budget of the first movie is a distant memory and now a TV series and female-led spinoff are in the works.
"It is really a credit to everyone at Lionsgate, Chad, and Keanu for being forward-thinkers," said co-star Asia Kate Dillon, when asked by SYFY about the decision to make the Adjudicator a nonbinary character. It was first for a mainstream blockbuster, which Keanu himself noted "shouldn't be out of the ordinary." We stan a woke king who isn't trying to blow his own trumpet.
Desire isn't generated solely by someone having pleasing face parts, a wardrobe full of tailored pieces, or fighting skills. All of these attributes add up, but the appeal of Keanu Reeves and how much he has been embraced this year is a culmination of his entire career. The reason why the internet went wild for his "age-appropriate" girlfriend this week wasn't just because it made a refreshing change, but because we want him to be happy.
The alchemy behind why someone is a star cannot be broken down into explainable chunks, but Keanu Reeves both as John Wick in front of the camera and what he does behind-the-scenes goes a long way in demonstrating why he is still so beloved (and fancied) 30 years after he first exploded onto the Hollywood scene.