Toy Story 4's Keanu Reeves owns 2019 -- and it's an excellent adventure

Commentary: Keanu's on Netflix. He's in the new Pixar film. He's rocking the video game world. Take the actor's blue pill.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, and generational studies Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
3 min read

It's the year of Keanu, seen here at E3 2019. 

James Martin/CNET

2019's the year of the pig in the Chinese zodiac, and the year of the periodic table according to the United Nations. Forget all that. 2019's the year of Keanu Reeves, and don't you forget it.

There's Keanu, knocking Avengers: Endgame off the box office throne with John Wick: Chapter 3 -- Parabellum. There he is, voicing Duke Caboom, the stuntman toy in the new Pixar film Toy Story 4. He drove the crowd wild at E3 , just for announcing he'll be in the Cyberpunk 2077 video game. And that's him, playing a delightfully douchebaggy version of himself in Netflix original comedy Always Be My Maybe and watching his slo-mo entrance turn into a musical meme.

The actor, 54, deserves all this love. He's been on our screens for 35 years, longer than some of the fans who just discovered him with John Wick have been alive. But it wasn't until now that Keanu is zooming faster than a speeding bus, frozen in the air a la The Matrix, and spun his image around in a most excellent turn of events.

Oh, you've heard all the Keanu jokes. Dude, I am to-ta-lly an Eff Bee Eye agent, they say, mimicking his delivery of a line to the late, great Patrick Swayze in Point Break. Whoa, they laugh, San Dimas High School football rules!

Few actors have been jeered more for playing themselves than Keanu has. Some saw him only as a stoner dummy, because he played that part so well in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Or maybe he's just a guy thrown into a ring and punching desperately above his weight class, like football star turned FBI agent Johnny Utah, the role he played in Point Break. 

In 2010, the Sad Keanu meme took a photo of the actor eating a sandwich on a park bench and turned it into viral gold. And at the time, that might have been how many saw him. Washed up. Alone. Contemplating a lonely lunch.

But wait! The man once mocked for only being able to play himself is now being lauded … for playing himself. If you haven't yet watched Always Be My Maybe to see him portray a cocky and ready-to-fight Keanu who's dating Ali Wong's Sasha, beg for someone's Netflix password and catch up.

Wong told Rolling Stone she didn't think Keanu would play the part because very few actors are willing to play themselves and mock themselves while doing it. Oh, ye who doubt Keanu, prepare to be schooled. This is the man who learned kung fu in a millisecond in The Matrix and helped Sandra Bullock jump a metro bus over an unfinished freeway. Mocking his image for Netflix was probably way less painful than any single stunt in just one of the John Wick movies.

He didn't get to this golden moment  by accident. All the years of movies and memes, from swallowing the red pill in the Matrix to entertaining his fellow travelers during a diversion to Bakersfield, to his recent deep thoughts on death shared with Stephen Colbert, have built up to land him right here, in 2019. Without San Dimas Keanu, we wouldn't have the Keanu who can knock down an E3 crowd by simply walking out on stage. All of it -- the pop culture image, the movies, the memes -- has combined to make him the internet's most popular person. At least for now.

Because, face it. There's almost certainly a Keanu backlash waiting somewhere down the road, like a bomb-equipped bus just ready to blow. As Jennifer Lawrence, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Tiger Woods, Kanye West and many others have shown, you can only fly so high before public opinion kills your dog and steals your car. But for now, take the blue pill, sit back, relax, and enjoy life in the year of Keanu, where strange things are always afoot at the Circle K.

2019 movies to geek out over

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Originally published June 11.