From Neo to John Wick, Keanu Reeves has pretty much dominated the silver screen as one of the most profitable action heroes for over 2 decades now. In 2020, he took yet another iconic role: Johnny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077. While not the worst video game ever, Cyberpunk 2077 suffered a lot of negative press during its release, thanks in no small part to various bugs, graphics issues, a thin storyline, and weak gameplay.
Of the few things that salvaged one of the most over-hyped games of the decade, however, Keanu Reeves’ performance as Johnny Silverhand is one of the most noticeable. While the rest of the story may have been weak, Johnny Silverhand’s character, from his background to his central role in the game’s storyline, proved to be endearing enough to fans and critics alike.
[WARNING: Spoilers ahead]
Who is Johnny Silverhand?
In Cyberpunk 2077, Keanu Reeves plays Johnny Silverhand, a semi-dead terrorist whose consciousness had been uploaded into a digital format. Throughout the game, Johnny Silverhand practically infects the player’s mind from the get-go, affecting plater choices throughout the game.
While Johnny is first introduced as an obnoxious and often dangerous personality, over time, the player character (known as V) becomes close confidants, bosom buddies in a dystopian nightmare played depicted beautifully –albeit completely flawed from a technical perspective –in Cyberpunk 2077.
Why is Johnny Silverhand So Enigmatic?
Rude, crass, and often obnoxious, it’s easy to hate Johnny Silverhand. Right from the start, when Johnny’s consciousness is uploaded into the player character’s mind, he begins to encourage V to straight-up kill themselves, not the least of which is because Johnny is just, well, punk in the purest sense of the word.
Johnny Silverhand is too cool for school, and he makes that known all throughout the game, with Keanu masterfully toeing the line between “egomaniacal jerk” and “sage philosopher” as Johnny provides commentary, criticism, and even practical advice to V. That last bit is pretty important, as some missions, while repetitive, can get so frustrating that it’s not uncommon for some gamers to smash their controllers (thankfully we have a list of some of the best cheap PS4 controllers out there, although we wouldn’t recommend playing Cyberpunk 2077 on a console).
As the game soldiers on, players arrive at a crossroads regarding their opinion about Johnny: after completing a number of missions for the Voodoo Boys –a local gang in Night City – players are given the chance to delve into Johnny’s past. In doing so, players are given a glimpse to Johnny’s motivations, dreams, aspirations, his inspiration for doing what he does, and his undying hatred for the corporations that have taken over Cyberpunk’s America.
Of course, this doesn’t make him any less dangerous or any less of a terrorist: even with this information, Johnny is still, for all intents and purposes, pretty despicable. But this air of mystique and enigma is what makes Johnny Silverhand so hard to hate. Over time, V is subjected to Night City’s corporations, and they witness first-hand the reasons Johnny turned out the way he did.
In a way, this gives players a chance to play Devil’s Advocate: sure, Johnny is kind of gross, not just because he makes V do things that they might not want to, or because Johnny brought two thermonuclear bombs to Arasaka Tower, but the context of why he did puts players into a moral dilemma that, honestly, does a better job than the moral decisions players have to make in Mass Effect or Skyrim. Of course, both games don’t need players to have the best gaming laptops just for them to have a playable experience, but that’s a different discussion altogether.
There is a depth to Johnny Silverhand that, thankfully, Keanu Reeves manages to capture. While the character itself is supposed to be unlikeable, Keanu is able to inject a subtle personality that is both wonderfully flawed and terrifyingly human, something that even the most casual gamer can probably relate to.
Johnny Silverhand is the Person We are Terrified of Becoming
One thing Cyberpunk 2077 does well is how it portrays the emotional state of both V and Johnny Silverhand. Far from being a symbiotic relationship, Johnny Silverhand’s presence inside the mind of V is a parasitic one, with V slowly but surely dying thanks to the digital terrorist’s neural structure rewriting V’s DNA, eventually leading to Johnny taking over V’s physical body completely.
But here’s where Johnny’s dilemma comes in: he never wanted to hurt V, he didn’t want to be the cause of an innocent’s death, but he also wants to be free from his cyber shell, to be resurrected and be reborn so that he could continue his 50-year battle against Arasaka. Johnny is still reeling from the guilt of killing Alt Cunningham, Johnny’s ex-girlfriend and one of Night City’s most brilliant netrunners (and also the developer of the Soulkiller program, the very same program that created Johnny Silverhand’s current iteration).
This need to set things straight is what anchors Johnny’s humanity, providing him with much more nuance than just some asshole punk who wants to blow up the Man. Throughout the game, we see Johnny as being the epitome of the cool kid in high school: he loves to drink, he loves to fight, he loves women, and he loves getting in trouble.
Of course, anyone who grew up after high school knows how terrible a life this would be once you hit your mid-20’s, but that’s where the brilliance of Keanu Reeves’ performance kicks in: he forces players to understand why a person might end up this way, and that, given the right circumstances, even the most mild-mannered of us can turn into a Johnny Silverhand.
If you can, try to play this with some of the best Curved LED monitors under $500 on the market today. Oh and, make sure you have ray tracing.