Thanks to Studio Trigger’s exemplary Cyberpunk: Edgerunners series on Netflix, both Cyberpunk and CD Projekt Red itself have regained favor with their scorned fan base. After multiple patches that have improved the game and a more forgiving audience, people seem ready to move beyond 2077‘s catastrophic launch. If nothing else, the audience appears receptive to the anime as well as new Cyberpunk games.So, perhaps it’s time to expand the universe to the silver screen.
After all, Cyberpunk has always existed as a transmedia entity. The video game is based on Mike Pondsmith’s tabletop RPG of the same name, and CD Projekt Red has quickly ballooned the franchise’s footprint with a deluge of modern comics, books, toys, and now Edgerunners itself. A film is the natural extension of Cyberpunk’s multifaceted world, particularly considering its filmic influences.
A cinematic video game that deserves its own film adaptation
Cyberpunk, as a subgenre, is largely content with recontextualizing and revisiting the motifs and themes of the canonical texts that defined it, from Neuromancer to Blade Runner. Cyberpunk 2077 is particularly overt with its homages. The Yaiba Kusanagi CT-3X bike, for instance, is a direct reference to the iconic bike from Akira. Since so much of 2077‘s visual language relies upon the aesthetics of cinema, an adaptation would nicely bring the inspiration full circle.
Of course, such an adaptation begs the directorial question. An obvious frontrunner would be Denis Villeneuve, director of the modern cyberpunk masterpiece Blade Runner 2049. This experience in the subgenre gives Villeneuve a compelling advantage, but his style isn’t particularly compatible with 2077‘s ethos. As Cyberpunk‘s name implies, the game is very punky in both attitude and look. Villeneuve’s films operate with a cinematic grandeur that’s almost brutalist – clean and imposing. A Cyberpunk film should be dirty and intimate.
An unconventional but fitting choice for the role is Leigh Whannell. Most famous for helping to create the Saw franchise, Whannell is best-suited to direct a Cyberpunk film because of his 2018 movie Upgrade. It’s a simple, bloody sci-fi revenge narrative tinged with horror elements whose tenets could be aptly and easily translated to the cybernetically enhanced streets of Night City.
In many respects, Upgrade‘s tone, color palette, and cyborg combat could pass for being part of CD Projekt’s world already. Whannell has all the tools necessary to take the tales of Ripperdocs and Mantis Blades directly into live action.
Casting the faceless and genderless V
Upgrade‘s leading man, Logan Marshall-Green, wouldn’t be a half-bad V, either. Building out a cogent fan cast is a bit more challenging than addressing the question of the director, though. Given that Cyberpunk‘s robust character creator is one of its selling points, the film’s protagonist can be rather flexibly cast. Nonetheless, Green matches the build of our standard male V seen in promotional material, and he delivers Upgrade‘s dialogue in a manner analogous to the tone of 2077.
Should the narrative hinge upon female V instead, a strong but unconventional choice would be Lashana Lynch. Her performance in The Woman King is among 2022’s best. Between that film and No Time To Die, Lynch has illustrated her incredible talent for both dramatic tension and physical acting, all the while defining personas that would slot nicely into Night City.
There’s only one Johnny Silverhand: Keanu Reeves
As for 2077‘s other lead, Johnny Silverhand, there’s no room for debate here:. Keanu Reeves must retain the role in live action. His performance in Cyberpunk is perhaps the gold standard for Hollywood actors being featured prominently in video games. A recast would be a distractingly large blunder.
Yet while finding an apt lead to play against Keanu Reeves is most important, there are other secondary characters that are nonetheless critical to cast correctly. Jackie Welles, V’s best friend, fundamentally shapes the emotional trajectory of 2077. Oscar Isaac could be a compelling choice here. While he doesn’t share Jackie’s build, Isaac’s masterful performance in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina demonstrated his raw skill and confidence in a sci-fi world.
Defining two key antagonistic forces, Adam Smasher and Yorinobu Arasaka, is crucial as well. Adam Smasher is a primarily cybernetic bruiser whose synthesized body hides most of his identity. Dave Bautista has the right frame for the role. Plus, his portrayal of Glossu Rabban Harkonnen in Dune feels as guttural and imposing as Adam Smasher. As for Yorinobu Arasaka, the role must go to Masaki Okada. He was recently seen in Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s 2021 film Drive My Car. In it, Okada plays the sort of duplicitous yet suave young man of influence that would map nicely onto Arasaka’s political and familial deceit.
The film should be character-driven, not a CGI fest
With a central cast of this caliber, a Cyperpunk 2077 movie would be well-poised to play directly to the core strength of the game: its characters. CD Projekt RED brought Night City to life through those who inhabited it. The best Cyberpunk film is one that focuses on emotional intimacy and how relationships are strained by late-stage capitalism and dehumanizing violence.
For as much as 2077 is preoccupied with aesthetics at the cost of fleshing out archetypal cyberpunk thematics, it is still concerned with people and concepts of the self. To be more than just another dime-a-dozen game adaptation, a Cyberpunk film needs to emphasize both punky, bloody action and thoughtful dialogue. Given how much care went into Edgerunners, there’s little doubt that CD Projekt would leave this hypothetical film in anything but the best of hands.