The Matrix. Speed. Point Break. What do these movies have in common? Keanu Reeves. Also, each one of them serves as a staple of 90s action movies. So then, why is it that the star of some of the best action movies of that decade has been virtually nonexistent of late? It’s hard to say, but one line out the titular character John Wick’s mouth puts those thoughts at bay. “I’m thinking I’m back.” His character, an ex-killer now dabbling in the life again after a group of men kill his beloved dog, is back. But one can’t watch this new film, hear that line, and do anything except juxtapose the character Wick and the man Reeves. Reeves is back, and in full force, and hopefully he’s here to stay.
The plot of John Wick isn’t anything special. In fact, it’s such a simple movie that it hardly takes any time to digest. An ex-hitman’s wife dies of cancer. As a final gift, she gives him her dog. He cherishes the dog. After a minor altercation with a group of thugs, they break into his home and kill his dog. Somehow, these men are related to his former employer. And this man, this former hitman, happens to be John Wick. The name may not ring a bell to you… not yet. But everyone in the movie knows him. He’s smart, slick, and practically unbeatable. Not invincible, but unbeatable. John Wick doesn’t need a thought provoking script to anchor its running time. It doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. This is a revenge thriller. A flat out action centered action movie. And for what it is, it’s nearly perfect.
Keanu Reeves is terrific in the role of John Wick, a name that could eventually hit the iconic stage if we get a few more of these. I say terrific with complete knowledge that most people admire Reeves for being a “good bad actor.” Yes, some of his performances are laugh inducing, but as someone who has always liked him I have to say that this movie transcends his past. He is genuinely good. He creates a great character in John Wick that will leave people talking long after the credits. Think Liam Neeson after Taken. I feel that John Wick may be talked about more than that. Supporting him is an equally terrific cast. Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist (The Millennium Trilogy, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) is unnerving as a character closely linked to Wick’s past. He is completely and totally menacing. Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones) sets the entire movie up and is slowly diminished as the film progresses, but he gives a very good performance for the time he is given. Ian McShane and John Leguizamo give structural supporting work and Willem Dafoe turns in an excellent supporting role, as he always does. Also, I have to give props to the dog. The dog is the main reason for Wick’s revenge-driven killing spree, and these performers do a hell of a job making the audience care about it. Every little thing this dog does is adorable, and I found myself caring about it, which made the rest of the film a bit more satisfying.
The direction in John Wick is perhaps the most notable element. The lighting by cinematographer Jonathan Sela is gorgeous and really sets the tone for the thematically blue atmosphere. The directors, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, both stunt doubles themselves, know about action. Boy, do they know. The action scenes in this movie are absolutely fantastic. See it for yourself. No close up shaky cam. Distant and meticulous shots of action. Rehearsed sequences of action. In a scene early on in the film inside Wick’s home, people die, and people die badly as they try to outsmart him in his own home. Not a chance. Naturally, Wick’s neighbors call the cops because of the loud noise. After the officer arrives, he greets Wick. It’s clear they know each other. The officer sees a dead man behind John. Instead of arresting him, he simply says, “I guess I’ll leave you to it.” This, a credit to the script, is a touch of the humor we get about the character of John Wick and those who know him. Later on, we are graced with a scene in a nightclub. The loud thumping beat of electronic music pulsates through the speakers as Wick makes his way through the crowd. Lights flash. Bullets fly. We’ve had some great action movies this year with great action sequences, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Raid 2. John Wick may have the most entertaining of them all. It’s action movie porn for any true film junkie.
As I’ve stated, the story isn’t anything special. And on paper it is a bit silly. A group of thugs lead by Theon Greyjoy (REEK!) kills John Wick’s dog and this is the reason he goes out to kill them all. Silly as it may be, it works. You believe in it. And you stand by it. I did. I wanted them all dead, and John Wick didn’t let me down.
By the ending of John Wick, you’ll wonder where the time went. It zips by as fast as it takes Wick to lay out a henchman. Keanu Reeves tears up the scenery as John Wick, a character that seems to be destined to become a household name. 2014 has been full of surprises. Edge of Tomorrow was a wonderful sci-fi film when I didn’t expect it to be. Fury was a magnificent war spectacle. And John Wick is one of the most entertaining action movies in years. Give it your money this weekend. Hell, see it two times. You won’t regret it.
Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language, and brief drug use
Starring Keanu Reeves, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, and Michael Nyqvist
Written by Derek Kolstad
Directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch