Recently-widowed John Wick (Keanu Reeves) spends his days coming to terms with his loss with the help of his muscle car and adorable puppy, the latter a final gift from his terminally ill spouse. When the son of a Russian crime boss (Alfie Allen) takes a fancy to Wick’s car, invades his home, beats up Wick, kills his dog and steals said car, he unwittingly returns a pissed-off Wick to the life he left behind: as one of the world’s deadliest assassins. This time, however, he’s not in it for the money.
77 – That’s how many people John Wick kills in this, his titular film and first directorial foray for stunt co-ordinators David Leitch and Chad Staheleski. A quick IMDb of their names shows quite the back catalogue of fight choreography, so it’s no surprise that what John Wick lacks in grander acts of subtlety and strength of visual identity it more than makes up for its action beats (in which a lot of people get snuffed).
I’m not the only one to point fingers at Keanu Reeves and claim he hasn’t made the best cinematic choices in the past couple of years (and I even liked the idea of him doing ’47 Ronin’. Kinda. Sorta. A bit. Okay, not that much.) But when people ever look up the term “return to form” in The Dictionary of Phrases they will find this. As well as the definition of “return to form”. Keanu Reeves has always been inherently likeable (it’s hard to shake the mantles of Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan and Johnny Utah), but pairing him with a puppy to assist in his grieving process is almost too much. Yes he may mope around his ridiculously-spacious house, but it’s Keanu Reeves and a cute dog! What’s not to like? The only thing that could ruin all that would be something as unlikeable as, I don’t know, Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones. Oh dear.
When Keanu shifts from this to THIS it is truly a joy to behold. The action is so well done I actually forgot he was in The Matrix while I watched Mr Wick scramble over people like a gun-toting spider monkey and get the cuss beaten out of him in the process. Yep, John Wick does take a bit of a beating throughout his misadventures with Russian gangsters, and it’s done rather believably too. Whilst he may be a murder-dispensing machine, he is still made of meat, blood and floppy hair, and this is one of many little touches that give the film that bit more of a grounded-yet-playful sense of self.
Things such as the Russian mob boss’ second-in-command not understanding clichéd and ominous Russian orders, the assassin’s hotel known as The Continental (itself brimming with brief appearances by Lance Reddick, Clarke Peters and Ian McShane), a set of superfluously-not-superfluous turns by John Leguizamo and Willem Dafoe, the criminal underworld being most often than not LITERALLY under the world, these things are all handled with a wry respect and occasional threat of pushing tongue to cheek.
As mentioned earlier, though, a lot of John Wick does fall by the wayside in its mad-sprint-man-shoot of a story, but I think it works in its favour. You don’t get a load of pomp and motivation from secondary characters because A.) They’re almost all hired killers, B.) They’re all portrayed by incredible actors who always do so much with so little and C.) The story’s not about them anyway. The film doesn’t boast a robust sense of visual identity because you don’t want to get distracted in the shooty-shooty-punch-fests. The dialogue doesn’t really pop because it’s hard to be as witty and snarky as a Whedonite when you’ve got Keanu Reeves beating the plums out of your pudding. You see where I’m going with this, right?
ohn Wick impressed me in several ways: it reminded me just how much I actually enjoy Keanu Reeves, it showed me that the ‘mopey-white-man-in-his-40-50s-kills-everyone’ genre has life in it once you disrobe it of its patriarchal sense of justice, it made me want to watch The Wire and Deadwood AT THE SAME TIME and most of all it didn’t bore me. Man-shoots such as this have a tendency to get stale well before the final set-piece, but John Wick did not. I think the overall message is if you’re complicit in the killing of a puppy then I will happily watch Keanu Reeves kill you, your business and your family. Merry April, everyone.
Director: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen
Running Time: 101 minutes
Release Date: 10th April 2015