John Wick” is everything you hope an R-rated action flick will be. It’s stylish, violent and has a great sense of humor when Wick isn’t too busy shooting people in the head.The movie is a breath of fresh air that skips the long form set-up and gets right down to the nitty-gritty violence that the audience wants and expects.
The plot is simple – John Wick is a retired hitman. When his wife becomes ill, he gets out of the business to take care of her, but she eventually dies. Before she does, she buys John a dog to remember her by. When some clueless thugs decide to steal John’s car and kill his precious dog, it’s time for him to come out of retirement and avenge his loved ones.
The opening scenes in “John Wick” are reminiscent of the opening montage in Disney Pixar’s “Up” where you watch a couple’s relationship from start to finish. Both sequences get the audience emotionally invested in the characters and their story in mere minutes. While “John Wick” may not leave anybody in tears unlike the Pixar flick, the scenes with Wick and his adorable beagle pup at the beginning of the film are hilarious and do a great job of setting up the mayhem that is to follow. When the baddies show up and wreak havoc, we root for Wick to take them down because we loved that damn dog as much as he did.
Wick has quite the reputation. Anytime his name is mentioned, there’s a palpable fear associated with it, and for good reason. The audience gets to know Wick mostly through word-of-mouth; we hear other characters mention his name and see the look of terror in their eyes. Some of the biggest laughs in the film (and there are many) come simply from the way people regard Wick in conversation – he is a force to be reckoned with, and everybody knows it. The world-building here is outstanding and by the end, we realize why everyone knows his name.
Keanu has never been known for his versatility, and his performance is about as ‘Keanu’ as one would hope. He gets some quality silly one-liners to spout in between bullets, but what’s most impressive about the role is his physicality. The film was directed by two veteran stuntmen who have worked with Reeves in the past and who clearly know their way around shooting impressive action. Reeves reportedly spent months training and learning various fighting styles for the role, and his efforts totally paid off – he’s an action hero again.
The fight scenes are insanely well-choreographed and impeccably shot; there are no confusing quick-cuts to be found here. It borrows from martial-arts style films like “The Raid” in that the ultraviolence is methodically constructed and exciting. Rather than jump from one jarring angle to the next, longer takes are utilized as the camera pans from one kill to another seamlessly as Wick takes out a staggering number of baddies. There are plenty of “oohs” and “ahhs” that stem from the inventive ways in which he takes them all out.
The biggest surprise of the movie is how funny it is; Michael Nyqvist steals every scene as the crime-boss father of the poor sap who wronged Wick. The ominousness surrounding Wick is consistently played for laughs, andNyqvist gets the biggest one of the movie with a simple reaction shot and a two-letter word – you’ll know it when you see it. The son is played by Alfie Allen, better known as Theon Greyjoy from HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” and while he isn’t given much to do here besides be a jerk, he’s perfectly capable in the role.
“John Wick” isn’t perfect. There are some pacing issues towards the end – a big moment happens about 10 minutes too early, and after that it kind of just limps to the finish. There’s another satisfying, hyper-violent gunfight to be had, but after such a climatic (and seemingly mission ending) scene, it feels tacked on and unnecessary.
Besides that minor hiccup, “John Wick” is otherwise very efficient and will restore your faith in both Keanu Reeves and the genre.