Big dumb action films don’t get the appreciation they deserve in this day and age. It seems as though you can’t throw your machine-gun-that-never-requires-reloading without hitting a superhero action film or a run-and-gun flick with way too much shaky cam to hide its PG-13 rating. It is into this current trend of veiling how big or dumb you movies are that “John Wick” burst, sporting not only an R rating, but Keanu Reeves, the biggest and dumbest chosen hero of them all!
“John Wick” is an action film courtesy of directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. The story centers around the eponymous former-hitman who has been long since retired and found a happy life with his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan), until she passes away due to a mysterious unnamed disease. It is at this point that he receives a posthumously delivered puppy — played by the world’s most adorable pup — and the message that he should depend on the dog to provide him comfort in his time of mourning. This manages to work for a while too, until he takes his fancy car out for a drive and encounters his former Russian mob boss’ son, Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen). Iosef steals Wick’s car, beats him bloody and worst of all, kills the puppy, leaving John with the singular purpose of revenge for the rest of the film.
The plot to this film is as straightforward as anybody could possibly want in a fight-fest such as this. John wants revenge for the loss of his wife, and because his target is high-profile, there is an army standing between him and his goal. However, contrary to how this same story would feel played out in other films, “John Wick” takes advantage of such cliches to build what’s actually a highly intriguing world of organized crime and contract killers. The whole film is underlined by the existence of a hidden community of hitmen, laying out certain codes of conduct, a specialized economy and a mythology that is known to the entire cast, but only shown in hints and subtle moments to the audience. Most intriguing of all is that John stands as the Boogeyman in the world of assassins, sending out waves of terror when it is known that he is back in the game.
The action choreography in the film does a fabulous job of supporting the notion that John is death on two legs as well. Scenes are filmed to be intense and quick, showing John flip from one enemy to another, dispatching foes as though they were children by comparison. Stunts show him flipping over one person’s back to shoot somebody across the room, doing the same thing in the other direction and then topping it off by comboing a breakdance with gun kata to kill the person he was flipping over the whole time. All of this is augmented by the film’s thankful lack of shaky cam and abundance of blood and gore, making it some of the most gratifying violence that I have had the pleasure of watching in recent months.
Casting in this film is just as solid as the action, but this is not to say that it is objectively good. Keanu Reeves is delightfully hammy in his performance as John Wick, going so beyond the pale in the angry whisper that he delivered, that it felt as though the movie should be retitled “Keanu is Angry and Will Shoot You.” Additionally, Michael Nyqvist as the Russian mob boss Viggo Tarasov is bombastic to the point of Bond villainy, making it all the more interesting every time he comes on-screen to punish his entitled son Iosef for being an idiot. The supporting cast is impeccable too, claiming such names as Dean Winters, Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki and Willem Dafoe. With such an ensemble on screen so often, every scene is on-point, exaggerating the grandiose nature of the movie’s setting to the perfect degree.
This movie’s value ultimately comes from how mindless and intriguing the fun is. Reeves does so well at keeping the audience rooting for his ultra-violence, that they have little recourse but to let out an audible “woah.” If you want an action film that requires introspection and deep analysis, watch anything but this, but, if you’re in the market for something that you can eat popcorn and cheer out loud for, spend you time and money here.
Rating: 4 stars