Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Defoe, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Dean Winters
Plot: The son of a Russian mobster (Allen) steals a retired man’s (Reeves) car, unaware that he has provoked the wraith of the mysterious yet deadly John Wick.
Who is John Wick? Perhaps the brilliance with this movie is that after spending an entire film with the character, no one is still too sure. The movie opens and we learn the broad strokes about the character. His wife has just passed away, finally losing out to a terminal illness, and she leaves him a puppy in her will for him to care for. Slowly, caring for the dog brings this grieving man back from the hollow shell he has become. However, as the action begins seeping in, we suddenly realise just how little we know about the character. As soon as the bad guys hear the name ‘John Wick’ whispered, they begin calling him the boogeyman and begin getting used to the idea that they have already lost the fight. Cops show up at his doorstep, see him taking care of dead bodies and look the other way. Halfway through the film, he enters a criminal underworld (with their own mysterious currency and code of honour), and they treat him like a long lost friend. John Wick finds an eerie balance between an all-encompassing mythology, yet hardly delivers on any exposition. This makes it game to be one of the most memorable action movies of 2015.
Abandoning story-telling means that Chad Stahelski has all the time in the world to deliver on big, explosive action sequences. For any action lover out there, I can assure you that you will fall in love with this movie from the very first fight scene. The movie takes its time getting there, drifting through John Wick with controlled patience. It’s a brave move, as during this time, there is something not quite right about John Wick. It hasn’t earned its bizarre tone yet, the lack of exposition confusing and the gimmicky style a little try-hard. But it is forgiven from that moment where you witness that first bloody headshot. Stahelski is a director who believes that one must only cut away from the action if it is absolutely necessary. Cue several tracking shots of Keanu Reeves strolling through a punch-up, dishing out kill after kill, bullet after bullet. There are hints of inspiration from the Raid and possibly some of Matthew Vaughn’s work. As a result, it becomes the most stunning piece of work that Keanu Reeves has done in quite some time. Sure, John Wick doesn’t have the originality of the Matrix, but with those movies, it always seemed like Reeves had won the lottery and was blessed with being a part of that amazing trilogy. With John Wick, he feels like an active part of the ensemble. He fights with a lazy professionalism, he delivers the cool stare of a trained killer, coupled with some more emotional moments. If you are still doubting whether Reeves is a good actor or not, wait until his ‘I am back’ speech. This is Reeve’s ‘Bryan Mills phone call’, his ‘Yippie-Ki-Yay’. Matrix and Point Break be damned, John Wick marks the day that Keanu Reeves officially became a key player in the action genre.
Some will not like this movie. If ever an action movie was guilty of style over substance, it would be John Wick. It is impossibly awesome, but suffers from an emptiness. In not explaining anything, the moment the fighting dies down, you are left craving more. Whether that is a good or bad thing, depends on how you like your action movies. Seeing as no one is given a back story, the supporting cast feel more like cameos than key characters. No one’s character arc sufficiently comes full circle. It is the kind of film where the moment it slows down, part of you wonders whether you should be enjoying this as much as you are. Is this actually a good action, or is this just a guilty pleasure you will keep hidden away? And then John Wick does something truly incredible, to make you fall in love with it all over again. Perhaps it is a lazy kill that is directed beautifully. Perhaps it is just a well-choreographed shot of an important character getting executed in the street. Perhaps it is the night club scene that finds the perfect soundtrack to go with a perfectly timed fight scene. Yes, there is something a little hollow about John Wick, but, truth be told, I don’t care.
Final Verdict: John Wick has its flaws, but it has been so long since someone has given us an original new action hero that it deserves to be celebrated.