John Wick is a straightforward, clever shoot ’em up featuring Keanu Reeves doing what Keanu Reeves does best, kicking lots of asses with a signature smirk. With flashy fight choreography and on-the-nose performances from an all-star cast, John Wick delivers a solid action flick experience worthy of Keanu’s pedigree in the genre.
Keanu’s latest revenge-driven bullet fest brings a lot of fun to the screen, even when it’s steeped in what should be some depressing circumstances. Reeve’s plays the titular anti-hero John Wick. John is in a morose state after his wife succumbs to cancer. As a final reminder to not lose hope, Mrs. Wick makes arrangements for a dog to be delivered to John in the event of her passing. If you’re wondering if Keanu Reeves interacting with a beagle is the cutest thing ever, I am here to tell you it is. Sad Keanu is a thing of the past with Beagle Keanu around. Something tells me a revenge flick won’t work so well with Beagle Keanu though.
After a chance run-in with a petulant Russian gangster that wants his car (Alfie Allen Greyjoying it the f’ up), John’s home is invaded, his car stolen and, for no sensible reason, his dog is killed. Stealing a car is one thing, but killing a man’s puppy? What kind of twisted dick are we dealing with? One that clearly needs to be put down and, would you look at that, we have the man with the skill set to do it right here.
In an all too brief appearance, John Leguizamo plays the chop shop owner Iosef brings Wick’s Mustang. Not wanting any of the problems that comes with stealing a hitman’s car, Leguizamo refuses. This scene and the follow up phone conversation with Iosef’s mob boss father Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) are played so masterfully by Leguizamo and company that you instantly give credence to the idea that John Wick, like Wu-Tang Clan before him, ain’t nothin’ to f–k with.
Anytime characters are written with respect for their adversary, it tends to put the movie in a unique place of freeing them from filling us in on huge amounts of backstory. At this point the movie has established John Wick is a giant bad ass, though we’ve yet to see him pick up a gun or throw a punch. After a brief phone call that ends with John not saying a word, Viggo passes along to a colleague that Wick had said “enough” to know he wasn’t getting his son out of his appointment with Babayega, the Boogeyman. They actually call him the Boogeyman, it’s so cheesetastically great.
At this point, the movie just leans in full bore and stops pretending we all showed up for something other than ridiculously awesome gunplay. Once the film turns that corner, all bets are off. Grounded fight choreography that feels natural, awesome gunplay straight out of a first person shooter, inventive kills and diversified signatures for every character in their fighting styles come together to make for some of the most engrossing and fun shoot outs I’ve seen committed to film. The excessive body count being left in John’s wake never comes off fake or unearned, you see the character working for it, he’s just better.
Having two fight choreographers as directors (David Leitch and Reeve’s own stunt man Chad Stahelski) certainly makes for a fun fight scene. Clever takedowns are marked with smooth glides and subtle touches. There aren’t any excess cheat cuts that let directors falsely ramp up the adrenaline while distracting from a fight. If the camera angle changes or there is a cut in the action, it’s almost always to get a better view of what is actually happening in the fight.
One of the greatest strengths of this film is the infallible cast that swings through for brief but memorable supporting roles. Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane play the closest things to friends John Wick has in this world, and even then, you’re not quite sure they’re on his side. Lance Reddick’s turn as the hotel concierge also brings a smile with every appearance he has. Adrienne Palicki vamps it up as a femme fatale who’s all about the money. While we’ve seen her do action before, she leaves a hell of an impression when she opens her can of the whoop ass six pack John brought along to share. Everyone on screen knows the movie they’re in, and they are most definitely playing it up.
The award for most scenery chewed has to go to Michael Nyqvist. As the Russian mob boss Viggo, Nyqvist plays a gangster that knows he’s going up against unspeakable odds when challenging John Wick. The closer we get to the end of the film, the more unhinged Viggo becomes. It’s such a wonderfully disarming performance that you’re almost disappointed by the inevitable conclusion.
John Wick is a film that knows exactly what it’s audience wants and delivers it to them. What it lacks in plot it more than makes up for in stylistic thrills, memorable visuals, and charmingly humorous delight in its violent madness. The violence in the film becomes a ballet of bullets and ass-kickery without ever feeling gimmicky. If you’re looking for a sleek action romp with charm, John Wick delivers the goods.
Rating: 4 out of 5 burritos