Action Film Review

A Film Review with a Vengeance: John Wick

October 24, 2014Ben MK

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Wick-ed fun...

To say Keanu Reeves kicks ass in his latest film is a serious understatement. Hitting cinema screens over a decade after Reeves closed the curtain on his most iconic action role — playing Neo in The Matrix trilogy — John Wick sees the actor back in black and once again venturing deep into action-hero territory. Er, better make that action anti-hero territory. This time, he's suiting up to play a reformed bad guy who wages all-out war on even badder guys — all in the name of a stolen '69 Ford Mustang and a murdered beagle named Daisy.


Storywise, there's nothing especially revelatory about John Wick that moviegoers haven't already seen in similarly-themed films like Get Carter, Payback and Taken. But though its plot — penned by Derek Kolstad — may be formulaic, its execution — helmed by stuntmen-turned-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch — is bloody brilliant.

Reeves plays the title character, a retired assassin named John Wick. Once the most feared hitman in the business — "he's the man you sent to kill the Boogeyman" — he now lives a quiet and secluded life (in, of all places, New Jersey). However, the mere mention of his name is still potent enough to send shivers down the spine of even the most hardened criminal.

John finds himself pulled back into the violent ways of his old life after fate has him crossing paths with his former employer, Russian crimelord Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). And all because of the actions of Viggo's impetuous son, Iosef (Game of Thrones' Alfie Allen), who seems to be the only person in the film not familiar with John's killer reputation. If he was, he and his goons probably would have thought better of breaking into John's home, beating him senseless, killing his dog and swiping his prized motor vehicle. Mere days after John's beloved wife, Helen (Bridget Moynahan), passes away, no less. The dog, an über-cute puppy, was even a gift from her.

Needless to say, John snaps — the dead wife is one thing, but the dog and the car are the final straw — and then proceeds to go on a murderous rampage throughout the criminal underworld, taking out anyone unlucky enough to be connected to Iosef. Or foolish enough to stand in his way, for that matter.

Admittedly, this isn't the kind of motivation that revenge-thriller vendettas are typically constructed from. But you have to at least give the filmmakers credit for trying something different. Besides, this isn't the type of film audiences will flock to for the plot. Every ticket buyer will want to see Reeves pump his on-screen enemies full of lead, and in this regard, a dead dog and a stolen car are as good a reason as any.

The upshot is that the action in the film is spectacular. Stahelski and Leitch certainly know their way around a fight scene, having worked on such films as The Bourne Ultimatum, Underworld Evolution and The Expendables. And what they bring to the table is a thorough understanding of fight choreography and stunt coordination. As a result, watching Reeves take on wave after wave of opponents is gratifying beyond belief.

Whether John is making quick work of a dozen armed assailants who've infiltrated his home or taking the fight to a neon-lit nightclub on his enemies' home turf (the latter of which harkens back to a similar scene in Collateral), Reeves is in top form. And the visceral action is impeccably staged, with fluid camera movements and a restrained editorial style that make it easy to appreciate the many bumps and bruises the stuntmen involved must have had to endure.

Aside from its frenetic action, the film has a couple of other things going for it, not the least of which is its impressive cast. They include the likes of Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki and Lance Reddick, all of whom know exactly the kind of film they're in, chewing the scenery appropriately and not overstaying their welcome. The world of the film also benefits from an incredible amount of specificity. For example, when John needs bodies removed, he calls a waste disposal service and makes "dinner reservations", paying in gold coins. Small details like these go a long way in elevating the film above the usual genre fare.

The Bottom Line John Wick is just a lot of fun, plain and simple. Moviegoers shouldn't expect a deep or wholly original story. What they can expect, however, is to be bombarded with wall-to-wall action set against the backdrop of a unique on-screen world — one that's populated by interesting characters, who are in turn played with aplomb by a cohesive bunch of fantastic actors. And it's all held together by Reeves, who delivers a knockout performance as the guy at the center of it all. One thing's for sure: you may not know the name John Wick going in, but you won't be able to forget it after you leave.  Ben Mk

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