Keanu keeps knocking them out of the park – he’s probably the most successful diverse A-List male star at this point in time. By that I mean that he bounces between genre films, smaller budgets, huge budgets, all generally with great box office success and audience enjoyment. John Wick is another action notch on his cap and while it doesn’t come near the majesty of The Matrix it’s still another fun, ridiculous slice of bullet mayhem and grim faces.
Sometimes in action movies, simplicity is best. We’ve seen a lot of overly grim, or needlessly convoluted, or overblown epic action movies in recent years so to have a plot stripped back to basics is pleasing. What’s equally important is that the complexity and finesse which the plot lacks is transposed onto the action – which is fantastic. As always, Reeves fully commits to this side of his character – the unstoppable hitman who never lacks a sleeve to whip out a pistil from. This being a Reeves vehicle, there is a certain moody quality to proceedings – dialogue is light, facial expressions are as blank as the victims of his bullet storm. The cast spices up any gaps in acting exuberance, with veterans such as Ian McShane and John Leguizamo bringing exactly what you would expect them too and Alfie Allen and Michael Nyqvist heading up the villains. Co Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch bring a certain brutal realism to the over the top frenetic action – the pair well versed in action and stunt co-ordination having worked with Reeves during The Matrix Trilogy. The sort of balletic gunplay merged with martial arts with be familiar to fans of The Matrix and shows that the directors have a love for the films of John Woo and friends, and the minimalist characterization of European action heroes of old.
The plot, already the subject of many a meme long before I’d even seen the film, sees John Wick mourning the recent death of his wife. She left him a puppy, hoping he could find some comfort in overcoming his grief. Enter Russian gangsters who take a fancy to Wick’s vintage Mustang – they attack his house, steal his car, and kill the dog. Wick, we learn, is a recently retired Hitman – the best in the business, and he wants revenge. The rest of the film is little more than a sequence of action set-pieces and world-building. A puzzle unfolds with each new face Wick interacts with – a random guy on a street may be a deadly assassin, a luxurious hotel is a hub for the world’s payed killers, and we get snippets of information about their rules, integrity, history, the people who hire them and the people they re paid to kill. It’s all very shadowy but it quickly reaches the point where it seems pretty much every person in the world is involved.
As furious and neck-snapping as the action is, there’s still an inevitability to it all – you know what the outcome will be – but that’s not necessarily a criticism. We’re here to see the ‘good guy’ win, and it doesn’t matter how many hundreds of faceless or gimmicky henchmen are sent his way. It takes the final premise of Game Of Death – fighting a procession of increasingly deadly warriors to reach the end goal – to the next level, toning down the philosophy but instead crafting a world of intrigue and danger. It’s the sort of film which has a charm and enthusiasm which will win over viewers who don’t usually care for this sort of thing and with the style and invention to please hardened action fans.
Let us know what you think of John Wick in the comments!