John Wick Review
Theon Grayjoy killed Keanu Reeves’s dog. It’s time for apocalyptic levels of death and destruction, and you will love every second of it. Keanu Reeves proves that he can actually emote and still pull off a good action movie in the stylish and awesome John Wick. This has been a good year for action movies, and if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve seen The Raid 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I would say this was the best action movie I’ve seen this year.
The plot of this film is remarkably simple. Keanu Reeves plays John Wick, whose wife just died from illness. Her death leaves him decimated, but a sliver of hope appears when we learn that his wife got him a puppy as one last gift, with a letter saying, “You need something to love. Try it with him.” From there, Wick bonds with this dog for several minutes. Unfortunately, this is a revenge movie, and the event spurring Wick to seek vengeance is when a punk mobster (played by Alfie Allen) who wants Wick’s car and breaks into his house, beats him up, and kills his dog to get it. Unfortunately, John Wick used to be a feared hit man, and he has absolutely no problem going after Alfie and his Russian mobster father for revenge. Destruction and death will be left in his wake.
The reason such a simple premise works is because all of the character elements are solid and backed up by good performances. Keanu Reeves often gets criticized for being too wooden and reserved in his performances, but here despite his calm quiet persona there is enough anger, despair, and contained rage to show that he can emote below the surface level. Keanu Reeves has enough charisma and is convincing enough in the action scenes to sell the character and carry the movie, but a great supporting cast is supporting him as well. There are two main villains and the first, Viggo (played by Michael Nyqvist), is a great villain with a wide range of emotions from hatred and love of his screw-up of a son to respect for and fear of John Wick. The other is Alfie Allen’s Iosef, who is very clearly a useless, self-centered prick who refuses to accept that he is weak or made a mistake, you truly hate him and want everyone to beat him up and kill him. Although between this and Game of Thrones, it is starting to look like the guy is getting typecast, he at least plays it well. The only other supporting characters worth mentioning are Adrianne Palicki as Ms. Perkins and Willem Dafoe as Marcus, who are both hit man who are hired to kill John Wick, but Dafoe is a close friend of Wick and is willing to screw himself to help Wick while Perkins is so dead set on getting the bounty on Wick’s head that she’s willing to break the rules of the hit man hotel he is staying in. Aside from them, even minor roles like the hit man hotel’s manager and concierge are played by great character actors like Ian McShane and Lance Redding respectively. There are no problems with the acting anywhere in this movie.
Another great thing about this film is that the script is tight, witty, and consistently funny. There are a lot of funny dialogue bits like when a cop comes to check on John Wick’s house because of a noise complaint, sees a bunch of dead hit men in his living room, and then just leaves. As funny as that was, it’s still not as funny as the moment when Viggo realizes how badly his son has screwed him (which I dare not spoil; see it for yourself). Aside from the wittiness, the universe in this movie is slick, unique, and really interesting. Apparently all hit man operate using marked gold coins as untraceable currency and if they operate in the New York City area are allowed to use this hotel, which is considered neutral ground, and if you break the hotel’s rules, there will be punishment. The concept is somewhat fantasized, but it never feels like the world departs completely into sci-fi or unrealistic fiction.
With all of this talk about the characters, script, and dialogue in this movie, you would think that I don’t want to talk about the action of this movie. That is only correct in so far as the action in this movie is so great that I honestly don’t want to spoil any of it. The action is so stylish, creative, well paced, and engaging that there really is no scene in the movie that is badly made in terms of action. Despite feeling like an old school revenge film, there are plenty of little touches that update the action and do things that I guarantee you haven’t seen before. It’s not overly edited, there is no CG in the stunts, and they never force any of the actors to do anything that seems too unreasonable or ridiculous for the characters involved (looking at you Taken 2). Action movies just aren’t made like this anymore, and I really hope that changes. The film’s director, Chad Stahelski, is mostly known for doing stunt work in some of the best action movies of the past 20 years (including The Matrix), but this film proves that he’s got chops as a film director, and I hope he and the director of The Raid 2 set the standard for action movie direction for the future.
John Wick is a gem of a revenge action film. It’s well acted, well written, and well directed with plenty of style and creative action bits. Keanu Reeves shows us that he is a much better actor than his detractors would suggest, and he’s aided by a bunch of great character actors. If it weren’t for The Raid 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this would be my favorite action movie of 2014. This is one of the few times being third best is definitely NOT an insult.