Reviews: John Wick
A new standard for action movies
A lot of action films have become run of the mill. They mostly fall into two categories these days: ungainly extravaganzas of motion and noise that try to cram as much CGI in the screen as possible, and a flurry of car chases and fight scenes cut to shit by frenetic editing in the vain of Paul Greengrass' Jason Bourne movies. And more often than not, that's all there is to these movies. There's rarely any solid characters or plot to ground the action. There's just action. Thank you for your money. With all of this sound and fury signifying nothing, movies like John Wick are a breath of fresh air. This is one of the best action films in years, if not ever. It harkens back to the movies of decades past, like the uncannily invincible heroes of '80s Schwarzenegger and Stallone flicks, and the jaw-dropping, exquisitely filmed action sequences of the old school martial arts films featuring Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. It helps that the film is directed by experienced stunt choreographers, and features actors willing to put the work in to make these stunts believable. And with its beautiful blend of style and substance, it feels like the wonderfully deadly love child of John Woo and Michael Mann's best work. But all of the balletic combat in the world would feel shallow without a solid foundation to stand on. Luckily, John Wick has story and characters to match all of its technical brilliance. We are introduced to the titular protagonist, John Wick. He's a man in mourning following his beloved wife's death, trying to get on with his life with the help of the puppy she left for him. Then some Russian thugs decide to assault John, steal his prized car and kill his puppy For the Evulz. To the dismay of criminals far and wide, this reawakens the legendary boogeyman that John once was. Donning a sharp black suit and unveiling an arsenal of weapons, John Wick confronts his Dark and Troubled Past, becoming The Dreaded One-Man Army everyone knows, respects and fears with good reason. This is an action hero of such unparalleled skill with both guns and hand-to-hand combat, he even puts Reeves' previous heroes like Neo and Constantine to shame. And every other character pulls their weight too (the Big Bad, in particular), doing a great job of selling the sense of danger and reverence our laconic main character inspires. It helps that they all exist within a World of Badass that comes off like a fancier version of Sin City, running purely on Rule of Cool without coming off as ridiculous. Everything is calibrated just right. In case it isn't obvious, I adored this movie. Other action filmmakers could learn a lot from the example of John Wick. It is truly exemplary.
Impeccable, but lacking something
This film really surprised me. I confess, I was under the wrong impression upon watch it. I had read that the honchos behind the production were anime fans, and being a Gun Fu film, I was expecting a little more than bang bang and a load of cheap references to Trigun and Ghost in the Shell. But nothing further from reality. From storytelling purposes (a simple but efficient plot and an deceitful built setting), choreography purposes (myself, being a MMA fan, a judo practitioner and a worshipper to post-Sha Po Lang Donnie Yen, was overjoyed at seeing so much grappling mixed with the bang bang) and even acting purposes (Keanu Reeves crying? Hahah, give me some of what you have taken, bro—wait, seriously?), this film is basically faultless. Everything which it has is perfectly executed. It's just... something. This film lacked a color, a spirit, which other sleazier films don't lack. It's not literal color. If you are a rather subjective-prone, sensitive critic like me, you will understand. Perhaps I would not perceive it if I had not watched The Raid Redemption and its sequel much before this movie, which put a high standard in my mind bout realistic martial art films of this kind. In this sense, John Wick is a more mundane, Westernized take on that particular sub-genre, but which lacks some of the flavour those Indonesian guys had. But the important thing is that only that keeps John Wick apart from being an instant fav. This film is a great breakout for this production team, who I wish to continue producing gorgeous action flicks like this. Summarizing, if you are asking whether watch it or not, you are losing time you could be utilizing to watch it.
Since others have covered the action, this is more an emotions review. For people who say that Keanu Reeves can't act and is The Stoic all the time, just direct them to John Wick so they can see to the contrary. When John gets the beagle puppy Daisy as a present from his late wife, Helen, as he reads the letter his hands visibly shake and he chokes back tears. The '69 Mustang he could've done with losing, but not Daisy when his past as a Russian hit-man comes back to bite him in the form of Iosef Tarasov. Iosef who wants John's Mustang which he won't give up, leading to Daisy's death after John's place gets ambushed. Charlie the 'waste management' guy was a favourite with me, along with Jimmy the police officer, they were funny. Charlie, Harry and Perkins are very interesting side characters as is Marcus. It's nice to see how friendly Marcus and Charlie are with John. The scene where Iosef gets beats by his father Viggo Tarasov for stealing John's car and killing his dog, is quite the thing. Especially, as Viggo is explaining that Iosef is doomed, because John's not the boogey man, he's the man you send to kill the boogey man and there is nothing that Iosef can do about it. Marcus while being a hit-man himself, is a good friend to have to cover your back. Marcus might twist and turn a bit, but his death is meaningful after helping John with Perkins. Perkins the hit-woman who takes on John's contract, nearly winning her and John's fight until she gets knocked out. Many awesome fights later, it's Viggo, John and a few others in a warehouse. John gets angry, screaming about how he'll kill Iosef and Viggo too for what they did. It's very satisfying when Iosef finally dies, proving that no Daisy wasn't, "Just some fucking dog.", she was John's hope after Helen and Iosef killed it. If only they'd left poor Daisy alone, they would've lived. All in all it's in my opinion, a very good and emotional movie, while still very much deserving it's action movie status.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
John Wick is not the kind of action movie you see very often, particularly not in the modern era. Where most such films strive for "realism" through overuse of shakycam and quick cuts, every frame of Wick is clean and meticulously framed. Where most action stars spray bullets like water, rarely giving more than a token nod towards recoil, precision or clip size, John Wick uses the reality of his weapons to his advantage, counting bullets like a conductor of an orchestra keeps time. And if John is a conductor, then his impossibly precise shots are the metronome for a symphony of violence. The body count in this movie is massive, but it never feels gratuitous, even when the screen is literally filled with dead mobsters. The fight choreography is also magnificent, comparable to The Raid and its sequel, although with far less obvious brutality (thanks in part to Wick favoring pistols rather than his fists or knives). The action scenes also work to a surprising degree towards building a complex story with a fascinating, if not fully explored, world. But even at its most violent, John Wick still has a powerful emotional heart. The script plays to the strengths of its lead, Keanu Reeves, whose performance makes sure we never forget that Wick is a tragic, tormented figure. The surprisingly star-studded cast also turns in consistently good performances, even if they won't be winning any Oscars for this anytime soon. And special mention must be given to the cinematographer, director and editor, who all work to make this film a tight, engaging story from beginning to end. If you can stand the violence, go see John Wick. You won't regret it.
A non-stop awesome-fest of cinematic kinesis
The story of John Wick is simple: don't Kick the Dog if that dog happens to belong to Keanu Reeves. Even your Russian mobster daddy can't help you if screw with John Wick. Why, you may ask? Because John Wick is probably one of the greatest action heroes to come out of the second half of 2014. This movie is 96 minutes long. There's approximately fifty dead mooks by the end of it. If you do the math, you'll quickly realize that this movie gets going and does not stop. Some of the best action sequences to come out of Hollywood in recent years can be found in this movie. Wick uses an enthralling fix of Bourne-style hand-to-hand and Gun Fu throughout the movie. And boy, is it nice to look at. Is it realistic? Hell no, but this movie is not going for realism. This movie lives and dies on masterful use of Rule of Cool. John Wick is structured, in fact, like a video game. Each action sequence feels more like a level in a first-person shooter than a "fight" scene. Appropriately enough, Wick must face a boss at the end of these levels. However, unlike other action movies which have somewhat forgettable villains, each boss in this movie is distinctive and awesome in their own villainous way: Adrianne Palicki plays the best boss in the movie as her Femme Fatale Dark Action Girl character. And speaking of levels and bosses, let's talk about the club level. I don't mean just in this movie, this is the club scene when it comes to action movies. Move over Collateral, because John Wick certainly takes the cake when it comes to awesome shootouts in nightclubs. This film also manages to establish an interesting setting. There's some serious world-building going on in its 96 minute run time. David Leitch and co-director Chad Stahelski create a memorable world of hitmen and women with its own set of rules, currency, and customs. Is it how hitmen probably operate in real life. No, but it works for the pulpy style John Wick is going for. I would personally welcome the film's evolution from a standalone action movie into a franchise or even a shared universe of crime-action films, MCU style. He really shouldn't have killed that dog.