“Now, that’s what I’m talking about!”
That was my initial reaction to John Wick, a return to form for Keanu Reeves, and the debut of directors Chad Stahelski and (uncredited) David Leitch, two Wachowski sibling disciples who worked on the set with Reeves in The Matrix. They not only created a winning action film, created their own genre (gun-fu!), but also created a massive underworld of assassins that would fit right at home with fans of graphic novels, such as myself.
The plot is deceptively thin. Within the first ten minutes we watch as the title character’s life is ripped apart. His loving wife dies in the first minute, she gifts him the most adorable puppy in the history of film, and then in a break-in at his post-modern style home, the dog is killed (breaking the cardinal rule: don’t kill the cute puppy), and Wick is beaten within an inch of his life. His prized ’69 Mustang is stolen in the process. This sets the once deadly assassin off and back into the game.
As stated, the plot of John Wick is deceptively simple. On the surface, it is a standard killer comes out of retirement for revenge plot. However, what the creators behind the scenes did well was create a backstory that is deeper for those that wish to think about it. The underworld of assassins, who have a private hotel, The Continental (brilliant), their own set of rules, even their own currency of gold coins is well thought out and executed to perfection. The world in this film is deeper than what is suggested. The nice thing that they did was present this under the surface to add much needed depth to the plot, but they don’t slow down the pace of the film to force feed it to the audience. This world building separates John Wick from a standard revenge flick even more so than the brilliant shootouts.
The action scenes in this film are jaw dropping! Rare is it these days of action cinema dominated by fake looking CGI and green screens and endless Avengers films to see an old-school action movie. Keanu Reeves did his own stunts and did a boot camp of sorts to learn the techniques that Wick uses in the film. It all comes across as “I know this couldn’t really happen, but it looks awesome and not fake” which is all that one can ask from an action film.
The shootout in the “Red Circle” nightclub is the standout scene and it is a shame that this occurs 45 minutes into the film. That would be my only complaint. While the entire film is entertaining, it can only go downhill when the signature action sequence occurs halfway through the film. This scene really shows off the “gun-fu” style of action to its max. Halfway through the scene, there is a legitimate laugh out loud moment where Wick is forced to reload. I won’t spoil, but with all the tension and all the action flying around, this pause forced myself and everyone in the theatre at my first viewing to laugh to relieve the tension.
Overall, this is a must see for any action fan that somehow hasn’t seen it, yet. It is a return to form for Keanu Reeves and, with John Wick: Chapter 2 on the horizon, provides him with yet another franchise. It harkens back to old school action films akin to John Woo’s classics. There is even a church shootout for good measure. Highly recommended.