I made a spontaneous trip to the theater to see John Wick (2014) last night, knowing very little going in, and only half-excited after viewing the trailer. Tom from Digital Shortbread probably offers a more knowledgeable review on the film than I can, but based off my somewhat limited viewing of action flicks and Keanu Reeves movies, here is my very subjective review on the film.
I’m not sure if I missed all the ads, or John Wick just sneaked up on me. I don’t recall seeing previews for the film before I saw any other movies in theater, so I imagine there wasn’t as much push for John Wick as previous other actions movies to have come out this year.
For those of you who don’t know what John Wick is about, the story can be summed up simply as a revenge action flick. John (Keanu Reeves) has lost everything important to him. The movie opens with us watching his wife’s life flash before his eyes, leading to her eventual death when the doctor pulled the plug. It’s not entirely explained how or why she died, but early on we get a glimpse of John’s vulnerable side as he’s deals with his wife’s passing. After her funeral, John arrives home and receives a dog: a final gift from his wife, with a letter, offering another life to help him cope with his grief.
What appears to be the next day, John is filling up his ’69 Mustang with gas at a station when Iosef (Alfie Allen) and a couple of his friends approach him, offering to buy his car. John refuses, and of course, that’s not the end of it. Later that evening, Iosef and his buddies break into John’s home, beat him up, murder his dog, and steal his car.
And then we’re on to act two of the film, which makes up the majority of the film’s 96-minute run-time.
I won’t mention any spoilers beyond that, because it’s for viewers to enjoy who haven’t seen the film yet. What I will say is that the film takes off with adrenaline, yet as viewers, we don’t feel out of breath. It’s not an original idea for a man to seek vengeance for that kind of act, or for us to see a new hero arise that was living “on the other side” for the past five years. But what we get out of John Wick is a hyper-violent revenge story that introduces the action prowess of Keanu Reeves to a new generation. Reeves is no stranger to the action genre, but John Wick might be his most successful action film since The Matrix (2000), if I dare cross a line in saying so. This isn’t the first time Reeves’s acrobatic skills have been on display, but it’s what he does with a gun that makes everyone keenly aware that his character is not to be dealt with. It is not simply a killing spree when John Wick enters the room. He knows how to make a gun dance, and the scenes where he is in action, killing all those who get in his way, is not just a killing: it’s an art.
Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), Iosef’s father, describes John Wick as “the man who takes care of the boogeyman.” It’s a funny title to hold, but Reeves is adept at playing a believably violent, revengeful man on the hunt. John Wick is certainly Reeves’s movie through and through. The choreographed fight scenes reminded of Jason Bourne in the Bourne series. The film is slickly edited thanks to Elísabet Ronalds’s handy work, who was able to make the action scenes even more interesting to watch on screen. It also seems possible to suggest that “John Wick” could become a action franchise name included with the likes of Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne if producers decide to turn it into a franchise.
My greatest fear in going in to see John Wick was that I’d see a stylistically-engaging film that was low on substance. The style was definitely present, but the movie did fail to offer a very memorable storyline. Despite that, I still really liked John Wick. Keanu Reeves carried the movie, and there were decent, though somewhat unmemorable performances by Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist. I wish they would have given these guys more to do as they’re both talented actors, but the screenplay lacked the necessary pull to make these characters come alive on screen, even with the actors’s best efforts.
My desire is that producers bank off the critical success of John Wick and turn him into a franchise and build on his story, past the revenge aspect. Lurking behind the scenes is a compelling story that would probably clue us in on Wick’s past, before he was married, and about the world that involves a mysterious hotel with its own private club that deals only in gold coins and proffers a very generous compensation for its limited cliental.
While I really enjoyed John Wick, it did have its issues. Lack of originality is one of them, although despite its generic storyline, it seemed to successfully play the “typical action movie” stereotype and still be interesting. Tyler Bates composed the soundtrack, which while at times, felt like a hardcore gangster soundtrack, managed to work . . . although it was unsteady in parts, making you question exactly what type of movie John Wick really was.
While John Wick is far from perfect, I had such a great time with it from beginning to end, that I am boldly giving it
(Sorry, Tom :-/)
*Note – I never totally figured out how to make “half an eye,” so I will be updating scores for previous movies I have reviewed to either slightly higher or lower, based off what I originally wanted to score them.
Now it’s your turn. What did you guys think of John Wick? Am I crazy for liking it as much as I did? Please share your thoughts below, because as always, I would love to know your thoughts.