JOHN WICK Review

John Wick is extremely straight forward. Both the man and the movie based around him. It could be said that there may not be a whole lot going on in the minds of the makers behind the film or the titular hero as they machine gun their way through a standard tale of revenge, but regardless of how intelligent or not the film comes off it never effects the amount of fun to be had here. It has probably been six years or so since I've seen Keanu Reeves on the big screen and so it is somewhat of a welcome return this film offers him both in the traditional sense of what he's come to be associated with and as a revival of sorts. What makes John Wick so accessible and fun though is that we can all agree it knows what it is. In knowing the kind of film it is and wants to be, it keeps its ambition in check and goes only for what it needs, never trying to over do it or over-complicate things. There is no means to elicit anything more here than what is presented to us and it revels in that. It is a matter-of-fact film more about the action and how it is conveyed than the story which you could catch onto walking in mid-way through the movie. It is a movie not above being surface-deep and it wears this self-awareness on its shoulder as a badge of honor. There is an almost visceral experience to be had with John Wick as it is the visuals and the bombast that connect with us rather than any intellectual property it brings to mind. Honestly, as I sat there watching the film and as it came to its inevitable conclusion the only think that I actually began to think about was if Wick had really thought about what all his trouble actually achieved. would it bring him real peace? Would he feel vindicated not for the initial death that caused him the most pain, but for the peace that was offered him in the wake of his loss that was stolen out from under him? It is likely Wick didn't think any of this through and simply reverted to his natural instincts of shoot first, ask questions later and over the course of the next hour and a half he puts on full display why that isn't necessarily a bad way of approaching things, especially for eager audiences.

Russian mobster Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) threatens his son, Iosef (Alfie Allen), after he steals John Wick's car.  
Stunt coordinators turned directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski get off to a rather clunky start with their exposition. Wick (Reeves) has recently lost his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan) to cancer and receives a posthumous gift from her in the form of a puppy. Wick clearly isn't the overly-affectionate type (unless it's towards his vintage '69 Mustang), but he eventually warms up to the canine and more so what it represents in terms of his healing process. On an excursion for nothing more than to let off steam via off-road driving in his 'stang Wick is approached by a trio of Russians at a gas station. It is nothing more than this short encounter in which ringleader Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen who looks like a younger Michael Shannon) insists on buying his car and whom Wick turns down in a charismatic, but insulting way. Next thing we know they are breaking into Wick's home in the middle of the night brutally attacking him, killing his dog and stealing his car. Iosef takes the car to a local chop shop owned by Aureilo (Leguizamo) who refuses to do anything with it after realizing who the car belongs to. John knows to visit Aureilo, who leads him to Iosef who also happens to be the son of Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), a prominent Russian gangster and Wick's former employer. Viggo is not pleased with his son for having disturbed the retired John Wick as he knows the consequences of doing so and is pissed he will even have to deal with the situation. As he tells Iosef, Wick is the man you called to kill the boogeyman. Viggo puts a two million dollar bounty on Wick giving his former mentor and professional sniper Marcus (Willem Dafoe) the offer first to which he accepts. This leads to one of the more interesting aspects of the film in which it essentially begins natural world building by introducing a safe haven for hit men (or women) in Winston's (Ian McShane) Continental hotel. This offers a place for us to discover the seedy underbelly of this world our titular character exists within while adding layers of possibilities for how this film could spawn into a franchise.

With what we are given there is a little to absorb from anyone on screen besides their prime directive. As the titular Wick Reeves is perfectly acceptable in his performance as it gives him just the right balance of silent presence and hokey lines he can put his unique spin on. He doesn't craft any immediate catch phrases, though his, "Yea, I'm thinkin' I'm back!" is a pretty solid moment that resonates culturally as much as it does in the context of the film that makes you sit up in your seat in anticipation of what is coming next. At fifty, what is probably the most impressive aspect of Reeves' performance is that he still makes every action beat look as effortlessly cool as he is able to. While it is clear he is doing many of his own stunts in working with Leitch and Stahelski he is also perfecting a choreography that translates extremely well to the screen in terms of being able to capture the large action set pieces. While Reeves is going through the very entertaining motions of capping everyone in sight though, the co-directors have put together a rather splendid cast of supporting players to bring this world of John Wick to life. As our prime antagonist, Nyqvist is both deliciously vial and humble in the ways you'd expect both a Russian mobster and father to be. He is obviously mad at his son for placing him and his empire in such a predicament, but he can't turn away from the love that he feels for him. Allen (who I haven't seen in Game of Thrones) is fine playing the spoiled rich kid who believes he can take what he wants with no consequences, but it's nothing to write home about. The same could almost be said for Adrianne Palicki who seems to have been given a rather rare opportunity to craft a stand-out character in the form of fellow assassin Ms. Perkins (even the name screams cult favorite!) but she brings little more to the role than that of a serviceable performance that does what it needs to in order to further the story properly, but little more. On the other side of things we have veterans such as Leguizamo, Dafoe and McShane beefing up their smaller roles with their presence alone and faces like Dean Winters and Lance Reddick adding more of a recognition if not a completely fun factor.

Keanu Reeves is John Wick.
Clearly, the focus here is on the action and with Leitch and Stahelski both being former stunt coordinators (Stahelski was Reeves stunt double on the two Matrix sequels) they have a pretty good handle on what they're doing. Still, the odds are stacked against them when it comes to stunt coordinators turned directors as usually there is no allowance for emotion or deeper substance than the visuals or action beats, but in doing away with any real concern for deeper meaning and allowing their movie to fully embrace what it is Leitch and Stahelski have made a film wholly enjoyable for its single strength. In a day and age where we are accustomed to action scenes being shot by second units and edited as if every single person in the audience has attention deficit disorder that translates into cuts every three seconds and no chance of getting a clear shot of the full blown mayhem taking place in front of us, it almost feels like a privilege to be blessed with the action that John Wick delivers. More than the action that moves seamlessly from martial arts into gun play though is the style with which it is captured. There is a middle section of the film where we really see the extent of Wick's skills for the first time (though he's nicely demonstrated his ability prior to this) that takes place throughout the many levels of a nightclub and it feels as electric as it looks. With the neon palette, the cleanly cut and suited Reeves dashing from security guard to security guard, cutting them down as if it were nothing while the soundtrack blares in the background allows for it all to add up to an aesthetically pleasing picture best appreciated on an IMAX screen (you can catch it now at Chenal 9 IMAX). The soundtrack is another highlight to be noted as heavy hitting tracks from both Marilyn Manson and Kaleida infuse the action and the artistic value of the piece with another layer of slickness. All in all, we appreciate John Wick for its look, its relentless action and its no hold barred approach to its subject matter, but more than anything we appreciate John Wick I think for bringing us back an actor who has always been endearing if not the most talented and giving him a role that fits him perfectly.