It’s been what seems like forever since Keanu Reeves was stylishly taking down swarms of goons but he’s back in prime form in John Wick.
Reeves is the title character, a former assassin who retired to live a quiet, normal wife with his wife (Bridget Moynahan) but she is stricken by an illness and dies. John is left with his classic car and a newly acquired beagle puppy left to him by his wife, both of which are stolen by the douchebag son of the local Russian crime boss, which puts John out of retirement and looking for revenge. What really makes the movie unique is the world it creates for the assassin/crime underworld of New York City. Everyone seems to know each other and are incredibly congenial until circumstances dictate otherwise. The hub of this little community is a hotel run by Ian McShane, where no “business” is allowed to be conducted on premises and offers such conveniences as a 24 hour on call doctor to patch up bullet and knife wounds. I was kind of reminded of Highlander a bit, which also featured a hidden world of deadly warriors with a familiarity and specific rules and codes of conduct. I would love to see some sort of novel or comic explore more of the quirks and characters of NYC’s assassin world. (John Wick is suprisingly not based on some sort of comic or book series, unlike something like, say, Jack Reacher).
Keanu slips right back into the role of impassive, precise killing machine in John Wick and is exceptional in the action sequences, using what can only be described as Gun Kata against the hordes of Russian mobsters between him and Alfie Allen’s Iosef. The action choregraphy is great, especially the big set piece sequence where John attacks a Russian nightclub and fights his way from the basement to the penthouse. There’s an incredible smoothness to the way John takes down and flows from one attacker to the next and there’s not a lot of movies I can think of that can match it (possibly Jason Statham in The Transporter). It also proves again that an R rating that allows you to show everything is preferable to a PG-13 that you have to try and obscure the violence in. The soundtrack adds to the intensity and flow of the action sequences as well, although some of the tracks get repeated multiple times, so they lose a little bit of impact the second time around. After appearing as the non-descript villain of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Michael Nyqvist seems to be having tons of fun as Russian crime boss, Viggo, who basically treats John Wick like an impending natural disaster and tries to figure out the best way to survive. There’s lots of familiar faces in side roles as well, like Willem Dafoe as Wick’s friend and fellow assassin Marcus, Lance Reddick as the concierge of the Continental assassin hotel, Adrianne Palicki as another assassin, Ms. Perkins, who learns the hard way what happens when you disrupt the rules of the Continental, David Patrick Kelly as a “cleaner” of crime scenes and John Leguizamo as the owner of a chop shop. You can tell that everyone has a deep history with John and this underworld community and it helps to build the world and add flavor.
If you’re a fan of Keanu and kick ass, stylish action, John Wick is definitely a must see. It’s one of the best action movies of the year and it’s unique world and characters definitely makes it stand out even more.