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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I guess it was only a matter of time before Keanu Reeves got his own Taken clone – not that I mind that whatsoever. In fact, John Wick out-Takens Taken in many ways, and itss hard-R rating allows it to be even more violent and over-the-top in its action sequences. Directed by David Leitch (a stuntman who cut his teeth on action movies and previously worked with Reeves on The Matrix trilogy) and partner Chad Stahelski and released by who else but Lionsgate/Summit, John Wick is an extremely stylish revenge/thriller/action film that is surprisingly good and a great return-to-form for star Keanu Reeves.
Keanu Reeves stars as John Wick, a retired mafia hitman known among the criminal underground as “The Boogeyman” for his fierce killing skills and cold, calculating nature. When Wick’s wife dies suddenly of a terminal illness, Wick spends his days in mourning, driving his cherished ’69 Mustang and eventually finding some semblance of peace after bonding with a beagle puppy named Daisy. Wick’s newfound peace doesn’t last long, however, when the son of a Russian mobster injures Wick, kills his dog, and steals his car. Now he’s back in the game and out for revenge.
There’s quite a bit of world building in John Wick that often makes it seem as if the film was adapted from a book or graphic novel series. In addition to hitman Wick, there’s a whole bevy of cool characters that seem to have fallen out of a comic book. Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones) plays the sniveling Russian spoiled son of Michael Nyqvist’s Russian mobster. Willem Dafoe plays a rival hitman/friend to Wick. The Wire’s Clark Peters is another hitman and friend of Wick. Dean Winters, Lance Reddick (who appeared on Oz which starred Dean Winters), John Leguizamo, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan and the always excellent Ian McShane round out the surprisingly deep cast.
Though John Wick is a simple revenge film, it is loaded with well-directed action set pieces and great stunts. The film doesn’t rely heavily on CGI, opting instead for practical effects whenever it can. The hand-to-hand combat is surprisingly visceral and thrilling, and reminiscent of the kung fu fun from The Matrix crossed with the stylish Shanghai sequences of Skyfall. The film doesn’t contain any of the annoying jump-cuts popular among 00s action films either. The fact that it is coherently shot and staged is a big compliment considering I imagine it had about a quarter of the budget of a big summer tentpole picture.
The film does take a bit of time to get going, but that gives us a chance to understand the inner workings of Wick himself, and though Reeves has always been a limited performer, he is great in roles like this. The film’s action set pieces are coherently framed and shot, but the story itself drags a bit in places. I love the idea of the assassin’s code the film brings up, and this idea is something that can readily be explored in sequels, but it unfortunately doesn’t amount to much in this film. I can easily look past that, however, as John Wick’s ambition plenty outweighs its failings. It is a stylish and slick action film with a ton of great characters, competent direction, visceral violence, and a solid Reeves performance. Wick is a total winner.