John Wick, 2014.
Directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski.
Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane and Lance Reddick.
An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him.
Since that fateful day when Keanu Reeves fired his gun in the air and yelled “aaaarrrrgggh” he’s become a regular in the action genre. He dipped his toes with Point Break. He experienced box office and pop culture success with Speed, before ending the century as Neo in The Matrix, arguably the most significant action movie of the last 20 years in terms of cult-following, pop culture reference and blue printing future action films (even if The Matrix pilfered from more sources, than films in turn have since aped The Matrix).
Whilst Reeves has often been dismissed as someone lacking in acting range, what he has done is take to the action world with great aplomb and enthusiasm. He does a lot of his own stunts. He throws himself into whatever he’s doing and takes his job very seriously. The crash course Martial arts training delivered to him in The Matrix trilogy has made him a very believable on screen fighter. He might not need to be making space on his mantle for an Oscar, but Reeves knows how to work hard. So now we have John Wick. A film that on paper sounds like a sillier version of Taken. At a modest 20 million budget, and with Reeve long since departed from box office radar, one might have assumed it was a glorified straight to Netflix special. It is not. It’s Reeve’s throwing his hat into the “mature action hero” ring. Now he may be 50 now, but he barely looks a day over 30. John Wick took critics by storm in the US at the tail end of last year. It’s garnered a cult following since and finally arrives on UK shores.
So does John Wick live up to the hype? The matured Reeves plays the titular Wick. A former go to man for any dirty jobs required by the criminal underworld. Hit man, collector and enforcer. Wick was the best of the best, leaving a reputation that precedes him throughout the film. He gave up after finding love, but when his wife dies from cancer, Wick is alone. His wife made arrangements and had a (very cute) dog delivered to him. Wick is given a companion and a last gift from his late wife. So Wick is left with two things he loves; The little dog and his car. When the car attracts the attention of Iosef, son of Wick’s former employer Vigo, Wick’s world is shattered. His car is stolen, his dog is killed and he’s left beaten, alone and hell bent on revenge. From then on the film focuses on Wick going up against the criminal underworld he once worked with and wiping out hordes of them to get to Iosef and Vigo and get his revenge.
John Wick does indeed live up to the hype. It’s a fast pace thrill ride. The plot is pretty simple. There’s no particularly deep characterisation but it is very well delivered. It’s still perhaps surprising that the critical reception was so positive. But we are recently starved of well made R rated action films, and despite its simplicity it’s made with ruthless efficiency. Stunt man turned director, Chad Stahelski handles proceedings very well. He delivers a slick film loaded with good action.
The action scenes are a delight for fans who miss the days when one could see what was going on before them. The days before action film-makers started doing bad imitations of the Bourne style, or Tony Scott films from the turn of the century. All shaky cam, avid farts, blistering edits and pointless camera flourishes, all captured in overly tight shots. Stahelski, perhaps given his stunt background, hangs the camera back, allowing the viewer to see clearly what is going on (and appreciate the work of the stunt men and actors). In addition it’s imaginatively choreographed and Reeve’s moves incredibly nimbly here and looks very convincing in the fights. In fact he’s better here than he ever was in the Matrix fights. These sequences are more rough and ready.
In spite of the low budget the film has a great deal of action of course, but in addition a very fine cast. Willem Defoe and John Leguizamo pop up and are reliable as always, whilst Michael Nyqvist is a suitably slimy villain. Reeves has certainly matured as an actor over the years. Even as Neo he always seemed somewhat blank. That worked for the character to some extent (certainly in the first film) but as Wick, there’s a little bit more gravitas about Reeves. It’s not even particularly about looking older, as the guy appears to be ageless, but even if his skin doesn’t show his years, his performance here does. It’s nothing Earth shattering. He shouldn’t be stocking up on brasso just yet, but he’s good, without the slight air of gormlessness sometimes associated with his characters. He plays a man who doesn’t always give much away on the surface but occasionally the inner turmoil slips out. It’s a fine job by Reeve’s.
Whilst Wick has proved a success. Earning back a good amount on it’s meagre budget, it’s a shame in many ways that this didn’t capture the same sort of wave that Taken did for Liam Neeson. I enjoyed the first Taken. It was refreshing. It was infinitely more popular among audiences than critics and the box-office returns were huge. Wick has all those elements that should work. So why did Neeson prove a big box office drawer, but not Reeves, who in actuality is a longer standing veteran of the action genre? In principal too, Reeves should appeal to the younger markets more. If Taken is a film that grosses over 100 million dollars, then why not John Wick? Wick is a better film with better action and just as pulsatingly efficient in its delivery. Taken has lasted 3 films and could carry on if Neeson were willing. Wick will probably not get that far. In some regards that’s a shame, but of course given how the Taken sequels turned out, perhaps also a blessing.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★