John Wick (2014)

THAT…was a kick-ass flick! Smiles all around! Keanu Reeves hits the ground running in this revenge thriller and hits it with a vengeance! This is certainly one of those instances where I whole-heartedly agree with the advance reviews regarding this flick’s potential as a solid contender for getting Keanu’s recently stumbling career back on track (Boo, ’47 Ronin’…Boo!). He’s awesome here…and so is this movie. One of the many elements that I appreciated was the simplicity of the story-line.
The Story.
Reeves plays the titular character ‘John Wick’. ‘John’ is a recent widower, with a questionable and possibly sinister history bubbling just below the surface. When we first meet him, he’s just endured the untimely ‘passing’ of his wife, from natural causes of some undisclosed kind. He’s caught in a mundane existence that seems to lack a purpose that must’ve driven him before. He exists in a regimented loop that seems to be going nowhere fast. A short while after the funeral, a package arrives at his door. It seems that his late wife, foreseeing the fate that was to befall her, wanted to cushion the blow and provide SOMETHING to ease ‘John’s inevitable pain. And thus enters one of the cutest puppies to ever grace The Silver Screen. After some initial reluctance and uncertainty, ‘John’ takes a shine to the little scamp…and begins showing signs of cracks in his shell of depression. Then…he has an unfortunate chance encounter with a little Russian dirt-bag sack of shit at a gas station; an encounter that results in a single line of offending Russian dialogue…and a sign of dangerous things to come. In short order, ‘John’ has some unpleasant nocturnal visitors…and his course is set. From here on, it becomes a straight-forward quest for revenge through an impressively-realized New Jersey criminal underworld.
Right there is one of the aspects of this flick that I found so endearing. There is a criminal community that operates on a code; one that ‘John’ had fairly walked away from 5 years prior, but now finds himself pulled back into. He encounters a captivating collection of former colleagues and ‘operators’, characters that help fill in some of the ‘fibre’ of ‘John’s murky character. It’s made clear that he has charm and ability, and is respected for both by a good number of people; people who occupy each side of the conflict at hand. It’s nice to see a ‘lone wolf’ character who isn’t an irreparable introvert and can successfully garner support and resources through adherence to The Code that governs the primary characters involved; melded with the aforementioned charm.
The Action.
First and foremost, this flick is an ACTION movie…and it’s one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. For a dude who just hit the big 50, Reeves brings ‘it’ in the many, many scenes of hard-hitting, solidly-R Rated action. The man can fight and move like a pro!! The fight sequences are ‘down n dirty’, and look like they friggin hurt. There isn’t a sense of excessively over-cooked choreography (though there must’ve been, to pull off what they did), and more than once I caught myself openly grinning at the high-speed and inventively brutal fisticuffs and loud, kinetic gunfights that erupt across the screen on multiple occasions. The filmmakers were smart about how they filmed and staged the fights, not content to cut the living shit out of the footage in the editing room. We get tons of shots and sequences where we can actually make out and follow the geography of the combat…and it’s nasty! It’s a nice change from the normal ADHD-style editing that we encounter all too often these days.
As I mentioned, this one is ‘Restricted’, and with damn good reason. Aside from lots of broken bones, we get vicious stabbings, gory gunshot wounds (usually to the head, from about 2 inches away), beatings and several destroyed vehicles. There’s a cool sequence where a hit squad makes the mistake of entering ‘Wick’s home uninvited and they pay the ultimate price, in a gloriously deserved fashion. The same could be said of a slickly-executed attack on a Russian-controlled steam bath / night club that rivals just about every other ‘gunfight in night club’ scene from numerous past films. The various action scenes come fast and furiously, with just enough narrative connective tissue to keep the plot moving at an exciting pace. I wasn’t bored once during the entire run-time.
The Style.
Strangely enough, if I HAVE to compare the visual style of this flick to any other, it’s another Keanu Reeves film that instantly springs to mind, coincidentally enough. ‘Constantine’ (2005) shares a stylistic kinship with ‘John Wick’, in that it also used a ‘lived in’ aesthetic, mixed with nice use of vibrant colors and lighting. Now that I think about it, the two movies are similar in more ways than that. ‘Constantine’ had a fully realized ‘world’ that the character of ‘Constantine’ existed in, filled with interesting individuals who all had ‘history’ with our protagonist, and who all lived by (or at least, acknowledged) a Code that kept a sense of order to the potentially chaotic environment. Same thing here. But, visually-speaking, THAT underrated (IMO) flick VERY much reminded me of THIS flick. I also noted that someone could make the mistake of thinking that Michael Bay (on a day when he wasn’t jacked on stimulants and was able to hold a shot for longer than 2.5 seconds) lens’d this one. There were some visual aspects that he could be accused of inspiring on display here. Certain lighting choices and compositions had his ‘look’ to them, only shown in a FAR more disciplined manner.
The Cast
It’s a full house! We get all kinds of famous faces turning up to tell this violent little tale. Aside from Reeves kicking ass as ‘John Wick’, we get Willem Dafoe (‘Platoon’) as a long time associate of ‘Wick’s, Michael Nyquist (‘Mission Impossible 3: Ghost Protocol’) as the Russian Mob Boss father to the catalyst of the whole problem, Alfie Allen (‘Game of Thrones’) as said catalyst, Lance Reddick (‘Fringe’) as an efficient and slightly sinister hotel concierge, Adriane Palicki (‘G.I.Joe: Retaliation’) as a sexy but dangerous fellow assassin, Ian McShane (‘Deadwood’) as a powerful but fair kingpin set on enforcing The Code, John Leguizamo (‘The Pest’) as a loyal chop-shop operator and David Patrick Kelly (‘The Crow’) as a Grim Reaper-like ‘cleaner’….among others. Everybody brings their ‘game face’.
The Sound
The sound effects were crisp and effective, with every punch or gunshot kicking the audience in the gut with the booming low-end, with distinctive little ‘incidentals’ (shell casings, broken glass etc) filling in the ‘gaps’. The Music Score, by long-time Zack Snyder collaborator Tyler Bates, maintained a perfect tone for the ‘flavor’ of the slick, carried along with a distinct electronic edge.
All in all, ‘John Wick’ was exactly what I hoped it would be. Hell, even my girlfriend, who normally wouldn’t seek out this sort of testosterone-fueled entertainment, said that she enjoyed it a lot more than she expected. It’s a simple but well-told action thriller with a great cast, interesting characters, an emotionally driven ‘reason’ for being, kick-ass action sequences (that you can follow!), and a tone that is unapologetically aimed at an adult audience. In THAT respect, it’s quite similar to another well-made revenge flick that I reviewed recently, that being ‘The Equalizer’ (2014). The stories of the two movies can easily be accused of being similar, but THAT doesn’t mean a damn thing. Both are good at what they’re trying to accomplish, with ‘John Wick’ SLIGHTLY edging ‘The Equalizer’ into Second Place as my preferred Revenge Flick of 2014 (so far), if only for the accelerated pacing. I highly recommend ‘John Wick’. I hope that it does well at the box office and spawns a couple sequels to further explore the world we’re shown, and to further flesh out the ‘John Wick’ character and his associates. People!…go see ‘John Wick’!

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