The newest Keanu Reeves vehicle, John Wick, is as slick and sleek as the car driven by the titular protagonist. Throughout the 90-minute super-cut of fights and deaths brought on by murder of Wick’s dog and theft of his ’69 Mustang, the bloody fantasy delivers exactly what it promises — with a vengeance.
Co-directed by former stuntmen David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, there’s no surprise that the combat is impressive and imaginative. The curveball, and indeed the brilliance behind John Wick, is the restraint of the filmmakers. A callback to the art house action of films like Hard Boiled (1992) and the more recent Drive (2011), most of the violence is captured in wide shots and long takes, allowing the audience to admire the skill and the strength of the assassins.
No shaky cam. No extreme close-ups of heads hitting banisters or fingers pulling triggers. No Michael Bay-isms. It’s crisp, clean and suspenseful. You’ll be on the edge of your seat, tapping your knees or your buddy’s shoulder, all the while mouthing “holy fuck.”
On paper, the plot is a beat sheet of the moth-eaten revenge genre — a flick that would star Keanu Reeves; it’s more a regurgitation of the action flicks that kicked Keanu to the top in the ‘90s than a throwback. With most thrill rides, the story comes second to cutthroats and gunshots, and here the filmmakers remain reverent to the formula. With one exception: they know what they’re doing. It’s predictable, and therein lies the fun.
John Wick is as straight-forward as it is self-contained. To give you an idea: there’s a scene that cuts between the killers preparing for murder and whatnot while the song “Killing Strangers” by Marilyn Manson plays in the background. You might roll your eyes if you weren’t so transfixed, staring glassy-eyed at the screen, watching Keanu do donuts in a cool car around bad guys, knowing what’s to come and not being able to hold back a smile.
It’s a fast-burning flick and the lack of exposition adds to the mystery and creates a unique environment, uncommon in your typical fare. Despite firefights in the middle of intersections in Manhattan, there are no cops, or really any interactions with characters who aren’t holding a weapon (well, there’s the lady who delivers the dog, but — who knows? — she might be a petnapper).
It’s as if the city itself has become the underworld, and organized crime is the only occupation. New York City acts as the perfect backdrop to the action as the buildings more or less look the same: one might be offices, another apartments, or perhaps a respite for the world’s craziest killers. The funnest set piece of the film is The Continental, a hotel for the corrupt, a safe-zone where everyone knows each other; inside they have each others backs but on the outside, they will as easily have their heads: A friend noted it’s like Hogwarts for assassins.
Not to a fault, everyone in the film is typecast, and the best of them is Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy of Game of Thrones), who plays another ‘lesser son of a greater father’ who enjoys taking from others what they love most — this time killing Keanu’s puppy. Who knows what atrocities Allen will commit on screen next? Keanu, of course, plays Keanu, the perfect poker face, on top of his game like never before. Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, and John Leguizamo also appear in small but essential roles.
John Wick is not to be missed, whether in the theater (strongly recommended) or on your couch with a beer and a pizza. However tempting to take a shot for every shot, don’t make it a drinking game. You will die. Like everyone Keanu meets.
Before I leave you, I must note the similarity of John Wick to one of my favorite flicks of 2012: Jack Reacher. In addition to being titular heroes, everyone seems to know their names, fearing what they might do or how they might react, and they are both ruthless, back-breaking machines.
Jack Reacher was green lit for a sequel. Given the acclaim and box office return of John Wick (exceeding expectations with 14.4 million its opening weekend), I guarantee we’ll see more of Wick, a property that deserves a franchise. I will let each of the respective films have three sequels (that seems fair, no?), and then I will attack! So I share with you — for your enjoyment, but mostly for my own pleasure — my newest passion project, Reach 4 the Wick.
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Followed by Wick V. Reacher: Face/Off, the sequel of the crossover of John Wick and Jack Reacher, and the spiritual sequel to Face/Off, because you all know you want it. Obviously, you are very welcome. Spoiler: Nic Cage and John Travolta will have cameos.
Updates on both projects are forthcoming. Anyone got 300 million bucks they could loan me?