John Wick is a superior shoot ’em up
You’re not gonna find a better revenge thriller this year than John Wick, a smarter-than average action spectacle that’s one of the best of the genre.
As far as plot goes, John Wick is hardly complicated, but do you really need an overly complex action revenge flick? Hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) comes out of retirement — not for one final payday — but to get payback on some gangsters who take the last few things of meaning in his life.
Viggo (Michael Nyqvist, Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol) reluctantly leads his troops and hired guns against Wick, who is determined to take out Viggo’s son, Iosef (Alfie Allen, Plastic), whose rash actions lead to Wick’s comeback.
Directors David Leitch and Chad Stahleski fully grasp what audiences want to see here – an efficient protagonist who is single-minded in his quest for revenge.
While John Wick marks their first directorial effort, the two make full use of their background as stunt/fight coordinators in films including The Expendables, Rambo and Ninja Assassin to stage intricate, but clean action scenes with long-takes instead of the rapid-edit format that has become the genre norm.
Despite Wick’s combat efficiency — two shots to the head is his preferred way of dispatching opposition — Leitch and Stahleski avoid the trap of making the film too gratuitously violent, relying on mood, lighting and a tone-appropriate soundtrack to give it an extra oomph.
Wick is the kind of role that Nicholas Cage would love to headline as it’s right up his alley. But since it’s also the kind of film he’d ruin with another over-the-top performance, we’re all much better off that Reeves got the part instead.
While Wick isn’t an especially demanding character and the role plays to Reeves’ strengths — another steely, controlled character — Reeves fits the part perfectly and he offers up enough to make you care about Wick besides his jaw-dropping ways of killing bad guys.
The film also boasts some great supporting performances from Willem Dafoe as Wick’s friend/fellow hit man Marcus; Ian McShane as Winston, the de facto head of the New York assassins’ guild; Adrianne Palicki as a rival assassin and Dean Winters, who steps out from his All State Mayhem commercials in a fun role as Viggo’s right-hand man, Avi.
What sets John Wick apart from the standard revenge kill ‘em all flick is the take it seriously, but have fun with it approach of screenwriter Derek Kolstad. There’s an entire assassin society from cleaning crews, payment system to a strict code of conduct to abide by and if they decide to break rank, it’ll cost more than their reputation.
That dominant theme of respect is a key element to the film and adds a certain mystique that makes you curious about the back story and past relationships of the characters.
Kolstad uses a few ideas from Unforgiven with the retired assassin who has to fight off a little rust and ultimately living up to his well-earned feared reputation. Nyqvist may have the line of the movie as Viggo reacts to news of Iosef getting on Wick’s bad side. Kolstad has a keen sense of when to interject a little humor into the mix and it works to great effect like the cop checking on a disturbance at Wick’s and the overly polite hotel clerk (Lance Reddick).
John Wick delivers everything you expect and is a superior entry in the action revenge genre. This should provide Reeves with a new vehicle to flex his star power muscle.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: David Lee/Lionsgate Publicity