“John Wick” came out in October over in the States, so naturally I’d read a lot about it prior to seeing it. I knew the crux of the story and it wasn’t hard to buy into the premise, because I knew exactly what I was getting in for. This is an action movie, it really is as easy to sum up as that. It has all the genre tropes and it displays them with pride. It doesn’t try to break convention, instead it thrives on what makes the genre so great and strives to be as entertaining for its audience as it can possibly be. I think that’s admirable, and I also think that it’s a good film, because it has achieved everything that it set out to, creating a movie which its target audience will appreciate and enjoy.
This film is all about the titular character, a retired hitman grieving the loss of his wife, out for revenge after things go array early in the movie. Wick is played by Keanu Reeves, someone who we know is able to play the action man, because he did that very thing in “The Matrix”. In this film he has a certain charm and charisma, even if sometimes his actual acting ability lets him down, and at nearly 50 years old he’s still able to seem genuinely powerful. John Wick is as adept with his hands as he is with a gun, and he earns the title of ‘the guy you send to kill the Boogeyman’ after his first fight scene.
The movie really works as a revenge thriller, because you can’t help but feel for Wick as he attempts to get on with his normal life, before the last truly good thing he has is taken away from him. Although that is a clichéd premise, and I do dislike clichés, it doesn’t feel as though the movie is a joke as a result. There is a constant sense that the writers are aware of how they are manipulating genre conventions in order to create a compelling plot, so when clichés are popping up here, there, and everywhere, it feels more like a nod to the movies that made action movies great, rather than the result of a script that has been lazily put together.
Wick himself is seemingly invincible, and he would’ve been killed one hundred times over if he had been on the other side of the story, but the way that he’s talked about and regarded explains why that is the case. He’s the best of the best, so you expect him to be able to do crazy and ridiculous things, even if he is often aided by bad guys who can’t aim a gun to save their lives!
Wick was very lucky, it has to be said, but the film gets away with that by situating the action sequences in closed spaces. The style of fighting that Wick prefers has been called ‘gun-fu’ by certain internet personalities, and I think that this is a very fitting title. He utilises close combat most of the time, and he isn’t shy of shooting a villain in the face from point blank range after a short fist fight. Having most of the action sequences take place within close confines is a good idea when you want your protagonist to seem untouchable, because it allows him to hide in the shadows and strike when things are in his favour, meaning that he can disarm his enemies and use his skill to neutralise them.
The choreography is meticulous, as each fight feels like it has been designed with care. There’s a lot of quick movement and extras running in and out of the shot, but they all do their jobs and are convincing as they are flung to the floor or involved in an extended battle. Everything feels fluid, and it often feels as though you’re watching the actors dance around the screen.
The cast is good, and almost everyone does their job perfectly well, with Dafoe and Reeves perfectly fitting their characters. However, the villains could’ve been better cast. Alfie Allen is as hateable as ever, but his accent was poor and I couldn’t help but think of him as Theon from “Game of Thrones”. I didn’t believe that he was Russian or American, so I don’t really know what he was going for. I don’t think that he should’ve been cast, and I think that his inclusion was an attempt to get more star power into the film, rather than a careful decision that would benefit the film the most.
“John Wick” reminds me of older action movies that everyone loves, films like “Commando”, “Predator” and “Rambo”. In those films Schwarzenegger and company didn’t speak very often, because they were glorified stunt men, not actors, and in this film Reeves does the same. If we are honest with ourselves we can probably accept that Reeves isn’t a great actor, but he’s a movie star; his filmography will tell you that much. He can pull off the protagonist if you make his dialogue sparse and make the stakes high, because although his delivery leaves something to be desired, he’s likeable enough and he has a range of facial expressions. The filmmakers seem to understand that, and as a result Reeves shines and cements himself as an actor that can carry a film if you cater to his ability.
“John Wick” has received a lot of praise and gained an enthusiastic fan base, and I can completely see why. It’s not a great movie, but it is an excellent action movie, especially considering some of the snore fests that we have to sit through over the course of a calendar year. It has an abundance of adrenaline, guns and death, on top of a setup which is bound to get even the nicest pacifist begging for bloodshed. It works on a number of levels, and although it’s derivative and highly clichéd, it knows what it wants to be and is very well executed, making it one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen so far this year.