A Kung Fu Kick of Old Fashioned, Escapist Fun
Keanu Reeves is known for three things: The Matrix, Speed and his staccato, off-kilter delivery. Throw in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure if you’re a child of the 80’s. Most people forget he wasn’t always the go to bad impression for your “not that funny” buddy. For a few years, he was one of the biggest stars on the planet. A victim of bad choices and horrible scripts, the former A-lister has been in career freefall.
But that doesn’t mean Keanu is completely washed up. He’s still a physical presence who throws himself into every role, regardless of how bad it might be. Reeves didn’t work as Neo because of his ability to connect with actors. He was great at looking menacing while doing back flips. A perfect way to have some fun before awards season, John Wick is exactly the sort of film Keanu Reeves should be staring in. Like a creamy sorbet before a big steak dinner, John Wick is a palette cleansing joy ride.
The story is as simplistic as it gets. After losing his wife to cancer, John Wick is ready to settle down, quit assassinating and quietly mourn. But when he loses his favorite car and a puppy to some murderous thugs, Wick comes out of retirement to inflict bloody revenge, Charles Bronson style.
And that’s about it. There is not a single surprise or original idea in John Wick’s entire plot. The story is standard, revenge thriller fare and the characters are cut from cookie molds. We’ve been down this road a thousand times with a thousand different flicks.
Luckily, with action this good, a compelling story is completely optional. Much like my gold standard of “good stupid” movies, Commando, there’s just enough character motivation and plot to keep us invested. They killed the man’s dog and stole his Mustang. Reason enough for anybody to go on a rampage.
Pulling from his extensive experience as a Hollywood stunt man, director Chad Stahelski stages the action with flair and confidence. The most striking aspect is the close range gun play. Rather than ducking behind cover and firing away like a video game, Reeves wields his pistols like exploding edge weapons. The effect combines the power of a gun shot with the fluidity of martial arts. Thanks to this and some fantastic fight choreography, action has a poetic yet visceral feel.
In the lead role, Reeves is rock sold as our anger filled hero. He’s a bit more weathered than he was back in 1999, but that lends even more authenticity to his role as a semi-retired mafia hitman. Even the rare soft scene is deftly handled by the often parodied actor. The rest of the cast play their stereotypical roles well enough with the main highlight being a quick cameo by Willem Dafoe. It’s always awesome to see him in a movie.
With Oscar season bearing down like a runaway train, it’s important to take a break. Just lay back and have a good time. A perfect example of escapist cinema done right, John Wick is an electrifying and engaging bit of popcorn fun. Feel like having a guy’s night before the theaters gets filled with award hopefuls? John Wick will be your ticket to a grand old time.
Score – 8.5 out of 10