Review — John Wick

Last Friday night I gathered with a few friends for a guy movie night, and we watched 2014’s John Wick, a movie I hadn’t previously seen. John Wick was one of those relatively low-budget R-rated films that sort of flies under the radar at the box office but blows up on home video. Still, with a budget of $20 million it managed to bring in $88.8 million at the box office. The sequel, which is still in theaters had a budget of $40 million (still modest) but has brought in over $158 million. That’s the kind of unexpected success movie studios love.

John Wick tells the story of a retired hitman (the titular character played by Keanu Reeves) who is in the process of grieving after the death of his wife (Bridget Moynahan). His only friend is a Beagle puppy that his wife sent him just before she died. John is forced to re-enter the game after his car is stolen and his puppy killed by some Russian mafia punks. What follows is some of the most incredible action you’re likely to see in this kind of movie.

John Wick is loaded with recognizable actors. In addition to the ones mentioned above you’ll find Willem DaFoe, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, and even Lost and Fringe actor Lance Reddick! Keanu Reeves is one of those actors who is an unlikely leading man. He’s got a quirky way of speaking that is all his own. Awkward as it is, it kinda works and I always like seeing him pop up in films.

I don’t know the full back story of this production, but co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch were stunt men on The Matrix where they met Reeves. He apparently recruited them to direct John Wick after signing on to star in the film. John Wick 2 even reunites Keanu with his Matrix co-star Lawrence Fishburne, but I have yet to see that one.

I loved John Wick. It is a delightful throwback to classic 80’s and 90’s action films (right down to the tropes) that manages to introduce a gunfighting style that, to me at least, was fresh and likely to inspire action movies for years to come. John Wick applies lethal force in a systematic, and emotionlessly efficient way that is darkly impressive. You’ve never seen as many headshots as you’ll see here, and John Wick must surely have one of the highest body counts of any movie in film history. The closest thing I can liken the gunfighting in John Wick to is the gunkata from Equilibrium, a movie that itself owes much to The Matrix. I’ve long wanted to see a new movie based around gunkata, and John Wick is as close as I’m probably ever going to get to that.

There were two cringe-worth moments, plot-wise for me in the film. The first was when, after John Wick had mowed through dozens of Russian mafia henchmen, the bad guys chose not to simply kill him after they captured him. The big baddie elected instead to monolog until John Wick could escape. The second was at the end when Wick and the bad guy insisted on throwing down their weapons and finishing it “like men”. I can’t decide whether these are actual weak moments worth criticizing, or intentional nods to the action genre. I’m leaning toward the latter though.

John Wick is a fun ride from beginning to end if you’re a fan of the action genre and aren’t squeamish at on-screen graphic gun violence. It’s a movie that knows what it is and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I can’t wait to see the sequel!