With John Wick we have an American film that is so reminiscent of a Korean, over the top, revenge action thriller. As we open we are introduced to John Wick: Recently widowed, he has his car stolen and his new puppy, a last present from his deceased wife, killed by a petulant, obnoxious, entitled Russian gangster’s son, Iosef. When the head of the mob, Viggo, finds out and informs his son of what he has done, that is when this film starts down it’s path to greatness…
John Wick, from the moment he gets wronged is pretty much non stop action, supreme violence and style. Having done his best to extricate himself from the world of assassins and killings, John has inexorably been drawn back into that world in order to exact his revenge on those who took away the very things that were keeping him grounded, keeping him attached to this real world.
The mythology about John, being built up before we get to see him in action is utterly superb, you are given the stories, the legends and you don’t know how to feel about it; Is he really the Boogeyman, Baba Yaga? This adds so much to the film, heightening to anticipation for when we do get to see him in action. And when it does arrive it is glorious. Amazing fight scenes, astounding gun work (similar in style to Equilibrium’s Gun-kata but less showy, more direct and functional), and just that sense that this is a guy not to be fucked with. The manner in which he talks to acquaintances and colleagues gives a sense that this kind of multiple killing isn’t a major thing, just like every other day, just a normal day job to all of these people in the Continental. This all adds to the collective scene, these assassins going about their business, but behaving like they are normal everyday people doing nothing more than a desk job. It is wonderful absurdity amongst the full on fighting. The aura and rules surrounding the Continental hotel, this base of operations and safe-house, is a wonderful touch. Elevating them above the underground and into the mainstream. These aren’t just lone assassins working off their own backs, these are well funded, well organised professional people who take pride, and with some a great deal of pleasure, in the killing of others.
For a first film Chad Stahelski has done an utterly superb job in bringing this story to life. Sticking close to his stunt roots, we are served with a healthy diet of action and minimal amounts of exposition and it works perfectly in this film. Couple the hard work that the actors, Keanu particularly, put in to get these scenes done with the amazing work from cinematographer Jonathan Sela and we have something that has style and substance.
Keanu Reeves is perfectly cast as John Wick, harking back to his Matrix Neo days, totally embodying the character, bringing him to life and exploding on the screen with some quite astounding sequences, albeit with more guns for him this time than fists and feet. Alfie Allen as Iosef does a great job in passing himself off as the entitled brat, knowing nothing more than getting what he wants, when he wants it and not having to pay for the consequences. Michael Nyqvist brings some gravitas to mob boss Viggo, playing it perfectly between wanting to protect his son and realising what he is up against. And then we have Winston, the owner of the Continental Hotel and upholder of the rules and laws of this society, good old Ian McShane who just appears to be getting better with age and I remember him from his Lovejoy days!
All in all, John Wick is a great update to the action films that were so prevalent in the late 90s but bringing a fresh look, and pushing the envelope of action and style into a new direction. Add this to the mythology and the society of assassins and you have a very compelling and interesting film that you want to see more of.