Thursday, January 15, 2015

John Wick

  I want very badly to call this movie Keanu Reeves' comeback. Unfortunately, it's not like he ever really left. He just kept making underwhelming stuff. And then he made John Wick. Holy balls. John Wick is the kind of flick Keanu was born to make. It's probably his most emotionally charged movie too, which is astonishing considering how simple and gleefully action-minded it is. He emotes like a seasoned stage actor, taking us through the gamut; grief, anger, rage, depression, and even joy for a moment or two. What's amazing is that for once, he's given the perfect material to work with and his acting is on par with the stunts. I don't think Reeves is ever really a bad actor, he's just an actor who needs a part tailored for him. He gets miscast in a lot of movies, but suffice it to say, John Wick is not one of them.

  Reeves plays the eponymous title character, who used to be a hitman of sorts for the Russian mob. At one point however, he met the love of his life and made a deal with the boss to retire from the life. He actually pulled it off and got out, to live happily ever after with his wife. Unfortunately, an illness claimed her life, and as a parting gift... she left John an adorable Beagle puppy, named Daisy. Then, not a day later, the son of his old boss takes a liking to Wick's car, not knowing who he is. Then, having turned down their offer to buy it from him, they break into his house at night... beat him to a pulp, steal his car, and kill his dog. This sends the entire Russian mob into a panic because this jumped up little shit just send the boogeyman himself into a blind rage.

  Wick dives back into his old life, calling up old acquaintances and meeting familiar faces again. All as he systematically kills his way to the boss' son, Iosef. This is a very simple story. It's cut and dry, black and white, no nonsense. It's also full of neat scenes and awesome secondary characters. Unfortunately, these little interludes, particularly one where Wick seeks lodging at a fancy hotel that seems to be a no-business zone for hitmen and the like- these scenes interrupt the pacing of the movie. They're also one of the chief highlights. John Wick isn't just a plain action movie, it creates a whole world for it's characters to inhabit. One full of shadowy clubs, unspoken rules, and secret alliances. It's really immersive, interesting, and endlessly fun.

  Oddly enough, this movie feels like a sequel. All these familiar faces feel like ones we should've seen before. Not that the movie ever leaves us in the dark as to who they are, it handles that adequately enough, but... even the backstory seems like it could use it's own movie. A prequel maybe, one that has Wick pulling off that one last "impossible" job for the Russians, essentially earning his freedom and riding off into the sunset with his ill-fated wife. It's a whole movie right there, and it's one we don't get to see. I want to see it. Namely because more John Wick at this point can't possibly be a bad thing. I'm skirting around the real topic of discussion here, the real star of the movie...

the action.

  ...And holy hell, is there action. I suppose the fact that John Wick was directed by Keanu Reeves' longtime stunt double Chad Stahelski played a big hand in how slick and well shot all the action is. Every single fight is choreographed down to every last bullet, every single movement, and nothing is wasted. Nothing is superfluous. As an action fan, I think the highlight of any action movie is when they do something you don't see a lot, or they do something unique in an action scene. Off the top of my head, just about every fight scene from The Raid (and it's sequel), and even the shootouts in Dredd. They all managed to be really creative, and at the least they were all exceptionally well executed. However, action movies become a drag when all they are is guys blindly firing guns at each other while the camera shakes like it's having an epileptic seizure.

  John Wick doesn't roll like that. Each shootout is paced, tracked, and choreographed. Reeves moves through the scenes with calculated precision, shooting, punching, kicking and judo-flipping enemies as he sees fit. He moves and fights like clockwork. This does more than just give us mind-blowingly cool action scenes, this infuses something into the character of John Wick. This is a guy who the entire Russian mob is afraid of... and the movie is keen to show us exactly why. Wick is a goddamn machine. They way he fights and shoots is part of his character. It's why he's the best. The whole movie hinges on that selling point. He has to be frighteningly good at killing. He can't be a stock action hero. He has to be on the next level of convincing badassery. I'm happy to report, Keanu pulls it off like he was The One all over again.

  Not since The Matrix have I seen him in a movie that utilizes him so well. John Wick is a very good movie. It has a few hangups with the length of the story, and a few momentum hiccups, but I'd be lying if I said I felt these were serious issues. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. With any movie I feel like there's a checklist of a few little things to ask yourself when reviewing it. Would I watch it again? Would I buy it? Would I recommend it to others? When it comes to the case of John Wick, for all three questions, the answer is a resounding "Yes."  It's been too long of a time since I saw a Keanu Reeves vehicle that blew my hair back, because most of his post-Matrix filmography is either moderate (Constantine, Street Kings) to snore inducing (The Day The Earth Stood Still) and some unfortunate misfires (47 Ronin). So, regardless of how you wanna look at it, John Wick is a supremely satisfying return to form for Keanu, and a breath of fresh air for action fans.

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