It’s nice to see an action film that acknowledges its own ridiculousness and uses said aspect to its own advantage come from Hollywood, given as it is a trait that made John Woo’s Hong Kong gun fu films so distinctive. In that sense it may be a perfect film but to blow off a good hour and forty minutes, one can go ahead and look no further than the fun that comes along the ride with Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s John Wick, with Keanu Reeves at some of the most energetic he’s been with an action movie since the 1990’s in Speed and The Matrix. This sort of joy comes around like a video game inviting oneself to play along, and its awareness on that count makes for something undeniably fun.
Keanu Reeves stars as the titular character, John Wick. John Wick’s backstory is a simple one, he once was a hitman and after retirement, his wife had died and left him a puppy to cope. Soon, John Wick is brought back into his game after a group of Russian mobsters unwittingly find themselves tied up with the troubled hitman after they steal his car and kill his dog. What begins fairly simple sticks that way all throughout, but it’s only a testament to where the most unexpected thrills of John Wick come along. It knows everything necessary for what makes a fun action movie and revels in that sort of joy, all that could ever be expected of such a film.
Chad Stahelski and David Leitch already have their history with action as stuntmen but now as they sit within the director’s chair, what can only be expected of the two of them is none other than a sense of overflowing joy with the beautiful action choreography as presented from start to finish – whether it be the gunplay or hand to hand combat. The very craft of such a sequence under the eyes of Stahelski and Leitch is truly impeccable, but there’s a sense of self-awareness that comes behind what they place behind the camera that makes for something even more rewarding in the end: and it holds up perfectly for revisits. It was perhaps the most unexpected trait that John Wick could present in itself, for it draws back to John Woo’s action films in some way while Leitch and Stahelski are comfortable enough in creating their own style.
Keanu Reeves is wonderful as the titular character as expected, but with the central focus around himself I feel that even some of the antagonistic forces whom he is fighting against through and through never get enough attention in order to warrant themselves memorable. Sure, Michael Nyqvist is a great actor to cast in the role of a tyrannical crime lord who will keep himself safe at the cost of the lives of numerous against whom he will be messing with, but the problem arises here: Viggo and Iosef Tarasov aren’t particularly memorable characters. They do their own services for the story’s own good, but the impact is never a particularly significant one given as they feel more along the lines of caricatures. It’s nice to see that Stahelski and Leitch aren’t taking such tropes overly seriously (which is a problem with many action films) but there’s not enough present to allow them the impact desired.
If at least something stands out regarding what John Wick accomplishes on the spot, it would be within its picture of a trial of grief – something that fits well for this sort of action film in order to get a greater sense of character through melodrama. But with John Wick what we have here is another portrait of grief that goes down to coping methods and for such a simple, if seemingly silly storyline, the amount of emotion that can be felt amidst what John Wick himself is developing into allows the film to withstand upon multiple viewings. Yet together with the sort of aesthetic as presented by the film’s visual style, there’s always something that keeps your eyes glued to the screen and it is not limited down to an action sequence, perhaps among the best things offered at hand.
John Wick feels like a 90’s film amidst the new decade, drawing back to the sort of joy that forms such films. It never takes itself as seriously, but that could only be a part of the fun provided. Chad Stahelski and David Leitch successfully play back upon the best qualities as offered by the action genre whether it goes back to the choreography or the visual style, but the fact they always seem so aware of even what appears so ridiculous at hand adds more to the joy that comes along. Maybe not the supposed “saviour” of the action genre that this decade was calling for, but if there were still anything that it provides, it’s a great way to kill around 100 minutes and on rewatches it still carries that joy.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Summit Entertainment.
Directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch
Screenplay by Derek Kolstad
Produced by Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria, Michael Witherill, James McTeigue
Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe
Release Year: 2014
Running Time: 101 minutes