Movie Review: John Wick

Any Keanu fans in the house?

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Starring:
Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Willem Defoe
Director:
Chad Stahelski (New)
Rating: MA15+
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Say what you will about Keanu Reeves, but there is one kind of role he does really, even spectacularly, well. When he’s on a screen, not saying anything, dropping villains and acting like a general badass, there are few who can match his magnetism. That’s what helps make his latest film, John Wick, one of the most surprising movie outings of the year, but it isn’t what makes it an instant recommendation from yours truly if you enjoy action. No, what makes it so good is its astonishingly effective commitment to world building within a short time frame. If you enjoyed Liam Neeson‘s Taken but wished every one-man-army action movie since its release hadn’t felt exactly the same, you need to go see John Wick.

As its trailers lay out, the set-up of John Wick follows the tragic death of the title character’s beloved wife, who loses her battle with cancer in the movie’s opening minutes. As John mourns her passing, he receives a pre-meditated delivery from her – a Jack Russell terrier for him to love and cherish, so he doesn’t have to “mourn alone”. Then the unthinkable happens – a gang of thugs affiliated with the Russian mafia break into his home and, in the process of stealing his car, kill the dog. But said thugs have no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into, because John Wick just happens to be one of the world’s most formidable retired hitmen, and they just pissed him off. You can guess the rest.

If your eyes have started to glaze over at this point at the sheer familiarity of such a plot line, you have reason to be concerned, but bear with me. The genius of John Wick lies not in its admittedly predictable narrative-related trope usage, but in the way said tropes come together. Before the legendary hitman even starts to get his hands dirty, the handful of preceding scenes essentially devote themselves to painting a picture in the audience’s mind of Wick’s legendary past exploits, to the point where every mention of his name provokes a very obvious reaction. This is played for laughs just as much as it is for the “Rule of Cool”, especially in the brilliant scene when Michael Nyqvist‘s Russian mobster character Viggo Tarasov is introduced. The action itself is certainly cool, and a little different from the norm with its emphasis on super close quarters pistol fire and angular martial arts, but it isn’t what makes the movie – the surrounding content is.

Wick and Tarasov are just two of the players in the film’s imaginative global society of assassins. First-time feature film director Chad Stahelski and his team waste very little screen time crafting an expansive network of contract killers that live by a very specific code, and seeing the film’s many different kinds of hitmen interacting according to this code is fascinating. If anything, this framework is probably a tad underused, especially since two of said hitmen are played by Willem Defoe and Ian McShane. Every scene they grace is highly entertaining, and they don’t get nearly enough exposure.

John Wick may do things in a rather by-the-numbers fashion when it comes to story, but it’s characters, sense of humour and set-up more than make up for it, and with Keanu’s best foot placed firmly forward, John Wick comes out a far better movie than it perhaps might have been. Stahelski may just be a director to watch.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Exceptional world building, cool action, very funny, Keanu does Keanu
Bad:
Underused setting, formulaic plot
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515/110A M A Z I N G

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