This is one of those films that gets more interesting the more you learn about it. I was reading an article on the upcoming third instalment of this franchise recently, and it detailed the origins of John Wick as a film, and it made for very interesting reading.
The apparent aim was to make a film where ‘Keanu Reeves kills 84 people’ why this figure is so precise I don’t know, and it wasn’t always written with Keanu in mind, as backwards as that seems, but eventually it was pitched as Keanu’s big action comeback, after a recent career slump, and it gave his career the shot in the arm it sorely needed.
Shot on a small budget, and only just managing to get a distributor, it’s a miracle it was such as success that it spawned further sequels, and a proposed spin-off. But is it as good as people remember?
Retired mob hitman John Wick is in mourning after losing his wife, when he receives a package from his late wife that instantly turns his life around: a puppy. After a confrontation with a mob boss’ son, John finds himself the victim of a robbery, and his dog is murdered, setting him on a bloody revenge mission.
Every once in a while, an action film comes along and takes everyone by surprise, a decade ago it was Taken, but Taken was never this cathartic or stylish.
Keanu Reeves has never been blessed with mastery of dramatic acting, what he can do is cold anti-hero’s, the directors of this saw this and made advantage of what they had, and made Keanu into a stone-cold killer with a sharp suit, and even sharper fighting style, with a swift pace and classic revenge tale, John Wick is a winner on almost every conceivable level.
What it adds to the time-tested archetypes it makes frequent use of is an undercurrent of noir stylishness, bathing scenes in bright neon, as if they were in Blade Runner, as opposed to a relatively low-budget action flick. It adds a crease of originality that spices up an otherwise run-of-the-mill action film.
It also stands out by making use of a wide range of fight scene, from frantic and claustrophobic hand-to-hand duels to fast and frantic gun battles, John Wick mixes its styles and tips its hat to many films that came before it, in a way that doesn’t pander to any particular style.
As mentioned earlier, Keanu Reeves is hardly going to be in Oscars contention any time soon, but he flourishes in the kind of environment that plays to his strengths, and I believe John Wick to be the best character for demonstrating Reeves’ skills. Neo in The Matrix was a bit of a blank slate, onto which Keanu’s limited charisma was projected, here he seems motivated and focused on bringing this character to life.
He is helped by the writing of the character, not only his characters, but those that surround him; Alfie Allen plays the perfect over-confident, easily hateable antagonist, he makes him so easily detestable that you can’t wait to see him meet his fate. Also, honourable mentions must go to experienced hands Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane, whose characters gives us a glimpse into the wider world this film created, and one that was elaborated upon in the sequel.
In conclusion, John Wick is not just an enjoyable time, it’s stylish and vibrant enough to make it a worthwhile artistic statement, rather than just another popcorn film. It sets out its stall and leaves ample opportunity for the world to be expanded, which it duly was in Chapter Two, but that’s another review, for another time.