Abandoning the typical three-act structure of common films, John Wick is essentially all set-up and resolution, leaving much space in favor of revenge violence and well-choreographed action scenes. And damn is it good to see Keanu Reeves in action form again, and at the ripe old age of 50 (49 during the shooting of the film), he's looking just as energetic and spry as he was fifteen-years before in The Matrix.
I was pleasantly surprised with how the film played out. By the previews alone, I knew a certain "domestic violence" situation would occur, and I was pretty vocal with my aversion to such things happening in movies because I find it very disturbing. With John Wick, the scene was exactly what set the movie off in the right direction - something simple, gut-wrenching, and often taken for granted with many other film's characters. Here, it's exactly the trigger to send a retired hitman/assassin/Boogeyman killer off to go kill ALL the fucking guys who did the act of indiscriminate horror that just so happens to be the only remaining personal thing that John Wick has to his recently-deceased wife.
There's also a personal undertone to the film that becomes very apparent if you know the true-life story of star Keanu Reeves, and the tragedies he has endured. In the early scenes of the film, his reaction to the final gift of his now-deceased wife (in the form of a puppy) resonates in such a way that, when he breaks down into tears, you feel a real sadness in his eyes that may or may not be acted. The build-up to the inevitable, added to the very real reactions of Reeves, make the rest of the film hold up very well on another level.
What ensues is a near two-hour action-fest, with amazingly well-shot gun battles, fist fights, knife fights, and to-the-death scraps. The movie plays very much like an adaptation of a graphic novel or comic book, having all the conventions that set action movies away from the reality we know of and into a seedy world where the cities within New York and New Jersey are run by an overly-organized criminal underground, with seemingly no police intervention whatsoever. Seriously, entire gun battles are fought in broad daylight in front of a church, and not a single ounce of police presence is made. About half-way through the movie, I didn't care about those issues, because the movie sets up the fact that the John Wick universe is not the same universe we live in ourselves.
There's a hint of the action film Wanted in this movie, with secret night clubs and hotels where assassins hideout and share in a common code that couldn't possibly exist in the real world. Some of these things I actually had hoped the film would have delved a little more into, hinting at other possibilities of character interactions that could have been fun. Smartly though, John Wick is centered mainly around John Wick himself (as per the obviousness of the title), and doesn't stray too far from the man's body-breaking search for those responsible. We do encounter a few neat characters along the way, especially with a small role from Willem Dafoe as another former hitman, and David Patrick Kelley as a man who runs a "clean-up" crew for dead bodies. As for the man responsible for letting loose the so-called "Boogeyman killer", Alfie Allen plays a character similar in cowardice and tastelessness to his Theon in Game of Thrones, making fans of that show hate him even more in this film (and yes, that is possible).
John Wick is directed by the duo of first-time film makers David Leitch & Chad Stahelski, who have spent their careers in front of the camera mostly as stunt performers. The guys tailor made the film for Reeves, with Stahelski having worked with him on The Matrix as his stunt double. Young up-and-coming film makers should take note (as should some veteran film makers as of late) that great action scenes can be fun, energetic, fast-paced, expertly-timed and choreographed, and yet still let the audience see just what the hell is going on.
Reeves was clearly well-trained for the movie, adapting many forms of martial arts into his gun combat tactics, letting the audience know just how bad-ass his character is. Earlier scenes (after the initial set-up) involving dialogue between crime bosses and henchmen give us perfect examples of just how dangerous a man John Wick is. The silence and fear behind the eyes and voices of the people who know who he is is quite the humorous touch. In fact, there's an interaction between Wick and the sole police officer you see in the film that lets you know just how well-known a dangerous man he is (and indeed may clarify the fact that there is no police presence in any later scenes of the film).
Overall, John Wick is an entertaining, well-shot graphic novel-type movie with Keanu Reeves in welcomed top form. Performing a ton of his own stunts, Reeves places himself on the respected list of the few remaining actors who like to keep things as authentic as possible in action movies (Tom Cruise being another notable example). If you have an aversion to violence, be warned that the body count of this movie pushes the near-one hundred mark, a number you may be fine with after the events that take place in the beginning of the film.
And it's great to say, "Yeah, I'm thinking Keanu's back."
Neat little bit of trivia: Many critics cite the film for the main character's ensuing mayhem. Among the cast is Dean WInters, who is best known as Mayhem in the All-State Insurance commercials.
This movie is definitely not winning any Oscars, but I do hope it does well at the box office. The movie is very adult-male skewing, and can be a bit disturbing to those who have a puppy as a pet. With that being said, sometimes it takes a horrendous action to make unanimous the choice to lay waste to those who erred your life.