While it is strewn with lots of dead or injured bodies, “John Wick” looks more like a stylish joke as I reflect more on its rather amusing aspects after watching it. You may laugh as one of laboratory colleagues did when I describe its plot to you, but the movie maintains its serious attitude with impressive visual style and well-made action scenes, and you will likely be entertained even when its body count is approaching to 100 (according to the IMDB trivia, the exact number is 119).
When we meet John Wick (Keenu Reeves) at the beginning, he is at the bottom of sorrow and despair after his days of happiness were suddenly aborted. His dear wife Helen (Bridge Moynahan), who represented the hope for his new life, recently died not long after diagnosed of some terminal disease, and this stoic guy looks lost and devastated as being left alone in his slick, expensive modern house after her funeral on a gloomy day.
Still haunted by the memories of their short but blissful married life, Wick becomes brightened up a bit when he learns that his thoughtful wife left him a little dog as something to take care of after her death, but he is soon struck by another bad incident. When he goes out for driving his fancy sports car with his dog in the passenger seat, he comes across three Russian thugs at a local gas station, and these nasty guys break into Wick’s house later. Besides beating him hard and stealing his sports car, they also kill his precious dog with no hesitation, and their very cruel act ignites something inside Wick which he buried literally below him during his normal life with Helen.
When he is informed of what his spoiled son Iosef (Alfie Allen) has done, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), a powerful Russian mob boss in the underworld of New York, becomes angry and alarmed for a good reason. It turns out that Wick once worked for Tarasov in the past, and, as a guy who rose to the top thanks to Wick’s many brutal services, Tarasov knows too well what kind of disaster can happen because of his son’s thoughtless deed. As Tarasov correctly predicts, Wick immediately prepares for his revenge, and there is nothing more dangerous than a man who has nothing to lose – especially if he is an ex-professional killer who was called ‘the Boogeyman’ by the criminals who knew him during his former career.
Because he is obliged to protect his son, Tarasov tries to be reasonable with this situation, but Wick is adamant about killing Iosef by any means necessary, so that is the beginning of a violent and bloody conflict between Wick and Tarasov’s gang organization. Tarasov attempts to eliminate Wick using every resource available to him, but Wick is nearly unstoppable in his pursuit for vengeance, and he will certainly maim or kill anyone who dares to stand on his way.
This is indeed a very typical revenge movie plot we have seen from other countless action films (the latest example was “Falcon Rising” (2014), which I incidentally watched early in this month), but the director Chad Stahelski and the producer David Leitch, who unofficially directed and produced this film together, put lots of admirable efforts into their film. As John Wick is pulled into his good old underworld which he naively thought he got away from, the cinematographer Jonathan Sela provides visually striking moments of lights and shadows for the moody inner world where everyone is involved with crime in one way or another, and the screenplay by Derek Kolstad has a wry fun as filling this stylized world with numerous details of several criminal service business operations which only accept certain gold coins as their common currency.
One of the most amusing things in the film is an exclusive hotel located in the middle of Manhattan, where its ominous manager courteously and knowingly greets his questionable guests while always ready to provide them some unusual services with his employees. Because this hotel functions as a neutral zone for the criminals in the city, it is strictly forbidden to do anything criminal to disturb its accorded peace, but somebody is bound to be tempted when Wick comes to stay at the hotel with Tarasov’s big bounty on his head.
As Wick attempts to track down and kill Iosef, lots of fights and shootings happen as a result, and they are handled with efficiency and impact to excite and engage us. Stahelski and Leitch have considerable experiences as stunt performers/coordinators who have worked in many notable films such as “Matrix” (1999) and “V for Vendetta” (2005), and they really know how to make physical actions scenes look exciting and impactful. Their action scenes are thankfully free of that dizzy camerawork and choppy editing I had to endure during the screening of “Taken 3” (2015), and we can always sense the actors going through real physical movements on the screen thanks to Stahelski and Leitch’s competent direction and good stunt choreography, and that is a lot more engaging to watch than those mind-numbing CGI actions in Transformers movies.
Although he may be limited in his acting range, Keanu Reeves can easily slip into action movies as shown in “Speed” (1994) and the Matrix Trilogy, and it goes without saying that “John Wick” gives him a suitable role to play. While giving his most hilariously deadpan action hero performance since that unintentionally ludicrous flop “Constantine” (2005) in his usual low-key mode, Reeves looks convincingly shady as a lethal tough guy like Liam Neeson in these days, and it certainly helps that this 50-year-old actor did most of stunts in his action scenes.
Reeves is also surrounded by a bunch of colorful supporting actors who play various criminal characters Wick encounters. As the main villain of the story, Michael Nyqvist is suave as a crime boss who can be very ruthless whenever it is necessary, and Alfie Allen is simply pathetic and despicable as his loathsome son, and Willem Dafoe is dependable as Wick’s old colleague who happens to be hired to kill Wick. Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, and Lance Reddick also have each own juicy moment during their brief appearances, and McShane is especially fun as a sinister man who may help Wick through his web of information.
Although its plot is outrageous at times with usual clichés and heaps of bodies, “John Wick” keeps moving forward while maintaining its face straight and tight along with Reeves till the end. It is basically a nonsense especially when you think about the final scene which may be a joke on itself, but the movie is decorated well with style, action, and a little dose of humor, and Stahelski and Leitch make an impressive debut as good action movie directors. It is still preposterous, but, what the hell, so are some of good action movies I saw.