Tuesday, November 4, 2014

John Wick - Review

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is overcome with grief at the loss of his cancer-stricken wife. Despite a modest turnout at her funeral and a brief chat with an old co-worker (Willem Dafoe), he remains in his own shattered existence. One night, he is gifted with a dog named Daisy, specifically picked for him by his departed soulmate. Unfortunately, this sense of hope for him is curb-stomped on to his floor the very next night, as a trio of Russian punks attack him at his home and kill the dog. Their sole goal was to steal his '69 Mustang, a car their leader (Alfie Allen) spotted at a gas station and wanted to be buy off his hands, only to spurned by a Russian insult by Wick. But because they are designed to be total worthy-to-die dicks, and the makers wanted to win emotional points through a grim animal death, these three needed to go further into unlikability. Unbeknownst to the young Russkie, who just so happens to be the son of a major mob boss (Michael Nyqvist), he and his two buddies pissed off John frickin' Wick, alias "The Boogeyman", a legendary hitman who's able to make the odds ever in his favor and will stop at nothing to take him and his father's protective empire down.

JOHN WICK is incredible in its action but a little stiff in the story department. It's a basic revenge tale, hitting the standard points of every theatric bloodbath that graced a VHS tape or luckily enough to be projected on the big screen. However, the film tries to change it up a bit by speeding up the proceedings and reach its proper conclusion at the end of Act Two. The makers then seem to realize that they ate their appetizers and dessert first and quickly attempt to craft an entree, only to not give it the proper ingredients. The conclusion features another "killing in the name of" motivation for Wick, solely for an action-packed finale but it's such a sloppy hail mary pass and it isn't helped by the lack of characterization given to the martyr. Adding to the finishing problems is a series of hastily bowed subplots, which prove to be pretty unsatisfactory.

Despite these grievances with Derek Kolstad's script, the story did contain an amazing world that help give the movie a vibrant sense of style, amid all of the blue-gray lighting schemes and the odd subtitling. Doing justice to the term "honor among thieves", a good section of the film has Wick staying at The Continental, a narrow-in-the-streets hotel where all of the professional hitmen and assassins hang out in peace (or else) and get to lay low during missions. Here, Reeves gets to share some quality screen time with a great collection of actors: Lance Reddick, Clark Peters, Ian McShane, and Adrianne Palicki to name a few. In order to do business with the hotel management and other services, such as making a "dinner reservation" i.e. body cleanup, the gun-toting contractors spend and exchange gold doubloons, which are far more valuable than paper money and are a noble display of humility and prowess. But again, we get just a taste because Kolstad and directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski know they have a goldmine with this material.

Other than this intriguing world-building, what makes JOHN WICK a good time in the theaters and a great time again and again later on video is its extravagant violence. With two stunt actors/directors at the helm, you know that there will be a lot of expert action choreography and some delightful gunplay, which Leitch and Stahelski have in spades. Their crown jewel is the long sequence at the Red Circle dance club, where Wick systemically takes out all of the goons from the basement to the second floor. Set to the EDM beats of Le Castle Vania, this stretch of film is absolutely breathtaking, overflowing with impressive takedowns, brutal deaths, and a few moments of black comedy. Some may be underwhelmed by the presence of CGI bloodshed but it's easy to forgive that slight when so much incredible feats are on display. Acting all around is fantastic, with Reeves getting some proper time to shine and allowing Nyqvist to portray a ruthless yet occasionally humble and humorous tyrant.

Will there be more JOHN WICKs to come in the future? Perhaps. Right before he leaves to embark on his revenge tour, attentive viewers will spot that Wick has several more rows of coin to go through. Should Reeves and his buddies continue on? It wouldn't hurt. I'm looking forward to further development of the world the makers have established here and the American public should be rewarded with more high caliber, superhero-less action movies. Plus, I can possibly see this potential series going the same way as my experience with THE RAID franchise: an entertaining, slightly above average first entry that then later spawns a magnificent opus. Good luck, gentlemen.


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