John’s just an ordinary guy who has recently lost his wife and been given an adorable puppy. Too bad about the Russian guys who come in to his house, beat him up, kill his dog, and steal his car. Turns out John wasn’t such an ordinary guy and also turns out he does not appreciate home invaders.
While it might sound from the overview that I’m being a little bit sarcastic, John Wick is actually exactly what you would think from looking at the cover art. It is a truly interesting action film with some great set pieces, some great fight sequences, and enough of a plot to thread together the main character’s progression through these set pieces and fight sequences. It’s a lot of fun to watch. What John Wick isn’t is a masterful piece of story telling or characterisation. So as long as you go in knowing what you are getting, you should have a really great time with this film (I’ll get to the sequel in a later post).
To be honest, John Wick is at its weakest when it attempts to humanize the title character. No offense to Keanu Reeves, but he doesn’t carry grief well in this film. Admittedly, he had the added challenge of having to grieve while still portraying a stoic killing machine and to be honest the combination didn’t really work so great. But even the moments where he was reconnecting with old ‘friends’ and was slightly more relaxed were probably the weakest moments in terms of entertainment that this story offered. Basically, it is really hard to see John Wick as anything other than a robotic killing machine. Even though the film starts with him in the role of grieving husband, that role never sits well and is quickly discarded allowing the audience to breathe a sigh of relief that they aren’t having to watch that pained expression on Keanu’s face for any more of the film (I think he was going for grief but he hasn’t quite hit it).
The fights on the other hand, are excellent. While John Wick is spoken of by others as some underworld bogeyman, the reality is quite refreshingly different. He isn’t flawlessly taking out his opponents while receiving zero damage. He is human and he is fighting. He takes hits but he executes his own moves with efficiency and accuracy. As a result, he comes out on top but it isn’t at zero cost and without the rage of revenge burning through him for most of the film you would have to wonder if he could have continued in the way he was. Still it means that outside of guns blazing we get rolls, dives, sharp punches, ducking, using the environment and a number of other factors to make each fight seem a little bit different then the last, which is important in a movie that essentially exists to string fights together.
However, one thing that must be noted is the direction and some of the choices made. Most notably the fact that John Wick spends an enormous amount of time dead centre in the shot. While I kind of get the effect that they are going for and at times it creates a truly imposing view of the character as he walks dramatically down the centre of the carnage, the overuse of this means that visually a lot of the movie becomes repetitive. Which is a shame, because each set does have a unique look and feel and that could have been used to better effect.
I should note the ‘villains’ of the piece, being the Russian mafia and that the ‘boys’ who originally instigate the crime against Wick are pretty pathetic. They are supposed to be, but again it makes it hard to get behind John Wick and his crusade of vengeance. If one of the boys hadn’t been the son of the boss, this would have been a non-event. Which is kind of something the film agrees with after allowing the boy to flee like a rabbit from several confrontations before being shot down in a fairly unremarkable fashion. Of course the movie doesn’t end there and at that stage the cycle of death, killing and vengeance is well and truly moving with a will of its own, but you really do start to wonder if it wouldn’t have been better for John to have been killed in that initial home invasion.
That said, the setting for the story is pretty cool. There’s an elaborate underworld with its own rules and values. We get a glimpse at the edges of this world but John Wick had ‘retired’ before the film started and really only dips his toes into the water around the edge of the world in the film. For the audience this makes the entire society being constructed far more interesting but at the same time it is kind of frustrating because at times you aren’t sure about how something should work or play out. Basically they give us enough information but there’s a lot of gaps in our understanding of the world.
As I said at the start of the review, this is a really interesting action film and worth watching if you love action. For anything else at all though the movie is not going to really impress. While there are some other subplots, the revenge story is basically all that holds these sequences of mayhem together, and it works well enough but it isn’t doing anything other than what it says on the label.
Thanks for reading.
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