In the first of his reviews for Movie Metropolis, Rob Stoakes looks at Keanu Reeves’ latest thriller, John Wick.
History will probably not be kind to Keanu Reeves. Many of cinema’s great action heroes are defined by their personality, from Schwarzenegger’s cool and confident professional to Willis’ put-upon everyman, while Reeves is defined by his lack of a personality. However, there is one thing that the most depressing block of wood this side of Liam Neeson can do to make history look more kindly upon him, and it’s continue to star in films of the quality of John Wick.
John Wick is very much of the style of revenge action flicks like Taken and the Death Wish series; a bad thing happens to a badass, the badass kills more people than Smallpox. In this case, it’s the murder of the titular John Wick’s dog by Iosef, the son of a former associate of John Wick. This associate, the charismatic Viggo, puts an army between John and Iosef, and we see the honorable yet harsh world of professional killers as John Wick murders his way through it.
The plot can be described in one word; tight. It knows you want to see the next fight scene, so it gives as little delay from one to the next as possible, giving just enough of a reason for the audience to care. The dog is given enough scenes to be hopelessly adorable before being murdered, and instantly the audience doesn’t care about the entire graveyards Wick fills or why. His cause couldn’t be more sympathetic if the dog was voiced by Stephen Fry.
The acting is alright. Michael Nyqvist steals the show as the charming Viggo; a character as reasonable as he is ruthless, frustrated both by his son and the killers who can’t get the job done. Alfie Allen is also great as said son, being both suitably despicable in the first act of the film and looking deliciously out of his depth afterwards. Everyone else fills their role as “the nice assassin” and “the mean assassin”, while Keanu Reeves is exactly as wooden as you remember him from The Matrix trilogy. He reacts to his wife dying early in the film the way I react to pricking my thumb. Well, my funeral was a little more grandiose.
Of course, the true star is the action, and it’s fantastic. Each scene has a distinct fight style, sound and look about it, going from a death metal martial arts rumble in a hotel room to a guns-blazing shootout in a church car park, though the highlight has to be the fight in the nightclub. In Taken, Liam Neeson would walk into a room, point a gun at a man and cap them in the head. John Wick, meanwhile, puts the man in an armbar, flips them over, and then caps them in the head. In these scenes, suddenly we remember why we keep Keanu Reeves around; for all his deficiencies as an actor, no Westerner looks more convincing doing martial arts. The closest competition Reeves has is Kickass-era Chloe Grace Moretz, and I’m sure Keanu’s proud of being compared to a 13 year old girl.
The cinematography and directing are brilliant, too. John Wick is Chad Stahelski’s first credit as the director but you wouldn’t know it. The camera is tight and close to the action, but the audience always knows where every single person is, what they’re doing and where they’re going. The direction also packs in little nods throughout the film to its many influences, most notably the interesting font choice for the subtitles.
The ending meanders a little to get one last fight scene into the film, and the final confrontation between Wick and Viggo is underwhelming, but this film would have to start laying spider eggs into my eye sockets before I seriously marked it down. Overall, if you’re at all an action junkie, or you love animals and enjoy watching dog killers get shot in the head (who doesn’t) then this film is an absolute must.