John Wick was a conundrum in my mind. After 47 Ronin, whose bomb was so great its effects are still being felt by the fact I had no idea Keanu Reeves was going to be in a bunch of movies in the near future, this film seemed to just appear. All of a sudden there were trailers for some new Keanu action movie all over tv. Even stranger, it actually look good. Considering that the past few months have brought us The Expendables 3 and The November Man, I have been made forever cautious of action movies starring former action stars.
What was surprising was not that John Wick was good, it was how good it truly was. If The Raid 2 hadn’t come out this year, this would be the action movie of the year hands down. You can read our review of that to find out why, but just the simple fact that I had to consider this as an incredible action movie in a year where we got The Raid 2 means a lot to me. This movie is crafted so expertly that it can take tired cliches of the genre and bend them into an excellent and thrilling plot.
Stop me if you heard this one before. John Wick is a retired criminal who left the game to try and have a normal life. One night those seedy elements find a way back in and kill one of John’s loved ones. Now he’s on a revenge mission to kill those responsible. A cliched story for what should be a cliched action movie, but its not and its thanks to Keanu’s lack of emotion and the incredibly talented and completely surprising supporting cast.
Did you know that Willem Dafoe is in John Wick? I sure as hell didn’t and that man makes everything good. It’s not just him either. We have Alfie Allen, Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones. Hot off The Happening is John Leguizamo. Lance Reddick seems to be in everything now that Fringe is over. The real question is why the hell Ian McShane is here, but it’s always nice to see him regardless.
While it is an incredibly strange group of actors playing their roles in this movie, everyone involved has proven themselves before and brings their A game to a movie that you would never expect it in. Who properly acts in an action movie? It’s one of the key factors that makes John Wick the incredible film that it is, these characters, as cliched as they appear, are incredibly well acted and written. These feel like people you’re watching for this brief period of their lives, not just characters who exist to sling bullets back and forth.
When it comes to the fights themselves, John Wick succeeds where so many modern movies fail. As fun as it is to watch the super stylish fights of something like the Robocop or Total Recall remakes (not saying anything about their qualities as movies though), a stylish fight usually leaves me feeling unsatisfied. John Wick plants its flag firmly in the camp of films like The Raid, albeit with less gore.
Walking in and out of fights in John Wick leaves nothing to the imagination. Kills are final and satisfying. Far too often you see enemies dropped with a bullet or two to the center mass and nothing more. Most people don’t realize how resilient people are. 50 Cent was shot nine times and survived, so why don’t so many movie bad guys? Thankfully all of that suspension of disbelief is dropped here as our titular character usually puts a bullet through someone’s skull before moving on. Satisfying and brutal with no room for bullshit resurrections.
It also helps that the entire fighting style in this movie, which appears to be a blend of standard gunfighting with some MMA grappling thrown in at close quarters, looks like something that a hardened killer would do in real life. It grounds the over-the-top explosion of violence into something that feels possible in the real world and just adds to the already incredibly high credibility of this movie.
John Wick appeared like it had no business being one of the best action movies in recent memory. Not only did the premise look tired, but Keanu has stumbled from project to project with nothing really landing. I am so glad my assumptions were proven wrong. I only hope that this does well at the box office, not for a sequel, but because the team behind it and the film itself deserve success for the fantastic experience. Go see John Wick.