John Wick June 25, 2015
Ah, the revenge film. Is it possible not to root for a masochistic protagonist who feels the need to slaughter the people who did them wrong? Whether it involves Uma Thurman slashing Lucy Liu, Vivica Fox, and an odd assortment of Japanese bodyguards, or Lee Marvin thirsty for retribution after being left for dead, there's something lip-smackingly satisfying about seeing a badass make fair and square with all the wrong people.
John Wick is as much a comeback vehicle for Keanu Reeves as it is a sumptuously shot throwback to the days of Charles Bronson and Sylvester Stallone. The film doesn’t necessarily update what we’ve come to know about the revenge movie over the years — it, instead, provides for a refreshing take on a subgenre that, in a world accustomed to Liam Neeson threatening kidnap happy terrorists, has gotten a bit dusty. Here is a movie that knows it’s predictable, but is smart enough to understand that going through the motions just won’t do this time around. Like the Kill Bills before it, everything is so stylistically visceral that we hardly have time to roll our eyes and remember that the hero always finds the fulfillment they’re looking for. We have to sit back and enjoy the blood soaked ride.
Reeves, after years away from the action scene, portrays Wick as a man wounded by his past. He was a hitman years ago, but left the scene in pursuit of a blissful marriage. As the film opens, however, his wife has, as it seems, died of a serious illness (which is never explained). Damaged assassins are never a good thing, and after his grieving process is interrupted by a gaggle of Russian thugs who steal his car and kill his dog, something in Wick snaps. He goes from loving husband to murder machine in a matter of seconds, and so the film goes on autopilot, but not in the ways you might expect.
The plot feels very been there, done that, and Reeves, who I’ve always labeled as the most wooden leading man in Hollywood, goes through the motions without a single ounce of emotion to back him up. (Even in a scene where he breaks down, we are hardly convinced he looks anything other than a circa 2009 Kristen Stewart’s father.) Somehow, though, John Wick doesn’t seem to be about plot, or Reeves, for that matter: rather, we are intent on how the plot is executed, how the action set pieces set themselves apart from the other thrill heavy movies of the decade or, cough cough, The Matrix. And, for the most part, we are presented with an entertaining revenge movie, one who takes its gun fu very seriously and one who just finds violence artistic as long as it’s done right. Chad Stahelski, making his directorial debut here, is confident in his every move, making John Wick’s sleek thrills pack more punches than your average pulpy exercise in madness. B-