Verdict: 4.5 / 5
John Wick is something special to me: a genuinely great action movie.
With a well fleshed out world, compelling characters, stunning fights and superb use of Keanu Reeves, playing to his strengths, this was one of my favourite movies of 2014.
The film begins by introducing us to John Wick (Reeves). He lives in a nice house, he drives a nice car. Unfortunately, his wife has just passed away from cancer. Predicating his loneliness, before her death, his wife organised that an adorable beagle puppy would be delivered to their house after the funeral. Wick and the puppy soon bond, but tragedy strikes when local thugs aiming to steal Wick’s car break into his house, blindsiding him and killing his puppy. What they did not realise was that Wick was a former assassin, one of the most skilled in the world. Naturally, as one does, Wick then sets out on a roaring rampage of revenge that eventually brings him into conflict with Viggo (Nyqvist), the head of the Russian Mafia.
What works very well in John Wick is that everything seems to have been thought out in great depth for maximum effect. The slowish build up, the anticipation of finding out exactly who and what John Wick is, these all pay off deliciously as the action reaches a climax. The fight choreography is great, just hitting that sweet spot between what looks incredible and yet also believable. Wick isn’t Neo from the Matrix, just an exceptionally skilled human, and he manages to bring that humanity and human weakness across, while not diluting his natural awesomeness.
The acting is also great from nearly every side. Reeves’ naturally underplayed style is used well here, where his character and even slight sense of humour comes across, rather than just making him wooden and robotic. Nyqvist is a fairly decent portrayal of a menacing yet charming Russian gangster, and the remainder of the primary cast, filled out by Alfie Allen playing Viggo’s son, and Willem Dafoe playing another hitman, both fill their roles incredibly well.
John Wick also exists within its own detailed mythology and world, some of which we only saw pieces of here, but it creates a great opportunity to expand this franchise in actually interesting ways for once. A lot of the action moves between set pieces, but the in between bits all feel meaningful for the most part.
There are a couple flaws: the secondary antagonist feels superfluous and badly handled, with no real closure, and the highpoint of the film does seem to be about 70% of the way in. However, these, taken within the context of the film as a whole are incredibly minor. After so many awful action movies, seeing one that shows why this genre is valuable and exciting is liberating.