It has been quite sometime since I’ve seen an action film work as well as “John Wick” did. Going in, I was under the impression that this was another comic book film, only to realize that it was not, making it all that much better. So many titles coming out are either based in the Marvel or DC universe, remakes, or an existing series. However, “John Wick” stands alone. There was very little complaint, stemming mostly with my dislike for Keanu Reeves’s acting as a whole, but even this was made up for when all was said and done.
Since I’ve already mentioned my general dislike for Reeves’s acting, let’s start there. The role of John Wick (Reeves) is one of a man who has endured recent hardship, burying his wife in the early moments of the film. That said, Reeves does a phenomenal job with his facial expressions. Throughout the film he is morose, serious, and very downtrodden, all of which can be seen at any moment just by looking at his face. However, Reeves’s weak suit has always been dialogue. He delivers the lines he has a little too stiffly, though some might say that plays into the hardship of his character. Luckily for all of us, the script has very few lines for John Wick himself, sparing us Reeves’s poor acting skills often.
The cast is comprised of several familiar faces, most of which I have loved in one role or another. Swede Michael Nyqvist, best known for his role in the original Millennium series films, plays bad guy Viggo Tarasov quite well, Russian accent and all. Alfie Allen (or Theon Greyjoy to you “Game of Thrones” fans) plays Tarasov’s son, Iosef. Just like his GoT counterpart, Iosef is quite the screw up. Allen is quick to maintain that look of snob and wuss all rolled into one. Amongst the other familiar faces is one of my personal favorites, Willem Defoe as Marcus, a hitman and friend of Wick. Defoe has a small role in this film, yet it is quite possibly the most important and he pulls it off beautifully, keeping you on your toes with his true intentions. Overall, the casting was stellar.
The characters are a very big reason that this film just works. So often we have the Batman or Superman hero who we all know is inherently good, and just out to bring justice to the world. However, Wick is different — he is more of an anti-hero. He starts off in a very vulnerable state, growing more and more elusive and badass as the film moves forward. There are moments that you realize that this lovelorn man is actually a lovelorn assassin who has probably done his fair share of terrible things, though we are never actually told what kind of man he really is. In fact, it is this air of mystery that makes Wick such a fantastic character. The audience is left to decide what kind of man he really was and is as the plot moves forward. Best of all, he is not a juggernaut. John Wick is just a man. He’s not a perfect shot, he doesn’t always make the right move to stay hidden, and he doesn’t always get the kill the first try. It is this weakness that makes Wick less than, and makes you want more. Will he get this right? Or will he be too hasty and mess everything up? The mystery of his next move makes this unlike any action movie I have seen in quite some time, if ever.
As for the rest of the characters, you may feel like you have your typical good guys/bad guys thing going, but we really don’t. Instead, we have bad guys who are split between less bad and worse. Each character is seen immediately as part of something seedier and under bellied, yet several have the opportunity to let camaraderie play a larger role in their choices, ultimately letting you decide who is less bad for yourself. An assassin is still an assassin, but it’s nice to see one who doesn’t just do everything for his own gain. For instance, we might ascertain that Harry (Clarke Peters) called hotel management with a noise complaint on Wick (though we don’t actually know who did). However, seeing Wick in a real bind, Harry lends a hand when Wick asks for it. The camaraderie there makes each character like Harry a little more human and a little less stereotypically cold and selfish.
Finally, a note to the action sequences themselves — John Wick flat out kills it. There is a balance that we have not seen in quite some time. Take “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” I have to be honest, the fight sequence between Batman and Superman lasted so unnecessarily long, that I fell asleep in the theatre! Then, as if it hadn’t been enough action for two films already, they bring in Doomsday and took it way too far. Even in “Deadpool” (which was my favorite film of 2016, and a Cup of Moe top pick), the fight scenes could have been cut back a bit here and there. But “John Wick” does it differently. The fight scenes are long enough to be amazing and fulfilling, but not so short that you feel shortchanged. There is definitely blood, but not enough gore to make it feel gratuitous in any manner, or worse, over the top. Sometimes we don’t need to see every muscle snap and artery spurt pints of blood, we just need some great action with well-choreographed fights. On that end, John Wick ultimately delivers. Best of all, there are no messy, over-the-top, CGI fight scenes to take away from the action or to make John Wick feel less real. In fact, I’d bargain to say that John Wick is one of the most realistic action characters I’ve seen since Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson) in “The Negotiator.”
All-in-all, John Wick is bar far one of the most satisfactory films I have seen in quite some time. It kept me engaged and wanting more. I am stoked that we will be getting a sequel, “John Wick: Chapter 2” in February. I just hope that it can maintain the near-perfect balance that we were afforded in the first film. Definitely give this one a chance if you haven’t already because it is well worth the time.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” debuts on Feb. 10, 2017. Grab your tickets for “John Wick Chapter 2” here.