There are movies you should see and movies you need to see. By now, it’s my hope that our little corner of the Internet has guided you toward the latter. It’s hard out there with movie ticket prices rising and economic recovery in progress. Seeing every movie in a theater just isn’t plausible for everyone. Sometimes guidance is needed. So here’s some guidance for you: if you like action movies – I’m talking a real knock-down, drag-out shoot ’em up with a high body count and plenty of style. If you’ve ever yearned for a movie where Keanu Reeves shoots a lot of people very directly in the face. Even if you haven’t yearned for that last part: John Wick is a movie you need to see.
The experience of seeing John Wick at this year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin was reminiscent of seeing Gareth Evans’ The Raid the first time. That’s no idle comparison, either. Both movies are a blast with an audience of similarly minded folk. The body count, as stuntmen-turned-director Chad Stahelski explained during the post-premiere Q&A session, is well above 80. Which, according to our crack research team (and some Google-Fu) puts it somewhere between Desperado and Delta Force 2. Not bad company by any measure. Long story short: John Wick has plenty of cheer-inducing moments of action brilliance.
Even better, John Wick also sports an interesting premise and a surprisingly sharp bit of world-building not normally seen in your average shoot ’em up. The premise revolves around the titular Wick, played by the stoic, ever-dangerous (and startlingly agile) Keanu Reeves, a retired mob hitman who has just gone through the loss of his wife. Left alone and distraught, he receives a posthumous gift from his wife a few days later in the form of an adorable puppy.
Then something bad happens, both to the puppy and John Wick’s favorite ’69 Ford Mustang, at the hands of the arrogant son (played by Game of Thrones star Alfie Allen) of Wick’s former boss. In this traumatic moment for both character and audience (sorry, puppy lovers) something snaps – a fuse is lit inside him and John Wick is thrust back into his old life.
The most impressive elements of Wick – aside from the balls-out action that follows the aforementioned trauma – is the world that is built by the script by Derek Kolstad. Littered with memorable supporting performances from the likes of Lance Reddick, Ian McShane and Willem Dafoe, we’re treated to a sophisticated underworld where killers congregate at a swanky New York hotel and await orders from one of the city’s crime lords. It’s a layer of creativity beyond what is otherwise an entertaining explosion of gun violence.
And then there’s the gun violence. So much gun violence. It’s precise and nasty and delivered by the calm hands of Reeves’ Wick, who is as efficient as he is deadly. Stylish backdrops are swiss cheesed with propelled lead, bad guys are impaled with almost humorous accuracy and everything explodes in a creative array of practical violence.
What’s I’m trying to tell you is that John Wick is a fucking blast.
And that’s not just the film festival bubble talking. Sure, it’s more fun with an eager audience. But Wick is the kind of energetic actioner that should play just as well in your living room. It’s that brand of fun.
It’s one of those movies that, if you’re a fan of this ilk, you are compelled to see again. The kind of special shoot ’em up that transcends a tired genre with its smarts and style. It’s not just a fun movie to watch, it appears to have been a fun movie to make. The stunt performer background of its filmmaker shines through in some of the inventive close quarters action. Its script builds a wickedly cool world and nods to the likes of Jean-Pierre Melville. And it’s all anchored by a calm, wonderfully playful performance from Reeves, who has found his groove making action flicks once again, knocking us on our collective ass with Man of Tai Chi last year and now this glorious romp that is Jon Wick.
If Keanu wants to keep this up, continuing his just as crazy yet more mindful renaissance a la Nic Cage, he’ll get no arguments from me.
The Upside: Violent, inventive and energetic as hell.
The Downside: It has not yet been optioned for a sequel.
On the Side: The film is permeated by a pulsing score from Tyler Bates (300, Watchmen) and features a new song from Marilyn Manson which we were told is from his forthcoming album.
Watch the trailer below: