‘John Wick (2014)’- Throwback Review

Thinking back to 2014 and what the action genre brought, it was as expected. A few accomplished better than we thought (Edge of Tomorrow), and others left more to be desired (The Expendables 3RoboCop). But what about John Wick, the one that started it all? Before its late October release, nobody knew what it was a month prior; it wasn’t until I saw The Equalizer to learn there was a new movie with the one and only Keanu Reeves. No word of mouth could mean the studio dumped it and got it out of the way. But it surprised me that the film was gaining positive word of mouth. Going into this, it could turn up as an over-the-top action movie meant to be a direct-to-DVD quality of bad, or it might end up as a fantastic surprise for all. It’s 100% the latter because John Wick is the revenge action thriller that didn’t have to go that hard to be cool.

What’s The Story: John Wick (Reeves) is a former hitman who recently lost his wife to an illness she’s been dealing with for years. When he thinks all hope is gone for him, a beagle named Daisy arrives on his doorstep as a final gift from his wife, as a way to heal his soul. But when the son of a Russian mobster, Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), takes a liking to his vehicle, John tells him it’s not for sale, yet he doesn’t take it kindly. They tracked him down, breaking into John’s home, stealing his car, a 1969 Boss 429 Mustang, and killing his puppy. After losing everything now, John steps back into his past to take down those responsible for his pain, including Iosef’s father, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), who is very aware of how dangerous of a man he can be with a weapon. And once you mess with John Wick, it’s the end for those who stand in his way.

Does that premise sound simple to get through? Sure. At first glance, I thought that would be a weird yet reasonable way to revenge for killing a puppy. Different from typically seeking vengeance after the death of a partner. But do you really care about what’s going to be thrown down? Absolutely not. I always liked Reeves, where people usually put him in the category of likable bad actors. But his career wasn’t looking the best as it used to, especially when the last movie he released in theaters was the box office flop 47 Ronin. Remember that? And this was the first movie I’ve seen with him in theaters since the bland remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still. Let me reassure you he will give his best to his roles like in these action movie roles like Speed or The Matrix. But this is the best performance of his career by far since he played Nero in the first The Matrix. He puts so much into this character that it’s almost tailor-made for him. In this universe, just mentioning John’s name evokes a sense of fear from anybody’s realization of how serious he used to be in the business. He is so legendary he’s also called “The Boogeyman (Baba Yaga).” He’s definitely back, and he’s shooting up so many bad guys left to right in a split second. But, like I mentioned before, you don’t mess with John Wick, even when he’s searching for redemption.

That’s the ultimate case when he’s out for revenge. The directing was very stylish throughout. The scenes are well-directed to where the action can be seen. There’s no obnoxious, shaky camera work or cutting away from the action; it keeps the focus intact through all of them. First-time director Chad Stahelski (and an uncredited David Leitch) handled this and what a way to start the career of taking action behind the camera. Stahelski is a veteran stuntman with a versatile background, and he worked with Reeves in his previous movies. And throughout, it wasn’t surprising to see he knows his way around the action like there’s no tomorrow. It was ideal for Stahelski to incorporate martial arts, hand-to-hand combat and even some gun-fu with multiple headshots to make it realistic as possible to show Wick is excellent with a gun but isn’t invincible. One of the best scenes in the film was a great nightclub fight/ shootout, which was terrific. Hands down the best in since Collateral. The stunt work was fantastic, as it looked like Reeves did most of his stunts which is always a plus. 

The villain, played by the late Michael Nyqvist, was actually good. He just knows that you don’t mess with Wick and at least tries his best to protect his son’s stupid mistakes that lead him to the path of vengeance. He’s like Gary Oldman in Leon: The Professional. At any moment, I’m just waiting for him to yell, “EVERYONE!” to bring all the men he got. Also, the screenplay by Derek Kolstad was fascinating as it provides a great look at this world where these larger-than-life but skilled assassins with cool guns and stylish suits live together and where there should be no business conducted on Continental grounds. The biggest compliment I can give to introducing this series is that it feels like a graphic novel coming to life. Even if the dialogue is campy, there’s a way that makes it sound cool, even for Reeve’s sake. There was never really a moment that slowed down.

This had such a fast-paced feel, and I wanted to see more after it ended. The climax ends rather abruptly, but it only excited me for what was to come just a few years later with the second. It felt like a runner’s high while watching this. As I left the theater, I quickly thought this movie deserved a sequel as it should follow our hero in this underground world of assassins and criminals. Nearly a decade later, this is still one of the slickest action movies to come out in a very long time. And an unexpected one at best that spawned an awesome franchise that can only get better and better.

Even when it might reinvent nothing special back then, there’s no doubt John Wick takes the classic 80s action movie genre and turn it over its head with unbelievable non-stop action sequences, a tight script, and a kick-ass return to form Keanu Reeves performance that gives action enthusiasts what they need in one of the biggest surprises of 2014. 

Grade: [A-]

John Wick was released on October 24, 2014| Runtime: 101 Minutes| Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use| Studio: Summit Entertainment

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