John Wick is a 2014 action film starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, and Willem Dafoe, featuring Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane, Dean Winters, and John Leguizamo. It was directed by newcomers Chad Stahelski and David Leitch.
Stahelski and Leitch have worked as award winning stunt doubles in Hollywood since the 90’s. Leitch was the stunt coordinator for the Matrix trilogy. This experience, as well as both men’s love of Hong Kong cinema, Japanese animé, video games, and martial arts, have led them to create what I believe to be one of the most entertaining American action films ever made.
There’s not much in the way of plot, and it’s amazing. John Wick is meant to be a homage to the brilliantly cheesy B-movie action films of the 80’s. Bloodsport, Roadhouse, Hard Target, Under Siege. The type of terribly awesome films you are excited to see on late night TV. Keanu is perfect for this role, because he honestly can’t act for crap. Sure, The Matrix, Speed, and Point Break deserve their cult status, but certainly not because of Reeves. In John Wick, he gives what just might be the most hilariously hammy performance ever seen in a wide-release Hollywood film, only rivaled by Eddie Redmayne’s in Jupiter Ascending, so I’ve heard.
The above paragraph may make you say “Everything you just said makes it sound like a terrible film. I’m really confused.” The thing is this film isn’t trying to to trick you into thinking it is deep. Like Kingsman, it is ridiculously self-aware. Allow me to explain. The Denzel Washington thriller The Equalizer focused on character development… way too much. Everyone seeing the film came to see Denzel kill people, and he doesn’t kill anyone for a solid 45 minutes. It took itself seriously, and it was a problem. I remember watching the movie and asking “Can you get on with this already?” The vast majority of a film about a bada** killer involves him not being a bada** or killing anyone. See my problem? It tried to be a “real movie,” not the action film I wanted and others paid money to see. It even spends a good amount of time waxing philosophical and wasting time on the “I left this life behind” BS.
The plot concerns John Wick. John Wick is a former assassin who stopped assassin-ing because he fell in love and married Bridget Moynahan. She dies in the first two minutes from… something, probably cancer, it goes unexplained, who cares? Moynahan is only on-screen for eight seconds of film via home video footage seen on John’s phone. As a parting gift to help him cope (and a plot device), his wife had arranged to have a puppy unceremoniously delivered to him via… FedEx shipment, apparently? John bonds with the puppy (who craps $5,000 of CGI). John has a really cool ’69 Mustang, too. At a gas station, he encounters a bunch of disrespectful idiot Russian gangsters who are offended because he refuses to sell them the car… which he is currently sitting in… and driving… and is obviously not up for sale. It’s stupid in a funny way, and I actually really appreciate they didn’t go for the big conspiracy route. So the gangsters follow him. beat him up, take the car, and slit the dog’s throat. There’s no “That isn’t who I am anymore” crap no one cares about. The lead gangster is the son of a mafia boss played by Michael Nyvquist (the Russian dude in every movie that needs a Russian dude, he was the Russian dude in Shooter). Boss dude Viggo knows this is bad, and proceeds to explain how dead his son will end up. I didn’t know expository dialogue could get me excited, but it does.
Viggo makes a comical phone call trying to reason with John.
The phone call was an utter failure. Which leads to this.
And also a fight with Adrianne Palicki
Leitch and Stahelski, though brilliant in their craft by the looks of it, didn’t come up with this stuff on their own. They have openly stated they took inspiration from John Woo’s The Killer (which also influenced Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez) and Woo’s signature gun-fu style, because it’s awesome. There are also hints of The Raid in there as well.
Leitch and Stahelski were driven to John Wick because they wanted to prove that 2nd Unit guys (read: not director, producer, or writer) can direct. They can. John Wick doesn’t have much in the way of plot, but it wasn’t ever supposed to. Killing a dog is motivation enough, we’d all rampage in that situation. That’s the point. What it does have is an impressive amount of worldbuilding. With the introduction of the gold coins, Charon, Winston, the Continental Hotel, and Charlie and his cleaning crew, a fully functioning comic-esque universe is now in play, with infinite possibilities for the sequel. The action sequences are memorable, most of the performances are great, with Leguizamo and McShane playing it straight, no cheese, and pulling it off without a sweat.
John Wick is the action movie all other action movies should aspire to be. Similar to the films that inspired it, John Wick will assuredly achieve cult classic status, garnering critical acclaim and a loyal fanbase. The men behind the camera are in high demand, and rightfully so. John Wick is the antidote to the movies that try to be something they are not and should not be. I own this movie, and I’m glad I do. I am eagerly awaiting John Wick 2 and whatever else Leitch and Stahelski have in the pipline.