Movie Review: John Wick (2014) Keanu Reeves

John Wick keanu reeves movie still

“The One” is back in what he does best – just stylish action and not too much more… and that’s good

After a back-to-back of rather disappointing action movies last year (47 Ronin and Man of Tai Chi), Keanu Reeves (most celebrated for his leading roles in The Matrix trilogy and Speed) finally returns to his roots, performing nothing but awesome action in John Wick, an action thriller that has a simple straightforward formulaic plot about an former hitman who goes on a killing spree to hunt down the spoiled son of a Russian mob boss who killed the dog that his late wife left him. Basically, you’d see the titular anti-hero kicking (mostly shooting) butts all the way until he gets what he wants, and that’s it. The story’s definitely not rare, but simplicity with quality action is, and I appreciate it.

First-time director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad did a really intelligent thing by keeping the titular character’s dialogues as simple and minimum as it can be as though the role was deliberately made for Keanu Reeves. John Wick‘s subtle devastation due to the death of his wife, and peacefulness through the company of a good adorable dog (named Daisy), are portrayed and developed well enough to get the audience to easily relate and sympathise the character. Later, through the mouth of the main antagonist Viggo Tarasov, the head of the New York Russian crime syndicate, we learn that John is actually a retired legendary cold-blooded murderer who’s so skilled, focused and persistent that he couldn’t even fail the most impossible of tasks previously assigned by Viggo (yes, he’s his former boss). From this point onwards, it’s just pleasing to see the already highly respected and feared protagonist going around killing gangsters for the right reason. He also does not do it insensitively as he spares the lives of some of those he knows in his past.

John Wick dog daisy keanu reeves movie still

The dog plot kind of reminds me of the The Rover released earlier this year while the general idea and structure of the film are just extremely cliched. Yes, there are countless other action flicks that are about revenge, vengeance and redemption (but I shall only reference Quentin Tarrantino’s Kill Bill and the film adaptations of The Punisher comics here). However, the director does the smart thing by reducing the typical cheesiness of the genre and just focus on providing the great action and fight choreography that he knew he could deliver with the co-producer, David Leitch. Both have been stuntmen and stunt coordinators in most of their careers and Stahelski was actually the one who performed the fight work of Keanu “The One” Reeves in The Matrix. The gun-fu sequences here are stylish and yet gritty, brutal and it’s impressively displayed in all its glory with minimal closeup shots, and no shaky cam bollocks. These cool sequences can only be pulled off by a cool actor, and Reeves was indeed the right choice. Some of the fight scenes heavily demonstrates gun-fighting mixed with Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, and while it’s memorably done better in Haywire (2012) which featured former female MMA fighter Gina Carano, this one’s very commendable too.

Although the film has a totally formulaic plot and structure, there are a few unique moments and features of its own, like the Continental Hotel that the protagonist checks in to as a safe house. The hotel is open to all professional hitman but has a strict rule and code that disallows any business within the premise. Few of the quirky conversations and scenes there inject a bit of light humour to keep the film from being just an all-out action flick.

John Wick club scene movie still Keanu Reeves

Often times films are criticised for not doing enough or doing it incompetently, but this film just makes me feel like praising it for all the things it doesn’t try. It doesn’t force a new love interest for the protagonist. It doesn’t have a typically overconfident antagonist. It has no police business. It doesn’t try to get Reeves to do more than he’s capable of as an actor. It doesn’t have a slomo sequence of the protagonist turning and walking away from an explosion (well, not that obvious at least). It’s doesn’t try to be too John Woo (some times even John Woo himself fails miserably when he tries to be John Woo). And no pretentious try-hard sophisticated or high-art nonsense. My only complaints are some of the very off character behaviours, and the disappointly lame final fight scene. Who would be pleased to see a movie’s hero fist fight with an old man as the final climax? But then again, I don’t think Reeves’ 50-year-old stiffness could do anything more anyway. We have had Man of Tai Chi as a warning already, where he plays the antagonist who fights a martial art specialist at the end.

Simply put, John Wick is a retro no-brainer that’s entertaining because it sticks to the fun action, nothing more and it paid off. If there’s going to be a prequel about how he becomes this legend that Viggo hails as “the man you send to kill the boogeyman”, I’m so on board! And judging by how well done this one is, I’m quite confident that if they were to make a prequel, they’d know to leave out the mushy love story that would make it unnecessarily cheesy.

John Wick suit Keanu Reeves movie still meme

What I would’ve named the film: “The White Equalizer” (since people are saying that John Wick is similar to The Equalizer that released a few months ago, starring Denzel Washington)

Censorship in Malaysia: One or two skips were noticed at the preview screening held at TGV 1 Utama but vulgarities and most, if not all, of the brutal action are not cut.

Second opinion: My girlfriend said it’s not boring to her despite being an all-out action flick, and that the action scenes are cool.

Verdict: Proves that an action flick can be good without much of a story, or rather, without trying to hard with the plot. It’s relatable as well, who wouldn’t want to kill someone who killed a cute innocent dog?

Rating: 3.5 / 5

John Wick movie poster malaysiaGenre: Action thriller
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Bridget Moynahan, Willem Dafoe, Jason Isaacs

Malaysia Release Date: 6 November 2014
Rated: 18
Local Distributor: TGV Pictures
Production: Summit Entertainment, Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven Productions, DefyNite Films

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