Keanu Reeves' newest and extremely violent 'shoot 'em up' action flick, "John Wick," is an all-out revenge story with one brutal assassination or execution combat scene after another.
In another words, it's as if the audience is watching a video game play out -- where after something horrific happens to the main character at the beginning of a formulaic storyline, leading him to work his way from one level to another while easily destroying the henchmen first; then facing a few of the more difficult opponents who are closer to the head villain and more involved in the story; then finally making his way to the top to face and attempt to finish off his primary target at any cost.
While this film heavily prioritizes action, violence, and over-the-top drama over story, dialogue, and character development, it still presents some entertainment value in the form of hardcore, hitman combat, excessive theatrics, and a cast packed with familiar faces -- including Willem Dafoe and John Leguizamo.
Ex-hitman John Wick (Reeves) has retired from a career of exterminating and massacring targets for the mob to try and live a normal life. But when his wife, briefly played by actress Bridget Moynahan, gets sick and dies, Wick is completely devastated and torn up emotionally. As a parting gift, Wick's wife leaves him an adorable new puppy to keep him company while he grieves.
To add insult to injury in a time of heartache, Wick stumbles upon a group of local thugs who end up paying him a visit at his home, beating him up, stealing his car, and ultimately killing his dog. Coincidentally, one of the thugs happens to be the son of a Russian mobster and former employer of Wick's, which only adds fuel to Wick's rage and need for revenge. Unable to stop him from coming, the mob leader, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), sends his son into hiding and throws every available body in front of Wick's path. Unfortunately for him, John Wick has a known history of fighting through the impossible.
The film starts out a bit ambiguous as we see a portion one of the last scenes of the movie before quickly jumping back in time. There is some emotional and tragic content at the beginning as Reeves' wife has died, but without much background or any connection between the audience and his wife, this really doesn't seem to come across as meaningful or have the full impact that could have been intended. Shortly after, once Wick is provoked by the mob, it's like a switch is triggered that quickly sends him back into the killing game. Once the action starts, it's one heck of a thrilling bloodbath.
Known for their stunt work, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski make 'John Wick' their directorial debut. Fast paced, hand to hand combat, various grabs and wrestling type moves, a great deal of gunfights, point blank executions, slit throats, absolute slaughters of large groups of men by Wick and more makes the action throughout on par with similar films today of the same genre. Furthermore, most of the fights feature some form of shocking and merciless kill from Wick to end things as he moves on to his next prey. This type of action/combat is not for the feint of heart and may leave some viewers horrified.
The movie uses an appealing filming technique where it cuts back and forth between the past, present, and material that is happening simultaneously with the current scene. For instance, it may show two different events happening at the same time, but cut back and forth for dramatic effect and to show that they are connected in some way. Similarly, someone may be talking about something and trying to describe it, and while doing so, the film cuts to an actual visual representation of whatever it is.
Whether exceedingly dramatic or just over the top in some way, there were a good amount of times when the audience laughed at what was going on. It could be playful, extravagant, or almost absurd dialogue, stylish comebacks, aggressive exchanges or interactions between characters, corny actions, intense music, dramatic walks, slow motion movement, or something that is actually funny. Sometimes, the action or kill scenes are so startling or atrocious that the audience can't help but gasp or laugh in some sort of surprised way.
Personally, I've enjoyed some of Reeves' past work and it's nice to see him in a popular title role again (less his '47 Ronin' film and other recent work somewhat unknown). 'John Wick' is definitely not a movie for everyone due to the graphic violence, but there could also be a fairly sizable interested audience. It releases on a weekend where the only films available are things that have already released ('Gone Girl', 'Fury', etc.) or something like the new horror flick, 'Ouija.'
If I learned anything from 'John Wick,' it's that Reeves, like his character in the movie and as the trailer suggests, appears to be "back." Check this film out this weekend at the box office if this kind of presentation sounds like something you'd be interested in.
3 out of 5 stars.
'John Wick' is rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use. Running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.
Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance film critic and entertainment writer out of Dallas. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and when he is not reviewing movies, Hayden works in film production. As an average, passionate film lover who rarely misses a film, his reviews are simple and straightforward. Don't like what he has to say. Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at @HPMoviePitt. Enjoy the movies!