After the sudden death of his beloved wife, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) receives one last gift from her, a beagle puppy named Daisy, and a note imploring him not to forget how to love. But John's mourning is interrupted when his 1969 Boss Mustang catches the eye of sadistic thug Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) who breaks into his house and steals it, beating John unconscious and leaving Daisy dead. Unwittingly, they have just reawakened one of the most brutal assassins the underworld has ever seen, as John Wick sets to kill Iosef and his ruthless father Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist).
From the look of posters and DVD/Blu-ray covers, you might expect John Wick to be a naff B-movie, but the film is both surprisingly and immensely enjoyable on many different levels. It achieves in restoring Keanu Reeves’ reputation as an A-list movie star, and deservedly so since in recent years he had starred in numerously terrible movies like 47 Ronin and the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still. He has a presence and a gravitas to him, and this film reminds you how brilliant a movie star he was in films like My Own Private Idaho, Speed, Point Break and The Matrix, having an unreadable quality that makes you want to look at him and spend your time with him.
Set within the revenge thriller genre, John Wick is different from most films within that canon, even though it’s been loosely grouped with those, because the reason for the revenge is incredibly elemental it’s almost absurd. The character of John Wick is basically tearing New York down, ripping the criminal underworld apart and killing all these gangsters, because they killed his dog, yet the dog meant so much more to him since it was the only thing of his wife left. So, it’s absolutely nothing like Taken where Liam Neeson goes to Europe to get his daughter back by killing everyone he meets, and even though the film is absurdist and insane, it’s very basic and straightforward. It also has some emotional weight to it, particularly during the scene where the dog dies because it’s played completely straight and you’re convinced by Wick’s motivations and reasons for exacting revenge.
The mood and the atmosphere of the film is brilliantly captured, and almost has flashes of Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive in the way it looks at the city with its dark alleyways and neon-lit streets, making you almost feel like you are in New York. The action set-pieces are well-choreographed and very balletic in its approach to fighting and gunplay, harking back to the great works of both John Woo and Hong Kong cinema. In this film, you do feel the pain, the batterings and the carnage that’s happening on screen, and it keeps you on the edge of you seat all the way through. The performances are pretty much solid, with Michael Nyqvist chewing the scenery as the terrifying mob boss and Adrianne Palicki kicking ass as the sultry villainess. It’s a shame that Willem Dafoe, John Liguizamo and Ian McShane are reduced to glorified cameos, but when they come into play, they make the most from small roles.
It’s become debatable as to whether or not the action genre was becoming old and stale, but John Wick proves that, not only is there more life to the genre than one expected, but you could approach the genre in a new light. It’s entertaining, frenetic, exciting, and a real return to form for Keanu Reeves.
JOHN WICK / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: CHAD STAHELSKI / SCREENPLAY: DEREK KOLSTAD / STARRING: KEANU REEVES, MICHAEL NYQVIST, ALFIE ALLEN, ADRIANNE PALICKI, WILLEM DAFOE / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 21ST