dirs: Chad Stahelski and David Leitch
Did you miss seeing the lump of pale wood known as Keanu Reeves punching and shooting hundreds of people to death? I mean, it’s been a while since the Matrix movies. Yeah, so they left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths with that last one, but remember when a black clad Keanu kicked all sorts of ass?
Well, other people remember too. Maybe Keanu hasn’t done much of note in the last 12 years, maybe he has. He was gifted by the gods of cinema with good lucks and a wooden aura that he projects into virtually every role in every movie whose title doesn’t start with either the words Point or Bill and Ted’s.
But so what? Who really wants Keanu to be a decent actor? He just needs to turn up and let stuff happen around him. That’s a skill in and of itself. Sometimes that’s more than enough. Half decent directors can work with that. Sure, it reduces him to little more than a complicated prop, but so what? Women have suffered that indignity in almost every other movie made over the last hundred years, why not render Keanu the object in the movies he’s in.
This fairly violent flick has caused something of a resurgence in Keanu’s stature as an affectless action star, and who can really complain about that. No-one expected either Shakespeare or the Spanish Inquisition from a flick called John Wick since it was marketed on only two bases: it has Keanu in it wearing a black suit and it’s about a guy who kills a whole bunch of people because they killed his dog.
That’s pretty much the entire plot: Keanu and revenge. Sure, there’s qualifications and nuances here and there, as in, the murdered dog symbolises his recently dead wife etc but it hardly matters. This is a preposterous action movie, and if any movie should be preposterous, it’s an Keanu-action movie.
This is not one of the worst action movies Keanu has been in. I seem to be typing ‘Keanu’ in every sentence, it almost seems like a crush so I’ll stop. I’ll just keep referring to him as ‘him’ or ‘he’. He has an impassive expression on his face for about 99 minutes of this around 100 minute flick. There is a moment where he emotes wildly, but otherwise he goes about his grim business with his usual stoic demeanour.
It’s fairly grim, but there is some humour in the flick. It uses an idea probably lifted from the awesome Lee Marvin flick Point Blank where a highly competent killer takes out a bunch of people who are incredulous as to what that person’s motivation is. In Point Blank, and the Mel Gibson anti-Semitic (probably) remake Payback no-one can believe the ‘hero’ is killing a whole swathe of people over such a piddling amount of money. In this flick countless Russian goons can’t believe the dreaded John Wick is killing all of them over a dog.
In fact the moron (Alfie Allen) who started all this carnage off with his selfish stupidity and cruelty gets to shout in exasperation “It was just a fucken’…” just before having his brains blown out.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The people making this flick think they’re clever in making references to ‘classic’ flicks like Le Samourai or Le Circle Rouge or John Woo Hong Kong action flicks and such and who really cares anymore? There are approximately 13,000 flicks that pay homage to those same flicks. John Woo himself paid ‘homage’ to those same Melville movies with The Killer and Hard Boiled. At this stage in human civilisation, there isn’t a film made that doesn’t make some reference to etc etc.
So none of that impresses me. If anything, it’s more accurate to say this film tries to exist as somewhat of a deliberate anachronism, trying to be as straight-ahead and kind of mindless as an 80s action flick. Motivation is the least of the issue: what it really reminded me of was, yes, every action flick ever, but specifically it reminded me of Arnie’s Commando.
In Commando you have a character who spends all their time until the match up with Arnie talking to other people about the main character in fearful, almost turned on tones. In Commando the character was the henchman to the main villain, but he spent all his time sitting around talking about what an absolute badass John Matrix was. Seriously, that’s what Arnie’s character was called. John Matrix.
That can’t be a coincidence. Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist, perhaps best known for playing the lead in the original Girl with a Dragon Tattoo film or as the strange villain in Mission Impossible 4, doesn’t wear a fishnet top or get impaled homoerotically with a steam pipe at the end of the film, but he does play the completely unconvincing head of some vague Russian mafia group, and he does spend the entire film talking about what a badass John Wick is, almost in sexual/supernatural tones.
He even tells his moron son, his henchmen and anyone just walking passed that John Wick is Baba Yaga, or at least referred to jokingly as Baba Yaga, as the Russian equivalent of the bogey man.
Now, I know of Baba Yaga. Read a few books about Baba Yaga, or at least set around Russian folklore where Baba Yaga is referred to in all her strange mortar and pestle-riding, chicken-legged glory. You, sir, are no Baba Yaga.
Alfie Allen is probably best known, if known at all, for playing Theon Greyjoy on Game of Thrones. It’s a particularly awful character, in that he was an entitled whiny jerk who ends up being tortured and emasculated by an even bigger monster than himself. Here he plays an entitled whiny jerk who treats people like shit until a tougher son of a bitch comes along and fucks him up. He is the fuck up son of the mob boss, and the mob boss, knowing full well what John Wick is capable of, despairs of his son’s future prospects, dim though they were to begin with.
It’s clearly implied that he likes John more than his own son, but that’s neither here nor there. Once John Wick gets his Wick on, everyone else goes all atwitter and gets the vapours in anticipation of John’s impending arrival.
And in truth none can really stand in his way. John can take out any number of people with whatever is at hand, and he brutally kills anyone who gets in his way. He may be no different from any of the other White Men Getting Revenge On People Who Done Them Wrong in cinema over the last 40 years, but at least there’s a certain eloquence to his brutality. A certain dedication to his craft.
The action scenes are filmed with a grounded kind of feel without resorting to too much obvious CGI trickery, though of course the game has changed substantially these days. Digital effects are used constantly in place of practical effects (for the thousands of times John shoots someone in the head), but I guess it’s just cheaper to do so these days. The fights themselves are not over-edited, nor is there any shakycam kind of shenanigans, which really improves matters.
It’s the flick’s concentrated efficiency, and the fact that the story is pure bunk that allows a person to just ‘enjoy’, if enjoy is the word I’m looking for, and it is, just a long run of violent set pieces. The attack on John’s home is a particularly good one, and a trawl/brawl through a nightclub (called, so obviously, Red Circle) sees so many faceless henchmen meet their Creator in a neck-snapping cranium-rupturing fashion.
John is always untouchable (until he isn’t), which is not always a bad thing. That almost bullet proof / Teflon coated aspect goes well with his affectless personae, but it can’t help but remind you that this isn’t happening in cyberspace, so there is really no reason why he can single-handedly kill hundreds of armed people in this world other than having the ‘luck’ that the main characters of these flicks always seem to have.
Events do culminate in a final brawl between John Wick and his nemesis at night in the middle of a storm. Hmm, where have I seen a film where Keanu and someone else punch each other a whole bunch of times in the middle of a rain storm?
Can’t think of it right now (and I wonder what Hugo Weaving is up to these days?), but I can’t imagine that was a coincidence, since the two guys that directed this flick worked as stunt jerks on those Matrix movies with Keanu. All so self-referential.
It’s pure action fodder, with a minimum amount of sentiment and a maximum amount of bone crunching brutality. And that’s just what the doctor ordered, if the doctor is drunk and doesn’t really care about people’s health and wellbeing, which is, let’s face it, most of them.
7 times it seems churlish to point out that he only had the supercute puppy for a day, so he hardly could have bonded with it that much out of 10
“In a bar, I once saw him kill three men... with a pencil.” Well, you can’t blame him, have you seen how much they charge for drinks in some places? – John Wick