MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action-Thriller/ Stars: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan, David Patrick Kelly, Randall Duk Kim, Lance Reddick, Munro M. Bonnell, Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, Matt McColm, Daniel Bernhardt, Bridget Regan, Keith Jardine, Tait Fletcher, Thomas Sadoski, Clarke Peters, Kevin Nash, Gameela Wright, Vladislav Koulikov, Pat Squire, Vladimir Troitsky, Scott Tixier/Runtime: 101 minutes
In the aftermath of 2013’s 47 Ronin bombing hard (even though not hard enough to warrant an upcoming follow-up sadly) and his directorial debut Man of Tai Chi going criminally underseen by the movie going public, Keanu Reeves I think it is safe to say was in desperate need of a hit on the scale of the gems this 90s wunderkind unleashed on the world such as The Devil’s Advocate, The Matrix, Bill and Ted, and especially Speed back in the day. Thus when a pair of former stuntmen by the names of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch came to him with the simple story of a legendary former hitman coming out of the shadows once more to completely and utterly annihilate those who stole his car and murdered his dog Reeves decided to take them up on it. In hindsight, this was an absolutely brilliant move on his part. This is because even after 7 years, and an ensuing franchise, there can be no denying just how fun and just plain awesome the first John Wick film from 2014 still is. Indeed by mixing together a phenomenal cast, action beats that are riveting and organic, and an world that was equal parts delightfully enigmatic and incredibly unique amongst other components, we see that this is one slice of cinema that is not only the best mix of thrilling and engaging possible, but also proof that there was still a lot of life in the career of its leading man. All it needed was just the right story and the right character and suffice it to say with this film he managed to find both of those things and so much more.
The plot is as follows: John Wick tells the story of a guy by the name of (what else?) John Wick. When our story gets underway, all we are really given about this calm, cool, and seemingly collected guy is that he has sadly and tragically recently lost his wife to an unnamed terminal illness, he is in the middle of grieving, he would like to be left to mourn in peace, and he has just gotten a gift from his late wife in the form of a therapy dog to help move on. Oh and this is a man who loves his muscle car. Like with a passion and heart that is second to none. Of course, just as it looks like Wick is going to get a chance to come out of his grief and live his life anew we see that Lady Fate tragically has other plans for him in mind. Plans that begin to take root when our hero makes a typical and seemingly routine stop to put some gas in the old car and a trinity of young punks headed by a brash and ruthless kid by the name of Iosef develop a fondness for John’s treasured automobile. Of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when this trinity of punks try to buy it from our hero only to have him politely refuse that these punks aren’t exactly the fondest in the world of being given an answer that sounds like “No”. As such this trinity of slime balls decide to hunt down Wick and his precious automobile and get both the car and give John a beat down for refusing them. A beat down that unfortunately also sees collateral damage occur in the shape and form of John’s new therapy dog being viciously murdered. However when Iosef’s unscrupulous gangster father Viggo finds out what his son has done he has a fairly surprising reaction. Namely a mix of anger, but also fear as well. This is because, as we soon learn, Wick for a long time was known as one of if not the best of the best when it comes to the career choice of assassinating people. That is until he met the woman who would become his wife and, following completion of an industry-renowned challenge, was given the opportunity to retire and live out the rest of his life in peace. However, now that he really has lost everything he held dear, we see that a fiery inferno has been ignited in Wick. One that will not be extinguished until everyone involved and just anyone who is unlucky enough to get in his way in general is dealt with in a manner that only a legendary hit man can bring back to the world he had previously left behind…..
Now behind the camera, it should be noted that film helmer Chad Stahelski, himself a person who used to do the stunts in other films including a little known franchise known as The Matrix, is able to helm and showcase the action in this slice of cinema in a manner that I can’t think of a lot of other helmers would be able to pull off. Indeed very much unlike the nausea-inducing camera work and the choppy as heck cuts that resulted in Taken 2 and 3 becoming darn near difficult for even someone like me who thankfully does NOT suffer from vertigo to even try and sit through, this film’s helmer makes the action a lot easier to sit down and watch whilst also filming it with a much appreciated steady hand that lets you, the viewer witness and immensely enjoy every single beat of action that occurs in this slice of cinema. Yet more than anything, it is the combat choreography that helps this slice of cinema distinguish itself immensely from other films of a similar ilk. I mean not only does the martial arts shown leave you on the edge of your seat, but it also has a tempo to it that makes it truly gorgeous to view even when things get, and this is fairly often, quite visceral. I mean I can honestly say that for all the bullets that Wick puts in another person’s body, and believe me when I say that it’s enough to make him the NRA’s Man of the Year, not a single one ever goes to waste. Nor for that matter does he engage in any physicality that he absolutely does not have to. Rather, his physicality and movements gives off the vibe of being a hit man just as much as the terrific performance given by Reeves does. At the same time though, it should also be noted that this slice of cinema chooses to function with the trademark seen in Bond films that deals with visual humor courtesy of subtle touches here and there in the moments of combat. More than that though, this movie is absolutely gorgeous with a wonderfully extended sequence in a nightclub being a highlight. This immense skill is also incredibly apparent in regards to this slice of cinema’s screenplay especially in regards to how it constructs the world of the film and the cast of characters that occupy it with both talent and phenomenal efficiency. One of the best examples of this occurs early on in the scene where Viggo first shows up as he is talking to someone who struck his son. However, upon finding out the reason he did so is because of what he did to John Wick all he responds with is a chuckle-worthy yet to the point “Oh”. Yet with that simplistic “Oh” we immediately get a lot of detail about the level of notoriety Wick’s name has in this underworld. Yet even with that in mind, perhaps the most interesting thing about this slice of cinema from a narrative perspective is how this film’s world really distinguishes itself from 95% of the other slices of cinema of a similar vein. This is because without missing a beat, this slice of cinema plants you right in the middle of a world where literally anyone and everyone it feels like could be either an assassin or have ties to organized crime and which provides these people, among other perks and privileges, access to a luxury Ritz-like hotel for their career profession known as the Continental where people in this profession can go and stay without having to worry about anyone else who is staying there at the same time from breaking in and just bumping them off right then and there. Suffice it to say then that the immense level of detail that this slice of cinema is equipped with is truly magnificent and props must be given to this slice of cinema’s creative team for having enough faith in this film’s audience for being able to figure everything out without having to spoon feed them literally every single piece of necessary information.
Now the other big component that this slice of cinema has working in its favor is the immensely talented cast that has been assembled to play in this wonderfully novel cinematic sandbox. This, of course, starts with Keanu Reeves in the titular role and honestly he is perfect. Indeed Reeves has always been, even in the slices of cinema that were a bit off the mark (47 Ronin anyone?), an actor I have immensely enjoyed and this is one that completely justifies my faith in the man and his acting ability. I mean everything Reeves brings to this character from the stone-cold stare as he is just mowing down thugs left and right, the incredible physicality he brings to the action scenes (which is made even more astonishing when you realize that Reeves was 50 when he made this), and even some of the minor quips he throws out from time to time in this all seem as tailor made to the character as the suit he wears. Suffice it to say that it is a truly incredible performance and one that wonderfully proved Reeves is a genuinely underrated acting treasure. Thankfully, this slice of cinema also makes the choice to back Reeves up with a truly gifted collection of co-stars to further flesh out the world that this character resides in and they all manage to do wonderful work in their own right. Indeed in the role of Viggo, we get fantastic work from Michael Nyqvist who brings both a ferocity yet also a darkly hilarious weariness as he proves to be equally skilled at desperately trying to eliminate Wick and also chewing his kid out for being stupid enough to bring this literal human hurricane back into their lives. In the role of said kid, we get a fantastically twisted turn from Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones) even if it’s a role that can be summed up as “spoiled bratty rich kid” and one that you can’t wait to see get his comeuppance which will most likely consist of a bullet to his face. We also get wonderfully enigmatic work from Ian McShane as the manager of the Continental Winston, John Leguizamo as chop shop owner Auerilo, and Willem Dafoe as fellow assassin Marcus. Indeed not only do all 3 of these men have a wonderful rapport with Reeves, but all 3 of these men manage to give three-dimensional performances with however much screen time the film affords them. Yet even when you factor in terrific work from Lance Reddick, Adrianne Palicki (who actually gets in a pretty good fight scene with Reeves), and Dean “Allstate’s Mayhem” Winters as Nyqvist’s consistently beleaguered second-in-command/lawyer among others you see that this is one slice of cinema that is truly aces in terms of casting.
All in all 7 years and 2, with more on the way, sequels may have come and gone, but honestly the first John Wick movie from 2014 still manages to hold up wonderfully well. In fact, I can honestly say that if you are this slice of cinema’s audience then the first John Wick, if you haven’t seen it already, really truly does check off all the right boxes that you wish for a slice of cinema to do. Indeed not only will this movie’s in equal measure riveting and yet also refreshing action beats leave action fans giddy and excited throughout, but the visuals are distinct, the score is on-point, the world-building is fantastically done, and the performances from the support cast are all wonderful. Oh and it also happened to be, Man of Tai Chi from 2013 aside, Reeves’ best performance in quite a while at the time of its release. Suffice it to say therefore that John Wick is not just a terrific movie, but it’s also a fun time to be had and a reminder that sometimes the best slices of cinema can in fact be both especially when made with the degrees of skill and creativity that this one was. On a scale of 1-5 I give John Wick “2014” a solid 4 out of 5.