“John Wick” is a great revenve/action-thriller that calls to mind the good old 80s classics of the genre. It’s completely over the top, with an unstoppable, larger than life hero, and is very well aware of what it is and what it wants to be, without ever being ashamed of that. One the one hand, everyone plays it straight, without any obvious winks to the audience, and on the other hand, it has its tongue firmly in its cheek, never taking itself too seriously. It’s a delicate balance – but “John Wick” pulls it off splendidly.
One of my favorite things about the movie were the little tweaks to the standard formula. For example, instead of John Wick starting his mission of revenge because they killed his wife, they instead kill the dog that his wife bequeathed him. It’s a clever way to stick to the established formula, but without feeling like a complete, unoriginal rehash. I also loved the scene where John Wick disposes of one of the bad guys in a slightly surprising fashion (I’m staying deliberately vague in order to avoid spoilers; I trust you’ll be able to determine what I mean when/if you’ve seen the movie). The setup is short and to the point, and more than adequately establishes John Wick as our (reluctant) hero, as well as Iosef Tarasov as the cold-hearted bastard who wrongs him – which also brings John Wick at odds with Iosefs father, and mafia boss, Viggo. The cast is all game, be it Keanu Reeves (who seems to strive when put in a one-dimensional as well as physically challenging role like this), bad guys Michael Nyqvist (doing a better job of being threatening here than he did in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”, where in my opinion he was one of the few weak spots) and Alfie Allen (who pretty much plays a variation of his Theon Greyjoy, who – especially in seasons 1 and 2 – was very similar to Iosef), an ass-kicking Adrianne Palicki, as well as great supporting turns by Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane.
The true star of “John Wick”, though, is the direction by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, who have a great eye for action, and show all those modern action-movie-director-hacks how it’s done. Instead of being too chaotic and thus totally incomprehensible, the action in “John Wick” manages to be very clear, and still be fast, dynamic, spectacular and thrilling. Guess what: They actually hold a shot for a couple of seconds and led the action play out in front of your eyes! The shootout in John Wicks house is a particular standout, but the other fight scenes are great, too. Overall, “John Wick” offers some of the best action scenes that I’ve seen in quite a while. The only thing that I didn’t much care for is the first scene, which continues Hollywood’s recent tradition of starting the movie a little bit down the road (or even close to the end), and then doubling back. While this device can have its justification, I think it gets vastly overused as of late; and also, overall, I prefer to have a movie play out chronologically, without knowing what’s about to come. Otherwise, there’s this danger that you only keep waiting for this one shot from the beginning, instead of paying attention to what’s actually going on onscreen. Apart from that small issue, though, I loved it.