(dir. Chad Stahelski)
"People keep asking if I'm back — yeah, I'm thinking I'm back."
This is the era of aging men once again stepping into the kind of action roles that defined their careers, and we’re all just along for the ride. This time up, it’s Keanu Reeves as John Wick. Wick is a retired hitman for the mob who is pulled back into action after his dog, a gift from his deceased wife, is killed by the son of the mobster he used to work for. Armed with a cool car, and a never-ending supply of bullets Wick kills his way to the top in a bloody path of revenge.
Reeves portrayal of Wick is undeniably cool, and follows in the long line of mostly silent, brooding anti-heroes. He’s given very little opportunity to emote, but carries a smoldering rage just under the surface of his performance. The supporting roles, filled by Alfie Allen, Michael Nyqvist, Adrianne Palacki, and a criminally underused William Dafoe add little to a movie that isn’t concerned with character arcs or engaging plot twists. Nyqvist, who plays Viggo Tarasov, the film’s primary antagonist and head the New York Russian crime syndicate, has yet to make a compelling villain. His role simply exists as a stereotype and he never seems like an actual threat to Wick. Part of the film’s problem is no one seems to be a threat to Wick, a man the Russian Mob has deemed the boogeyman (but, as Viggo, tells us he’s not the boogeyman, but the man you hire to kill the boogeyman, whatever that means). Even when Wick’s life seems threatened, there’s no tension to the movie, no sense of weight to the action or kill shots. It’s like watching a video game where the player has unlimited ammo and lives.
The action sequences are stylish and well-crafted but they’re not particularly unique or hard-hitting. It’s slickly choreographed to the point where it feels rehearsed. The action also falls prey to one of my biggest pet peeves: CGI blood. There were parts of the film where I just sat wondering why they couldn’t get a hold of any squibs. Honestly after Gareth Evans’s, The Raid:Redemption, most action sequences don’t hold up in comparison. The scene in the night-club The Red Circle is the best sequence in the film, and the action is heightened by some gorgeous lighting. The problem is that there’s no sense of progression to the action in the film. The best sequences are the first two action segments, leaving the later scenes and climax to feel particularly uneventful. The script by Derek Kolstad follows many action-movie clichés, though there is some interesting world-building by way of a hotel that acts as a safe-haven for hired guns. Unfortunately this world-building doesn’t pay off to anything unique. As a result, Kolstad’s script is so standard that anytime Wick isn’t coming in with guns blazing the film is a bore of banal exposition.
While there are some standout scenes that will make entertaining views when they’re placed on YouTube in a year, the movie as a whole is rather dull. John Wick is a case of the trailer being more exciting than the movie. While it’s received positive reception from many, I wonder if some people are so starved for an R-action-movie not starring Stallone, Schwarzenegger, or ‘Hollywood’s hot new action-star’ that they’re willing to put such positive word of mouth behind something that’s an enjoyable rental at best. Perhaps I came in with my expectations too high after all the praise. In any case, action movies can be responsible for far more enthralling stories than John Wick.