Stuntmen David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s revenge bloodbath John Wick seems to have been borne out of this concept: Take the best scene from The Matrix, distill it down to its essential elements, and make an entire movie out of that. Thus we have an incredibly stylish, stylized film that is almost entirely composed of Keanu Reeves firing guns into people while looking cool. It is moronic, yet it has a certain something, which could also be said of big-game hunting, bullfighting, cage-fighting and jousting.
John Wick’s wife has succumbed to a long-lingering, painful disease. John Wick gets a puppy in the post! A yucky Russian kills the puppy! John Wick gets angry. John Wick gets revenge.
John Wick (whose name gets said, in full – “John Wick!” – a crazy amount of times in the film) gets way too much revenge. I reckon Keanu Reeves may kill more people with a gun than any character ever has in any film before with the exception, perhaps, of Sylvester Stallone in the ludicrous Rambo reboot (remember that masterpiece?) It got on my nerves. Too many Russian henchmen are everywhere in this film, and they’re all just props to be shot at close range by Reeves. Early on in the film he favors a handgun and the grab-their-head-and-shoot-them-in-the-gut style of Riggs in Lethal Weapon as well as the straight-to-the-face, which is uniquely his move (at least at this level of competence and incidence) and results in many delightful bouquets of bursting blood. Later he goes up a notch with a series of rifles, but he still favors shooting people at incredibly close range. It’s his thing.
Of course, the whole thing is meant to be as realistic as a bar of soap with a foot fetish, and derives its moral sensibilities from comics and video games more than other films or books. Reeves conducts his revenge out of a New York hotel that caters specifically to international assassins, utilises cleaning services designed specifically to clean up after international assassins, and dresses in a three piece suit to go on murderous rampages, as do other international assassins. This ludicrous world – an alternate universe of civilised killers living alongside our own – is the movie’s neatest trick and is peopled with fun characters, the best of which (of course!) is played by Ian McShane. It feels like it’s based on some big series of graphic novels, but it’s not. It also feels like it’s been constructed to sell shitloads of tickets in “international markets”, which it has. It also feels like it’s been funded by Russian gangsters, which, if true, is just gorgeously ironic.
Besides McShane, the other ace in the film’s casting deck is Michael Nyqvist as one of Wick’s old associates, whose son commits the naughty puppyicide and who ends up becoming Wick’s prime antagonist (the son, played by Alfie Allen, is a nothing, a whining, simpering idiot who’s comeuppance is a sidebar, which makes Wick’s motivations – and the script’s plotting – very suspect). Nyqvist gets as much screen time – and way more dialogue – than Reeves, and he’s excellent. Willem Defoe, as an old buddy, fares less well, because he’s so obviously just phoning it in. Indeed, I think the many shots of him behind the scope of a rifle are outtakes from The Hunter and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
As for Reeves… what can you say? He looks awesome. Besides designed to make money in non-English speaking markets, the film’s raison d’être seems to be to show you cool fighting moves that result in a handgun murder. Stahelski and Reeves have been doing this since The Matrix, where Stahelski was martial arts stunt coordinator and Reeves’ double. He makes Reeves look real good at shooting Russkies in the face.