We’ve had to wait a long old time to see John Wick released on UK shores. It came out in the US in October last year, and I read countless reviews that praised the film, making the wait agonising for us Brits.
But it’s here now. And…well…it’s pretty good. I’m not entirely sure why so many US critics (who I trust implicitly) were blown away by it. Don’t get me wrong there are some brilliant ideas and moments throughout, but it’s generally just decent.
The story couldn’t be simpler (as is usually the case for revenge actioners). John Wick is a retired hitman, who left the profession for love. His wife is gone and replaced with a puppy who John symbolises to be the memory of his wife reborn in fluffy four-legged form. So when the son of a Russian mobster kills the dog and steals his car…well you probably already know how the rest of it goes down.
What follows is a series of impeccably shot action set pieces, in which Wick takes on ever increasing hordes of henchmen to get to the one responsible for his loss. Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (both ex-stuntmen who worked on The Matrix films) have a great eye for scene geography, eschewing shaky cam for solid wide shots in which the action takes on a much more visceral quality.
The casting of Keanu Reeves was no doubt as a result of the three having worked together before. But more than that, Reeves once again proves that his commitment to the physicality of his role is what can allow the directors creative freedom with the cameras, and elevates the violent scenes in turn.
What’s really fun about the film is how it plays with convention, and parodies other revenge films whilst simultaneously paying straight faced homage to them. There are surreal yet brilliant concepts such as a hotel Wick stays in, which seems solely staffed by Lance Reddick and has a guest list purely made up of other assassins. Then there’s the fact that Wick can wipe out a small army of intruders in his house, and when the police show up they simply nod and accept that Wick is ‘back in business’ before leaving without a hint of trouble.
But despite the great direction and frequent peppering of humour amidst the bloody chaos, the film feels a little lacking. After a fast paced beginning leading to the revenge mission kicking in, the story seems to sag as if it hates waiting in the quiet periods between bloodbaths. The filmmakers obviously had much more fun bringing the pain than delivering scenes of dialogue and by the second act it really shows.
Nevertheless Wick is worth a watch, and it’s been reported that a sequel is already in the works. That can only spell trouble for any dogs that cross paths with Keanu Reeves in the near future.