John Wick (2014): Breakdown by Kain424
After Russian gangsters rob him, steal his car, and kill his dog, former hitman John Wick takes up arms once again for revenge.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
THE GOOD GUYS:
Keanu Reeves as “Baba Yaga” John Wick
Reeves does well for himself here, as the awakened unstoppable killing machine of the film’s title. John Wick is nearly as supernatural as his legend would have many believe, a silent killing machine who can roar at any given time, becoming the world’s greatest headshot collector.
THE BAD GUYS:
Michael Nyqvist as Viggo Tarasov
Tarasov is a gangster finally making it big, and then suddenly losing it all because of someone else’s mistake. Nyqvist plays him as desperately furious as possible, dying along with a hopeless rage.
Alfie Allen as Iosef Tarasov
Game Of Thrones’s Alfie Allen plays another luckless, foolish thug, who gets things going and then spends the remainder of the film frightened and on the run.
Adrianne Palicki as Ms. Perkins
Palicki is becoming more and more known for her roles as the tough hot chick in Action these days. While her role on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has recently given her more time in the spotlight, I love her fun and freaky assassin in John Wick. She’s versatile enough to go head to head with Reeves and make it believable.
Daniel Bernhardt as Kirill
Since Stahelski had worked with Bernhardt way back in Bloodsport 2 and the Matrix films and Leitch had choreographed him in Parker, it seemed only inevitable Bernhardt would pop up in their debut film as directors. He’s got a great presence, and I’m glad they gave him so much to do as Tarasov’s big bad right-hand man. Is it still too much to ask to see him starring in something again?
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY:
Look, this simply would not be a Derek Kolstad joint without skinny bitches and champagne. It’s like Luc Besson and little girls. It’s there, it’s kinda uncomfortable, but you ignore it and go on with the rest of the movie to cling to what you like. I’m admitting it, I’m not saying I like it, just being real.
MURDER BY NUMBERS: [~90]
A shitload of people get themselves well and dead by the end of this picture, mostly at the hand of Mr. Wick himself. Reeves scores 80 kills, largely by headshot. It’s something to see, for sure.
[THE BEST OF THE REST]
Keanu Reeves vs Adrianne Palicki
Yeah, in film with Daniel Bernhardt it still comes around to Reeves versus the chick who played Jady Jaye in the second live-action G.I. Joe movie. And it’s awesome and fun. Watching these two twist each other into pretzels and slam one another around the room is an absolute treat.
John Wick is strapped to a chair and about to be executed. But he’s only getting angrier.
“People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer, but yeah, I’m thinking I’m back. So you can either hand over your son, or you can die screaming alongside him!”
John Wick is the latest in the newer trend of old-guys-proving-they-can-still-kick-ass series of films, which started with Sylvester Stallone’s return to his Rocky and Rambo characters and then continued into more popularity with the Liam Neeson Action vehicle Taken. John Wick sees Keanu Reeves drop his cane and pick up a gun in a surprisingly well-crafted thriller one would have expected to be more DTV than Theatrical.
In fact, were it not to have found Keanu Reeves attached, I could easily see this having gone the DTV route, probably with someone like Dolph Lundgren starring. This isn’t a knock, mind you, just the reality these days. Lundgren is definitely top tier when it comes to DTV and John Wick is as clever and fun as about anything to come out in the last few years in that area. Written by One In The Chamber and The Package scribe, Derek Kolstad, John Wick‘s screenplay sees the usual quirky gangster characters, unlikely hand to hand battles, and machine gun battles found in his other work. Fortunately, the film is largely saved by the involvement of Keanu Reeves, who was able to bring in first-time directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, two Hollywood stuntmen from fight and stunt studio 87Eleven. Both Stahelski and Leitch have been in the business since the early 1990s and seem to have worked out what works and what doesn’t work in an Action film. And while they may not make a particularly strong stylistic impression, they definitely make the Action worth the ticket price.
The gunfights are just the kind of free form-yet precise type of inventiveness modern Action needs. Remember that part in The Expendables 2, when Chuck Norris kicks the guy into the metal sensor and fills him with bullets? That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. And that was Chad Stahelski’s work. These two have studied Hong Kong-style Action films and made a blend between that and a more U.S. style that probably works better than either. Or it might, if it continues to evolve. Rather than use shaky-cam for the fight scenes, Leitch and Stahelski get performers who are willing and can do their own stuntwork. And having worked with Keanu Reeves on The Matrix films and Man Of Tai Chi meant they had a major actor who had developed a good rapport with them.
Keanu himself really tries here, and I think it pays off. I never bought him as an Action star, even after the separate successes of both Speed and The Matrix, but I think he plays it about right as the titular hero here. His disassociative acting style works as a hitman. He doesn’t quite feel right, and that’s very much the type of character you’d expect, especially for a film paying such reverence to the works of Jean-Pierre Melville. He has menace, but is never really intimidating. It’s his legend that’s intimidating. It wouldn’t make sense for a group of thugs to think they could just drop in on someone like Dolph Lundgren, beat him up, kill his pet, take his stuff, and then walk away. But you don’t get that kind of “don’t fuck with me” vibe from a guy like Keanu Reeves. So his casting here ends up working on that level alone, let alone his smooth physicality.
Aside from its star, John Wick is also grounded in some truly inspired performances, my favorite probably being Michael Nyqvist’s gangster boss, Viggo Tarasov. Tarasov is like a cliche Action movie villain who suddenly realizes he’s in an Action film. He knows damn well it’s all over as soon as he finds out what his hot-headed son has done. In a last act of “fuck it” defiance, he still throws everything he’s got at John Wick. If he’s going down, he’ll make Wick feel it. All the while, Nyqvist seems to be having a great time. This is far and away better than his work in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.
John Lequizamo’s character of Aurelio gets to add on the film’s thickest layers of substance. If his performance had faltered in the least, much (if not all) of the movie simply wouldn’t have worked. So he should be commended for what he brought to the film, especially with such limited screen time. And of course I have to mention how delighted I am that David Patrick Kelly gets brief cameo.
This certainly has the feel of a movie made by Action fans FOR Action fans. Aside from the tough guy casting and filling out of the small parts by cult faces, it’s clear Stahelski and Leitch have done their homework. I mean, the name of the club is The Red Circle. All the great fight choreography and gun fetishism that’s been missing in modern Action is present and accounted for here. All wrapped up in a tight little story, about as simple and brainless as needed to be effective. It was interesting to see this universe they’ve created, as it was almost Tim Burton-like. Not in any superficial way, but in its otherworldliness. The characters are like ghosts, but all living in this kind of neon universe. It’s almost as if the 90s aesthetic from The Matrix never left, but simply evolved into this.
Speaking of which, back at the end of the 90s, after The Matrix was released, I’d hoped the use of skilled fight choreography and clearly filmed Action sequences would usher in a new era for the genre. Instead, studios focused on the technological aspect of the film. Bullet time and even more CGI became the norm. But here, again, is another Keanu Reeves film. Again, it is full of well-shot Action and damn good fight scenes, mostly between actors who have trained in martial arts of some kind. Seeing as it’s done well, I dare to hope again.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Don’t hurt people. You’re only killing yourself.
[THE AOBG ACTION CHECKLIST]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[X] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[X] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[ ] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[X] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[X] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[ ] Manly Embrace(s)
[X] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[X] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[ ] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[ ] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[X] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[X] Torture Sequence(s)
[ ] Unnecessary Sequel
[X] Vehicle Chase(s)
[X] Vigilante Justice
[TOTAL: 18 outta 25]