Keanu Reeves is a bizarre phenomenon. He’s been making movies since the mid-eighties and is 54 years old. Yet I think of him as basically Ted from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s the same halting voice and basic appearance. In the interim he has starred in a number of money making movies, most notably The Matrix. And he has become an action movie hero. The John Wick movies are the latest extension of this venture.
I watched John Wick probably a year after it was in the theaters. The premise was of course ridiculous. John is your basic retired uber-hitman. He gave up his hum-drum nine to five life of garroting and mangling the enemies of his New York Russian Mafia Crime Lord to live a peaceful idyllic life in his spectacular suburban estate with his beautiful but short-lived wife. She dies of cancer shortly before the movie’s start but is thoughtful enough to have a puppy delivered to John near the opening scene. So, you get it, dead wife reaches beyond the grave and bestows gift of love to retired hitman? Memory of dead wife and gift she left him is most important thing in his life. Check. Also, loves vintage sports cars and ’69 Mustang is second most important thing in his life. Check. The set up. Check.
Somehow, completely coincidentally and without knowing who he’s dealing with, the son of John Wick’s crime lord ex-boss accidentally victimizes the now retired hitman and starts a vendetta by stealing his car and killing his dog. Well I guess it could have been more blatant. He might have gone for the trifecta and castrated Wick while he was at it.
After this the film embarks on an odyssey of shooting, stabbing and punching pleasure. You’d think after the first couple of dozen gangsters are dispatched that it would start to get boring and repetitive. But the hyper-kinetic fight scenes are strangely fascinating. It was as if you were watching one of those loops they include with a first-person shooter game that show how someone who has memorized the game can dispatch all the enemies one by one in incredible speed and precision. It’s the extension of the concept seen at the end of the Matrix where Neo has gotten the hang of his abilities and is fighting Agent Smith with one hand held behind his back, parrying every punch without even looking because his reflexes are an order of magnitude faster than his opponent’s.
Anyway, this goes on for the balance of the movie. The Russian Crime Lord is kind of entertaining and we are introduced to the Continental Hotel and Club that caters to hitmen and forbids them to kill each other on its grounds under penalty of membership termination (which coincidentally includes death). It’s lots of fun and there are gold coins and lots of automatic weapons and views of iconic Manhattan locations.
By the end of the movie, at least John’s absorbed a lot of damage from fighting the dozens of hit men who stand between him and the Crime Lord that needs killing. So, you know it wasn’t easy. And he finds a new dog. So, balance is restored to the universe and John Wick can go back into a peaceful retirement since everyone is dead.
So, what’s my opinion? Was it good. Well, obviously, it has to be compared by the standards of the genre it belongs in. It’s an action adventure. It’s almost a comic book movie. From that perspective, it’s highly successful. It’s as full of action as it’s possible to imagine. The fight choreography is meticulous and the cinematography is highly effective. And he’s only killing bad guys. He’s the strong silent man bringing down vengeance on his enemies. He’s the modern-day Gary Cooper or Clint Eastwood but without the occasional complete sentence.
I liked it. Admittedly it’s a guilty pleasure. Basically, it’s an atavistic response to injustice. Take justice into your own hands and clean house. Scratch the veneer and we’re still just cavemen. Sure, we’ve got indoor plumbing and 401K plans but the mindless primitive lurks right below the surface. Once you recognize that, you can jump right in and enjoy John Wick for what it is. High Octane Revenge.