Any puppy, ex-hitman or even aging actor will tell you that you cannot run from your past. The thing about your past is that it is always behind you. For the puppy, it would be his tail. For the ex-hitman, it would be trying to leave an old life, and even an entire underground world, behind. For the aging actor, it would be reliving a familiar role in an all too familiar genre. John Wick takes us to a dark, new world and shows us that if you enjoy doing something and do it well, you should never stop doing it, even if it involves killing an outrageous amount of bad people.
It starts like all revenge films usually do, with a death. In this case, it would start with the death of John Wick’s wife at the hands of cancer. That is enough to make any man go over the edge, but John Wick is no ordinary man, as you’ll soon find out. Before his wife’s death, she had a package sent to him with a puppy inside so that he wouldn’t be alone. Much like Chekhov’s Gun, you can’t introduce such a cute, little animal without expecting it to meet some sort of horrific end. In comes Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), who sets our revenge film in motion when he steals John Wick’s classic Mustang car and kills his final link to his dead wife, the adorable puppy. After finding out from an old business associate, Aureilo (John Leguizamo), who stole his car, where to find him, and that he is the son of the notorious crime boss he used to work for, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), he decides to start a killing spree until he gets Iosef and his two accomplices.
The further John Wick descends into what we now know are old habits, we find out that he was part of an underground world of crime and guns for hire. He was a former hitman for Viggo, and is the reason he is now in power. Getting to Iosef proves harder than he thought, running into old comrades like Marcus (Willem Dafoe) and Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), so he asks for the help of a neutral party and who we can only assume is the true king of the underground world, Winston (Ian McShane). Several impeccable suits, an armory of weapons, and help from a few friends later, John Wick answers the question he is constantly plagued with: “Is he back?” The answer is yes, for both John Wick and Keanu Reeves.
Keanu Reeves has come a long way from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, staring in action films like Speed and The Matrix, but not since The Matrix has he been so engrossingly successful in an action role. This story is a common one in the revenge universe. Man loses something or someone he loves, so he decides to go on a killing rampage until he feels the universe has paid his debt. The body count rises, usually presenting little challenge for our anti-hero, and so on and so forth. That story itself isn’t impressive, but Reeves’s killer rendition of this type of character is played with such conviction and style that the concept feels revitalized when it is presented so sleekly.
Speaking of common and constant things, Dafoe and McShane never cease to impress, always delivering great performances regardless of the roles they’re in, and this film is no exception. Game of Thrones actor Allen is also right at home in what is starting to seem like the typecast role of whiny prick. One of my favorite secondary characters in the film would have to be the would-be Wonder Woman actress Adrianne Palicki, who refreshingly is there to show that the hit-man/-woman world isn’t only a boys club. You can also see her kick more butt in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as the super-soldier Mockingbird.
The slick appeal of John Wick isn’t all in the characters, but also the world it creates. It’s a new world to us, but it feels like we’ve always known it. The only neutral ground for all the killers, crime bosses and hitmen is the Continental Hotel, run by Winston. Underneath it is a club that can best be described as having all the class of a jazz bar mixed with the seedy clientele of the cantina in Star Wars. We can only assume this is one of many places like it around the world. The nostalgia and familiarity we feel with this clandestine community we know little about could possibly be a harbinger for (welcomed) sequels to come.
John Wick brings style and unrepentant violence to this very Americanized tale of revenge and killing sprees. The film excels in creating its own believable world for such a character, as the one Keanu Reeves skillfully portrays, to exist, and it more than entices us into wanting to check into a hotel there. It’ll of course be a short stay, but with the overall success of the film, we’ll definitely have to come back for another stay when the sequel comes.
RATING: ★★★★★★★★(8/10 stars)
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