John Wick, the Keanu Reeves thriller is a blast. An original story written by screenwriter Derek Kolstad, it portrays a simple revenge tale, then allows the viewer to build the back story and the legend of John Wick themselves.
Let’s get the spoiler out-of-the-way early. In John Wick, the cute puppy dies. It dies early and it dies hard. Usually that is enough for me to mark a film down for using a cheap reaction tactic, however I let John Wick carry on. The puppy is a present from his recently deceased wife, to allow him to ‘love something’. After a chance encounter with a Russian Gang, while getting petrol, Wick’s already grieving world comes crashing down. One Russian played by Alfie Allen, of Game of Thrones, takes a liking to John’s car, when he refuses to sell it, they return to his house after hours and beat John and kill his dog. From the beating we see, we have no idea the character or the monster in John Wick, that is about to be released. It is only when Allen’s character tries to get new plates for the car, that people begin to talk in hushed tones about John Wick.
The defining scene of the early stage of the film puts Allen’s character Iosef, with his father, crime boss Viggo, played by Michael Nyqvist. Viggo wastes no time putting Iosef in the picture about exactly who John Wick is and what he has done. The film is now in full on Western territory. With the writer citing The Outlaw Josey Wales as inspiration, we can see the DNA through the next scenes. As Viggo goes over the deeds Wick has done for him in the past we see John ‘tooling up’ to go to war. It is effective and puts the viewer on notice, that something big is about to go down. When Wick is back in the game, we get a demonstration of his skills as Viggo’s men storm his house.
The action in the film, has a very defined style. It is one of a breed of Gun-Fu films, where the gun is used like a fist. Ever since the Matrix, these films have grown and now with John Wick we have the Matrix star in Reeves doing what he does best. There is a ruthless efficiency in all his movements. There are no prisoners taken and everyone has to be killed as quickly as possible. Wick is always looking for the killshot and in doing so gives the film a flowing movement in action scenes. He may shoot someone in the chest but he will always follow that up with another bullet to the head.The bodycount that piles up is impressive, virtually every bullet in a clip kills an enemy and even when he gets into difficulties, he finishes them off with a shot to the head. After the attack on his house, the police arrive and a nice scene shows the office just asking John is everything ok. He sees the bodies and asks if Wick is back at work. At this stage he is unsure.
The deeper storyline develops when after meeting another friendly assassin in Willem Defoe, Wick goes to a hotel called the Continental. Run by Ian McShane’s character, this is a haven and social club for assassins. The only rule being that no business can take place on the premises. The currency in this world is solid gold coins. A payment method already used by Wick on a clean-up crew after the battle in his house. In the continental Wick meets a few other assassins, who are surprised to see him back as he had started a new life. One is Perkins, a femme fatale type played by Adrienne Palicki. She accepts Viggo’s bounty on Wick in the Continental and in doing so breaks the rules. This section hints at a much larger storyline and lore for the character, it gives the whole film the feeling that it is based on a comic book or literature. When you find out it is an original work, you are even more impressed.
After the story and characters are set the film follows a pretty standard and enjoyable vengeance trail, in a similar vein to Death Wish or the more recent Man On Fire. The fights are satisfying and you root for Wick at all times. In a way the device of killing the dog at the beginning means Wick has free rein to do as he wishes to the enemies. No matter how brutal it is it doesn’t compare with bashing a puppies brains in.
The real hook for me in this film is the vulnerability of Wick. In at least three distinct points in the film he is defeated and killable. When he is originally, beat up by Iosef, when Perkins has him and when Viggo has him tied up. For the most fearsome assassin on the planet, the so-called boogeyman, this is a pretty poor chain of events. Obviously it makes for a good film, but it slightly detracts from what the other characters say about him. Although his exploits in the rest of the film set him up to be the bad ass that he is, these times of uselessness bring a realistic quality to the film. When everything around him seems under control like the Matrix, a crushing blow of reality hits Wick and either the numbers game beats him or the element of surprise. It reminds me of Indiana Jones or James Bond, despite all his notable skills, he still manages to get himself tied to a chair, listening to the bad guy slag him off.
The film itself seems to lend itself to a sequel or franchise. The characters in the Continental are only hinted at and by the end of the film Wick has even got himself a replacement dog. I hope there are more films and even some comics or fan fiction as the character of John Wick, while not original has enough intrigue to leave you wanting more.