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John Wick. 2014. Directed by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch. Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, and Ian McShane. Thunder Road Pictures. Rated 14A. 101 minutes. Action/Thriller
I, for one, have been a Keanu Reeves fan for a long while now. When he played Bill for the second time I was only about 6 years old, but it was also only a couple years later, at an early age, I started to see a lot of movies I probably shouldn’t have been watching – Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, House , and more. Not that I’m a prude about when kids should be allowed to see graphic material in films. Though, I’m sure a lot of people would say 8 years old probably shouldn’t watch too much. Anyways, I’d seen both Bill & Ted films around that time, too. I thought Reeves was cool because those surfer types were the kind of characters I latched onto first. Probably one of the reasons I later enjoyed Point Break, albeit for different reasons. Then, of course, when I was getting closer to the end of high school The Matrix just destroyed all my concepts of action moviemaking, in a good way, and also pushed me towards what I would later start studying in university – philosophy. Once again, Reeves reaffirmed to me he was one cool, bad ass dude.
Now there’s John Wick. While a lot of people hyped this movie up as some sort of revelation in the ‘hitman coming out of retirement’ sub-genre of action films, I reserved judgement until I actually had the chance to see it for myself; something I try to always do, but with some movies it’s difficult because of the level of hype. However, I went into this one with a very open mind. I really do love action films, and there are always a few here or there which really subvert my expectations. That being said, John Wick is not particularly one of these movies. I did enjoy it, it’s decent enough to put on when you’re looking for a nice fix of a solitary man killing dozens of people relentlessly, but it’s nothing overtly special in any way, shape, or form.
I won’t recount much of the plot because there isn’t one. John Wick [Keanu Reeves] is a supposedly dangerous man who once worked as a hitman for other similarly dangerous people. His wife dies, but has also given John a dog, so as to make sure he isn’t all alone after she is gone. One day, some men invade his home, kill his dog, and take his car. This prompts John to revert back to his old self and search out those who did this to him.
I’m not saying any one plot for this type of film is better than another. A lot of these movies work on a very similar principle. Ever since Liam Neeson absolutely knocked it out of the park in the Luc Besson-scripted Taken, the ‘aging hitman’ sub-genre has become one of the hot tickets in Hollywood. No doubt one of the reasons John Wick originally got greenlit. I just really think the plot of this film is incredibly weak. The story is so frail. I mean, we’re not even given any sort of time to really care about Wick’s personal life before – BAM – you’re in the middle of the action. I don’t need 50-minutes of a build up or anything, I think it’s just ridiculous to try and make this movie into something it’s not – there’s nothing grand here, there is no emotional weight. So when Reeves barks out terrible lines like “Yeah – I guess I’m back” or one of the few dozen dead bodies drop to the floor, one after another, there is nothing to prop up such moments and make them any better. Not that this script is a killer piece of writing; it’s not. Regardless, you can shine a turd into a diamond with enough effort. Reeves is not a bad actor, contrary to what some may have you believe, but him plus a bad script is just a mixture for trouble.
There’s a lot of wasted acting talent in this film overall. I’m a fan of Reeves, yes, however – I’m a much bigger fan of both Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist. I even love Dean Winters and John Leguizamo. You can’t forget about Ian McShane – incredible actor. For all the names I’ve just listed, the many projects these guys have been involved with that I really dig, there is just nothing going on here to justify having them all in here. There isn’t enough to hold up such an ensemble cast. Plus, even the guys like Dafoe and Nyqvist who are onscreen plenty throughout the runtime just don’t get much to work with ultimately, and it shows. The film tries to make up for lack of emotional depth by using tons of music in attempt to cover all the gaping areas where the absence of character development is really felt most.
I’ll give this about 2 out of 5 stars. It is not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and it isn’t my least favourite action movie, but there is nothing at all new here. Even the way it’s filmed – they make John Wick out to be some sort of ‘better than average’ action flick, and yet there are maybe one or two scenes, hell, maybe only a couple shots, where I actually thought “Okay this is fun or interesting” or whatever other description you might come up with to describe a better movie. Outside of these moments there is nothing else to make this movie worth raving over. I really don’t understand all the love this got, and this is coming from a guy who often has a pretty unpopular opinion about movies now and then – I like a lot of stuff others seem to not care about. John Wick is, simply put, a load of unused talent in a sub-par action film with a bad script, and offering no real innovation in terms of action, stuns, or anything similar. I didn’t totally hate it. Yet I can guarantee this is not a Keanu movie I will buy, nor one I will ever watch again unless it’s playing next time I fly somewhere.