Keanu Reeves’ presence in Hollywood has declined over the past decade, but with “John Wick,” he’s back in fine form. Much of what made Reeves such a venerated action star in “The Matrix” was his physicality, and he puts his all into this role.
The film follows former assassin John Wick as he grieves his dying wife. He receives a puppy from her post-mortem and finds a friend. Enter the spoiled gangster’s son (Alfie Allen, “Game of Thrones”) of John’s former employer. The overconfident boy wants John’s car and kills the dog while stealing the car. Of course, John doesn’t respond well and mayhem ensues.
The world of the film is believable and the cast is surprisingly filled out with big names. Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki, and John Leguizamo all take part in the fun as various members of the underground.
There is a hint at a guild of assassins, centered around a hotel called The Continental. While there, no business can be conducted on the premises and hitmen are well accommodated, all for special gold coins, of course. Everyone seems to know each other, but they all know loyalty lies with the biggest payout, with a few exceptions.
John Wick is known as the Boogeyman, or “The man you send to kill the Boogeyman.” Everyone knows who he is and speak in hushed tones, and Reeves really sells it. He is precise, never wasting a bullet, and he appears out of nowhere to strike down his enemies. His gunplay is his most considerable fighting skill, as others are more evenly matched against him in melee combat.
This assassin is flesh and blood, and he does bleed, unlike Rambo or Liam Neeson in “Taken.” The film does a good job of selling that his associates are also skilled assassins instead of the usual cannon fodder.
The legend behind the man really helps with the other characters, especially the main antagonist. Michael Nyqvist plays Viggo Tarasov, the head honcho and John’s previous employer. He knows exactly what John is capable of and the train wreck his son caused by killing the dog. He delivers a quiet performance as a man throwing everything he has in the way of a force of nature. He also has one of the greatest “oh’s” in the history of cinema. With one word, he sums up the storm about to come down on his empire.
While the story was surprisingly good in its simplicity, the fights are the main draw of the film, and they do not disappoint. This is the directorial debut of David Leitch, who mainly worked in stunts and small roles prior to this. It is obvious he knows his way around a fight scene. With the exception of the finale, every action sequence was brutal fun.
This is a film that could have been extremely cheesy with some of the dialogue, but each actor sells it. Reeves was the right choice for this role and hearkens back to his time as Neo. He could make a comeback with films like this. Neeson has made a career out of roles like this, so why not?
The only glaring problem was if John Wick is so well known, why did the kid not know who he is? Maybe not his face, but no one bothered to mention Wick’s story to him until after the damage was done.
Also, the film almost makes me care more about The Continental and its stories over the current proceedings. Hopefully there will be a sequel or series dealing with it more directly.