So, Keanu Reeves is in another action thriller. I figured it would be more 47 Ronin (which was mostly horrible with glimmers of imagination) than The Matrix/Speed/Point Break.
Happily, I was wrong.
In John Wick, two of Reeves’ Matrix buddies, stunt guys John Stahelski and David Leitch deliver a film with more powerful kicks, punches, and stunts than anything I’ve seen since the last good Transporter movie. Or something like that. In a film with elements that reminded me of The Raid or Die Hard (the good ones), we watch a man on a path of vengeance that takes him (and us) back through a world that Wick thought he had left behind.
Days after Wick’s wife (Blue Bloods’ Bridget Moynahan) dies, he’s jumped by three goons, one of whom happens to be his former boss’ kid (Alfie Allen or Theron Greyjoy from Game of Thrones) who steal his ’69 Mustang and beat his dog to death. I’m no big animal lover but this is brutal (in a harsher way than what we just saw in The Rover) because of the way they senselessly kill the dog and because it was his wife’s last gift- that brought him hope. Hope is dead, and Wick busts open his basement floor with a sledgehammer. It is on!
With some excellent smaller roles filled by Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters (the Mayhem guy!), and David Patrick Kelly, the majority of the dialogue revolves around Wick and his former boss, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist, the latest Mission Impossible villain and the original reporter in the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). There’s a love-hate relationship there, and it’s the thing that provides a decent amount of humor and nuance to a film that revolves around punch-out after shoot-out after chase that’s like classic Seagal or Statham.
The one time there’s real dialogue, God gets thrown in the mix. Tarasov tells Wick that there’s hell to pay for the things they’ve done, and that Wick’s wife died and Wick is after Tarasov because God is punishing them. It’s a strange thing to drop into the midst of a reasonably ‘silent’ film that leaves most of the noise to Tyler Bates’ (Guardians of the Galaxy) score. But it says a lot about what the behind-the-camera guys think about Wick: he’s the hammer of god, the Old Testament one, bringing vengeance, and bloodshed, and death to those who have done evil and protect it. Sure, it’s a pup that was killed early, but it’s about the code, and about justice. And Wick is bringing it … hard.
A couple of times, I wanted to close my eyes- but this was one of the best body count movies I’ve seen in years. The levels of the ‘game’ were for a purpose (only once did I turn to a friend and say, “yeah, right, he let that guy walk”), and Wick’s own sense of purpose and forthrightness draws others to him, and makes them want to help. It’s just enough to make us think there are more stories where this came from- and we haven’t seen the last of the past and future John Wick.