Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe
After a group of gangsters break into his house, steal his car and kill the dog his late wife gave him, former hitman John Wick (Reeves) vows to take brutal revenge.
I think even the most dedicated and ardent fan of action films surely has to admit that a vast majority of them have essentially the same plots that feature the same narrative structure. However that is surely why we watch them isn’t it? We just want to be entertained and ultimately be able to switch our brains firmly off. Of course once in every blue moon an action film comes along that features great character development and is actually a deeply engaging experience, well John Wick is not that once-in-a-blue-moon film, but what it most certainly is an unashamedly entertaining self-aware genre piece that delivers what is expected of a film of this ilk.
The action genre is surely the most over supplied of all film genres, and as I said, they all essentially have the same plot (give or take a few minor differences) but for me what makes a good action film is if they are entertaining and just have well-made action sequences, and it is on this level that John Wick most certainly delivers. All involved know exactly what they are making, and so focus on what exactly makes a good action film and utilise the fact they have a decent budget and well-known cast involved. No, it will not live long in the memory, but while on screen for its 101 minutes John Wick delivers pure brain-switched-off entertainment.
There are of course the usual lame attempts at character development and justification for the protagonist needing to kill an endless army of generic henchman and assassins, and the fact it is one that all animal lovers like myself will not like is not a spoiler. However this is all dealt with in suitably swift style to allow the bloodshed to commence.
From this point the whole thing does pretty much feel like a video game with different levels in various settings across New York and the occasional boss level at the end. There is even a central hub our protagonist can go to that is safe; a hotel in which assassins, hitman and gangsters seem to hang out but there is a code not allowing any violence on the premises. This plot device is certainly more than a little gimmicky (as one of the characters does eloquently say “fuck the code”), but does admittedly add to the fun and is used surprisingly well.
Most importantly, every sequence of brutal violence is, though very polished, done superbly well in terms of directing, editing, lighting and music. Yes there is certainly a level of predictability about the whole thing, especially as many speak about our protagonist as though he were a mythical God, but isn’t that part of what makes a genre piece like this such fun? (Answer: Yes)
The big name cast all deliver in roles that are not exactly the greatest test of their acting abilities; Keanu Reeves of course has limited range, but looks the part, while Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane chew suitable amounts of scenery in their roles.
John Wick certainly has a predictable plot with plenty of contrivances, but then what good action film doesn’t? We don’t watch action films with the intention of having to think too much, we just want to be thrilled and entertained, and John Wick most certainly delivers on these levels.
Utter vacuous generic genre piece nonsense, but that of the best kind; John Wick knows exactly what film it is, and is very successful at achieving this. It is pure self-aware escapist (and brutally violent) entertainment.