Director: Chad Stahelski & David Leitch
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyquist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane and Willem Dafoe
Running Time: 101 minutes
Release Date: April 10th
Want to know what the cinematic shorthand is for getting an audience entirely and immediately on your side as you cut bloody, violent swathes of psychotic retribution through wave after wave of relatively innocent henchmen? Kill a cute puppy. That’s more or less exactly how John Wick begins, as Keanu Reeves titular character is still grieving for his recently deceased wife (Bridget Moynahan), who left him a puppy as a parting gift. When a group of thieves headed by Iosef (Game Of Thrones’ Alfie Allen) break into his house to steal his car, they also kill his puppy, which sends Wick off the deep end. Turns out Wick was one of the best guns for hire that ever existed, and he happened to work exclusively for Iosef’s crime-lord dad Viggo (Micheal Nyqvist), so when Wick vows revenge, Viggo begrudgingly brings down every hired hand he can to stop him.
Ninety six minutes and at least that many dead bodies later, and John Wick marks another punctuation point in the very oddly successful career of Keanu Reeves. For someone with such a… how do we put this… restricted range of abilities, Reeves instead seems to have an uncanny knack for picking the perfect projects to flex his muscles, both acting and otherwise. Turning in his best performance since The Day the Earth Stood Still (as much an insult as a compliment), Reeves is more than believable as the overly capable assassin who uses the death of his doggy to claw back some rights after years and years of doing wrong.
Former stuntmen-turned-directors Leitch and Stahelski know their way around an action scene, choreographing each one to within an inch of their lives, but trying to distinguish one set-piece from another is more difficult. Much like The Raid: Redemption, the action here is impressive but repetitive, and will find fans in viewers who believe movies that are “very cool” and “very good” to always be one and the same thing. The screenplay is economic in its set up and delivery, rife with well-timed one-liners and interesting scenarios (a sequel or spin-off set entirely in the assassins-only hotel The Continental would be amazing), but not much else, leading to a damp squib of a climax that sees John Wick fizzle out instead of ending with a much-deserved bang.
With talk of John Wick 2 already in the works, here’s hoping these directors take note of The Raid’s sequel and expand their action horizons, as by the time Wick’s killed his fifty-seventh bad-guy with a close range bullet to the head, even the audience will begin to question whether that puppy was more trouble than its worth.