The retired soldier / hitman / warrior who gets call back into action to save / avenge someone is a cinematic formula that has been played out repeatedly. Due to films like Man on Fire, Kill Bill, Taken, Under Siege, etc. the audience knows exactly what to expect from the plot progression of films in the genre. Thankfully John Wick knows what kind of movie it is and does not try to shake up the formula to be original. It instead focuses its energy on perfecting the elements of its genre. And in that endeavor John Wick is very successful.
And ohhh it is so much fun to see the bodies drop. John Wick is directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, both former stuntmen who have worked on movies such as The Matrix, 300 and Serenity. Through their experience they are able to craft incredibly exciting, impressive and well-coordinated gunfights and combat. The spectacle is not unlike watching a highly skilled video game player dominate in a popular first-person shooter. John Wick is a very entertainingly efficient killer. The world Stahelski and Leitch create around John and his unfortunate victims is surprisingly fleshed out and different from what I’ve seen before. The underground world of hitmen is extensive, professional and lavish. There is honor and respect among these evil men and women, similar to samurai culture. If John Wick doesn’t garner a sequel, then I’d really like to see another film set in this world focusing on someone else; it’s that interesting.
Keanu Reeves isn’t any more dynamic than he has been in his more recent films, but his stoic nature works well with the character. When he needs to, he brings a welcome quiet intensity to some of the heavier scenes. Michael Nyqvist, on the other head, is a pleasure to watch throughout. A character who starts out as a generic Russian mobster continuously evolves into a villain with a distinct personality. Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane and Lance Reddick are all good in their supportive roles, but never given much character development. The film carries a serious tone overall but with a handful of well-timed and well-delivered instances of humor.
John Wick is a great action film, but the third act is mildly anti-climactic. Overall, you are still left with a great sense of satisfaction when you exit the theater. However, I feel like it had potential to be something even greater. If the film had delved deeper into why John was so intent on killing everyone connected to his dogs’ murderers and became more of a character study in addition to a very well shot thriller, we may have had something truly great on our hands. Perhaps Stahelski and Leitch knew they would be out of their depth if they had attempted such a feat, this being their directorial debut. Maybe they’ll go the route of The Raid films. The first being an exercise in action, the second being a perfection of action and drama. Let us hope this is not the last time we see the world of John Wick.