Following his wife’s funeral and condolences from people no longer in his life, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) wants to grieve alone, but his future looks questionable. Hope arrives in the form of a delivered puppy, a thoughtful gift from his late wife knowing how hard her death would be for him. A chance encounter involving John’s prized classic 1969 Mustang leads to a home invasion, a stolen vehicle, and… worse. The thief (Alfie Allen) doesn’t know who John is, however, or what profession he’s retired from. No, John isn’t the Boogeyman — he’s who you send to have the Boogeyman killed.
This little gem slipped under the radar following the post-Matrix career of Keanu Reeves, the exception among a string of action-adventures that never quite seemed up to the same level of popularity. Reeves didn’t quit, however, nor did he slack off. The trailers didn’t appear particular compelling or in any way unique, never mind the rumors that film is secretly about Keanu “avenging his pet.” Is this truely something cool or just another attempt to cash in on The Matrix street cred? The answer gets a bit complicated…
John Wick walks a clever line between gun porn and style-as-substance while managing to find a way to make both compelling and relevant — no small task… and perhaps more of an accident than anything intentional. With a combination of close-quarter combat, brutal gunplay, and an underworld where honor among assassins is the only way to fly, John Wick unleashes a style all its own along while boasting a cast of top actors in secondary roles to let Reeves shine. The entire production feels like a remake of some forgotten late 1980s revenge flick with all the trappings and production advantages of modern filmmaking; it’s only a matter of time before we’ll see poor imitations or a continuing franchise (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).
Like many great stories, this one starts after the beginning and stops sometime before the end, hinting in between at all that has come before or may happen after. People whisper about the main character in quiet tones, as if the mention of his name could somehow invoke him to appear and destroy you; what makes it work is watching Reeves work, selling the concept that this is a person who will not stop. He’s not immortal, mind you — John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe, and Ian McShane add levity along with a pre-“Agents of SHIELD” Adrianne Palicki. You can tell John has been in the business for a while, but the extent of contacts and trusted confidants surprises throughout.
Even the subtitles feel original, an organic character unto themselves. The story goes where it has to go and ends how it has to end, hinting at more than it reveals and going over the top with gratuitous fight scenes while still leaving you wanting more. It’s a rare screenplay that can introduce a compelling action character, create an entire world just beneath our own, and entertainingly destroy it from the inside out all in a hundred minutes; we should be so lucky.
John Wick is rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language, brief drug use, and satisfyingly gratuitous revenge.
4 Skull Recommendation Out of Four