Welcome to my inaugural film review. We start in style with Keanu Reeves’ latest movie John Wick.
This film is my new definition of a slick, concise action/revenge thriller. There is literally no spare fat on this movie whatsoever. It’s not a complicated film, but then it never sets out to be. This is a simple story that we’ve seen many times before of a man who loses everything and sets out to make those who took it from him pay
The set up is powered through within the first fifteen minutes and then, just like Keanu’s character the eponymous John Wick; it’s all about the mission. This is not to say that the movie is just action for action’s sake because the set up is a blinder. Liam Neeson wishes Brian Mills had this much audience sympathy going into “Taken”! Without giving anything away, there will be few people watching this who don’t get why John is doing what he does at the outset, and that resonates through the rest of the film.
Like the main character it is a film of few words but much action and style, and for once this is a good thing. The each character is allowed to show their colours rather than have everyone else expound about what sort of person they are. John’s own past is left mainly in the shadows and he’s a more powerful influence on the film for it. We don’t really know where he got his impressively violent abilities from, all we know is that everyone who knows about him is terrified of him. As the movie kicks into a high gear, from which it rarely comes down, John Wick quickly reveals his true colours and we then get to see how he got his reputation. That being said direction is steady and not afraid to linger on things now and again, which does give the film some impressively beautiful moments and allows there to be beats of humour and character interaction between the adrenaline-pumping scenes that make up most of this story. This is and impressive directorial debut for Chad Stahelski, who previously worked with Reeves as his stunt-double on the Matrix films. In fact that is not the only Matrix influence underlying this movie. We are not talking bullet-time effects, or balletic choreography, but the stylishness of the set dressings and costumes on display, not to mention several returning faces from throughout the Matrix trilogy. Watch out for a particularly impressive fight between John Wick and the main body-guard, who just so happens to have fought Neo before as an Agent.
That brings us nicely to the main focus of this movie. This is a film where action speaks louder than any words, much louder! Every fight tells a story and every character tells their story through fighting. John’s own methods are compact, close in and brutal. Guns, knives, hands and feet all blend into one as he scythes his way through one set of armed attackers after another. The good thing about this film though is that you never get the feeling that the character is blindly throwing himself into these situations. He observes, orients and acts accordingly. What we get instead of the Schwarzenneger-esque bullet fountatins of old, is a precise, almost machine-like efficiency that would put a Terminator to shame.The camera-work during the fight scenes is also a joy to behold. The director has the confidence in the fight co-ordinator, the masterful Jonathan Eusebio, to allow the camera to actually show you what is going on. There is virtually no “shaky-hand-cam” in this movie, which makes me hope that this marks the end of the “Bourne-effect” in action cinema, which, in my opinion, has been used too much over the years to alternately cover a multitude of fight choreography sins and make audiences concurrently feel motion-sick. Here the camera moves are precise and often locked off and the action takes place fully within the frame before moving on to the next shot. And move it does, there are rarely moments in the fights where you are not following John around a building or open area, but in spite of the sheer amount that is going on in front of you, you never feel lost. Just like John Wick the director makes sure that you are completely aware of what is happening around you and where it is relative to everything else. This is action as it should be done.
Now, with this much fighting going on I’m not going to lie; the body-count in this film is frankly stunning. John Wick is not the sort of person to leave the living in his wake. That being said it’s not portrayed in a gratuitously exploitative way. Although possibly a good hundred or so armed and disposable thugs are dispatched by John throughout the movie, you can’t help but get the distinct feeling that if John was allowed his way, only one person would die in this film and the run time would be roughly half an hour. It’s just that everyone makes the mistake of trying to stop him and forces him to use harsher methods to acheive his goal. These harsher methods are rarely ever shown as being personal to John, in fact he rarely seems aware of his foes as more than targets to be eliminated. Once that has happened he moves on to the next one. The only times John emotes are when someone else has made the mistake of making things personal to him and then you can see why he reacts the way he does.
The final thing that is worth mentioning here is that despite the impressively concise running time of 101 minutes, which in this world of post-Ringsian temporal excess is positively brief, the film feels as though it inhabits a world that has depth and history. All the incidental characters John interacts with along his bloody path to revenge show that they have a past with him. Some love him, others hate him, but none of them are just charicatures put there to fill screen time between action sequences. This allows the film to feel as though there is much, much more to explore, without leaving gratuitous amounts of sequel bait on display. There are relationships and ideas here that many will want to see expanded on in future films, but they are filled out enough in this film that you won’t feel upset about not seeing more of if this were to be a one and done movie.
Don’t worry though, the word is that, like James Bond, John Wick will return.
Four Moons out of Five. Action that delivers!