When three Russian thugs kill John Wick’s dog, his world falls apart. As a result, he’s sucked back into his violent past, with a reimagined New York providing the perfect arena for this well-handled revenge thriller.
Teaming up with his former stunt double on The Matrix, Keanu Reeves reminds us of the presence he can bring to a big action movie following the disappointment of films such as 47 Ronin. He is helped, no doubt, by the sheer control and understanding of the genre possessed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Each scenario, no matter how deadly, is handled with a dexterity that is compelling to watch. Despite taking out up to thirty Russian henchmen at a time, John Wick’s soirees into destruction remain literate as well as enticing. Rather than relying on fast cutting, shaky cameras and visual chaos, each set piece is shot with a patience that showcases Reeves’ physical stunts rather than virtual effects or tricks of the camera. It’s something that any action aficionado will relish from beginning to end.
The onslaught begins when Alife Allen (Game of Thrones), quite enjoyable here as Mikael Nyqvist’s thuggish brat, murders John Wick’s dog and nabs his Mustang. The set up might be a bit much, but it doesn’t feel forced given the film’s comic book aesthetic. Instead, this world of gangsters, contract killers and specified ‘no-kill’ zones is so well realised that you can’t resist giving yourself up to it. In fact, given the entire film is populated singularly by these shady figures, it would be difficult not to.
From the skyline to the subtitles, the entire film is stylized. Neon-lit corridors and rain-drenched courtyards provide the natural habitat for Keanu Reeves’ boogeyman of the hitman community. Actually, John Wick’s reputation for lethal efficiency is so well known that the mob boss takes pains to assure us that Wick isn’t the boogeyman, “he’s the guy you send to kill the fucking boogeyman.” In an attempt to prevent the master of murder himself from opening the floodgates on his son, Nyqvist uses his influence to send a slew of assassins after Wick. It is here that the supporting cast take the floor, with Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane assuming recognisable roles and adding to the sense that, in this town, old friends and old enemies aren’t necessarily separate things.
Keanu Reeves is fantastic in the lead role, bringing his calming presence to the screen before disrupting it with brutal moments of violence. His movements are clinical, but the film’s script is playful enough as to not get bogged down by overwrought sincerity. With reports that John Wick 2 is already in early development, it might not be long until to see what John Wick can possibly do next.