John Wick is about a (currently) retired hitman who used to work "almost" exclusively for the Russian mafia under Viggo Tasarov (Michael Nyqvist). This was back during his 'glory days' when he was a feared contract killer of the underworld who was making a name for himself. After John Wick (Keanu Reeves) falls madly and deeply in love with Helen (Bridget Moynahan) and they marry, John Wick bargains for his freedom from "the life" with Viggo, because assassins typically don't get to 'walk away from the life and retire'. John Wick did all this so he could spend the rest of his days with his beloved wife Helen. The caveat for John's "retirement" is that John must eliminate all of Viggo's enemies in one bloody night, leaving Viggo the undisputed king of the underworld, and John Wick gets to walk away, clean. John does the deed successfully, Viggo keeps his word and lets him go, as promised. Everyone kept their word and everyone was happy.
Unfortunately, god has a twisted sense of humor and shortly thereafter Helen becomes sick and dies, leaving John with a puppy and a note on the day of her funeral. That puppy was his wife's last gift to John to help him cope, and the two bond as Helen would have wanted, going for cruises in his sweet ride. Which inadvertently attracts the attention of three young Russian thugs, one of whom is Viggo's son, Iosef Tasarov (Alfie Allen), not that John knows who he is, John has never met Viggo's son before. The Russians youths follow John home and savagely attack him, kill his dog and steal his car, big mistake. It gets back to Viggo that his reckless son Iosef has just angered one of the most feared assassins in the business. Viggo tries to broker a peace deal with John, but John wants blood. So John is forced to step back into his former world to get his revenge, while his former employer tries to protect his idiot of a son with everything he's amassed over the years, soldiers, mercenaries, assassins, technology, etc.
I love a good action movie and I think John Wick showed a lot of potential to be great, not that the standards are terribly high nowadays. The slick, stylized and visceral atmosphere that this clandestine 'committee' of hitmen inhabit with their own rules and currency is interesting, but it's sadly undercooked as well. I wanted to see more of this secret organization, but we're only ever given a small taste of who they are and how they operate. It did offer an interesting spin on the assassin culture though.
The plot is thin, but that doesn't even matter. Great action movies don't necessarily need a deep plot, and as absurd as the plot sounds, Keanu does a good job of selling his grief with his earnestness. Dog owners and car enthusiasts will empathize. For those of you who would say 'he does all this for a dog?' No, it's not only about a dog, stop being so superficial. That dog was his last lifeline after his wife died, that dog is what gave him a reason to keep on going after she passed, and these punks took that away from him. It's as if they took his wife away from him for a second time. I'm not calling his wife a bitch, I mean in a metaphorical sense. The pacing of John Wick is a little wobbly in the first half, but it finds its legs later on. For some reason, and this really bugged me too, is that the ending of John Wick is shown at the start of the movie for no reason whatsoever, this just made no sense to me at all, it served no purpose. The director should have told the story linearly as there was absolutely no need to mix up the structure of the movie like that.
John Wick is the directorial debut of Chad Stahelski, a stuntman, and unfortunately John Wick feels like it was directed by a stuntman. A few of the action sequences had some genuinely awesome gun-fu on offer, but they weren't shot as well as they could have been. I think the directors ideas were good, but his execution was lacking. A more experienced director probably could have crafted a more effective action movie. I did enjoy John Wick for what it was, a fun, but cliched action movie, but it could have been so much more if it was placed in more capable hands. Even despite all its shortcomings, I'd still put John Wick above The Equalizer.
Written by - The Sentry - 13/01/2015