Not much is taboo in show business anymore.
More and more movies feature controversial subjects and make it a point to edge closer and closer to toe the line. Villains have become sympathetic, and anti-heroes are the norm.
But one thing remains, and [John Wick](movie:1116115) won’t let you forget it.
You never ever kill the dog.
After losing his wife (Bridget Moynahan) to illness, ex-hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is left alone to grieve until an unexpected package comes with a letter from his deceased wife. Knowing her time was short, Helen made arrangements to have a puppy delivered to John to keep him company and help him move on.
Once suicidal and unable to cope, John develops a bond with Daisy that brings him back to life.
It’s after he rejects an offer to sell his ’69 Mustang that John’s moved to return to his former life. A home invasion by the spurned and impulsive Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) brings out the worst — or is it best — when Wick wakes up to find his car stolen and Daisy dead.
After taking a hammer to the concrete floor covering his stash of weapons and gold coins, John becomes the Baba Yaga of the Russian Mafia — or the one you send to kill the Boogeyman. He begins a one-man campaign to exact revenge on Iosef, but the mission takes a turn when he discovers Iosef’s father is Wick’s former employer and head of the Russian Underworld, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). Ruh-roh.
That leads to a $2-million bounty placed on Wick’s head, and John’s journey through New York’s criminal underbelly reveals shadowy figures and organizations lurking in the dark who will either help or hurt him.
John Wick takes action movie to an extreme, and it’s reminiscent of the early ’90’s movies that oozed testosterone over an unhealthy dose of over-the-top action sequences and unusually gory gore. The action sequences look like a video game being played by an expert, and there are about as many headshots as there are deaths. One-liners abound, and the villainy characters do everything in their power to break the rules and even suffer the consequences. There’s even a little bit of Tony Scott with subtitles floating onscreen pushing the narrative forward except with a little bit of comic book font-dressing to make sure you don’t miss what’s happening.
It might sound criminally vapid to some, but rest assured that doesn’t John Wick doesn’t totally devolve into total brain mush. The movie contains some brilliant moments that get to the heart of the matter which is the pinpoint of Wick’s uncontrollable rage, and Reeves digs deep for a range of emotions.
But let’s be real — unless your movie taste is limited to weepy period dramas, you’re going to have a lot of fun once you let go of that torturous need to have intricate plots and loads of character development. There’s no pretense to John Wick — it even plays a bit of satire on the genre with a few winks. The cameo bits, the surrounding characters, and the dressing might allude to a bigger world worth exploring in future sequels, but if John Wick is the vanilla on this year's action list, it’s one of the best scoops you’ve had in a long time.
Score: 4 / 5
Make no mistake. John Wick is almost pure action, but so what? If you're expecting a heady trip that bucks the norm and tries to be more film than movie, be surprised when you find yourself cheering for the boogeyman in a reverse-horror film that's sort of like Batman.
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