Masked men break into a house and beat up Keanu Reeves. Unusually, this time Keanu is sporting a beard in his guise as John Wick, a lethal ex-mobster that is now on a revenge rampage to kill the people who hurt him and his puppy. The good news? I haven’t spoiled anything: it’s all in the trailer. The bad news? There’s nothing else to spoil.
Good ol’ shoot-em-ups tend to forgo plot and character development for slick gear and swift bad-guy ass-kicking. John Wick squarely sticks to this formula—for better and for worse. While Directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski present some classic themes very satisfyingly, the movie’s uninspiring plot ultimately leaves the audience wanting. But let’s start with what does work: the film feels polished, clean, and professional to reflect the New York City mafia’s business-like operations. Wick happens to be a car enthusiast and the extended shots of his beautiful classic cars, as well as the enhanced heavy revving of the motor during driving scenes, let the audience appreciate the beauty of motorsport. Firearm usage is similarly satisfying; Wick uses his HK P30L pistol (with plenty of on-screen reloading) for most of the film instead of bombastically burning through an entire military arsenal. He overcomes incredible odds but at least he demonstrates appropriate close-quarters combat technique, tucking his elbows to clear corners and firing from the chest.
The directors’ one significant attempt to depart from formula comes with casting Reeves as John Wick. His signature slightly bewildered and awkward style has worked surprisingly well as the chosen savior of humanity (The Matrix) and even as a sensitive lover (The Lake House), but as a ruthless—albeit retired—mob hit man, it is hard to imagine. Still, Reeves surprises once again and offers the one bit of originality John Wick provides. The result—a cold-blooded killer who is complex and sensitive—very refreshingly challenges the typical tough-guy gangster stereotype. Reeves develops Wick as the film progresses, illustrating the struggle between his character’s promise to his late wife to leave his former life of crime against the fact that old habits die hard. There is also the friction between staying professional and maintaining a code of honor against an emotional rampage. The unfortunate irony, however, is that by trying to shoehorn originality into the overused trope that is the vengeful gangster, the attempt at character development felt out of place with the rest of the film’s clichéd motifs (examples of which include a funeral in heavy rain, Russian-speaking gangsters, and a Gothic church scene).
Since John Wick presents classic tropes so well, its screenplay would have to be pretty awful to make this anything other than a decent if unambitious action movie. Unfortunately, the screenplay is exactly that. For a film that has respect as a central theme, the biggest letdown is that its screenplay is so poorly written—one might expect that effort could have actually been put into the screenwriting out of respect for the audience, but unfortunately this is not the case. There were many opportunities to shed a little more light on John Wick’s curious background, for example, instead of simply having characters repeat what has already been said. While John’s motivations are almost too stupidly clear, it’s curious that the villains’ motivations don’t really make sense. The plot is so crassly unadorned that the directors must have intentionally stripped this shooter down to its barest components; unfortunately, it backfired.
The last twenty or so minutes drag on after the movie seems to have ended; by the time the actual ending comes around—which is actually where the movie begins, before a flashback retelling that serves no purpose —you just want the plot to be put out of its misery. Instead, the cheesy final touch backfires entirely and crystallizes just how absurdly banal the film is. One would think that a comic-book name like John Wick is a reference to how his character is burned out, or perhaps suggests he is a bomb with a burning wick waiting to blow. If only the movie were more like its namesake.
A polished shoot-em-up that offers nothing interesting.