Yes, I’m surprised that this film has taken this long to come out too. John Wick was a film that was heavily promoted in the States and on the Internet in October 2014 for it’s US release and to be honest when I first saw the trailers and the posters and the story notes for this film, I thought “Oh Jesus, this film is going to blow, people are definitely going to want their money back for this one!” But it surprisingly got a ton of critical success, which made it even more annoying that it’s taken this long for the film to come out over here. There was one factor that really made me want to see this film. Many of the people who read this blog are aware that I am a fan of internet critic Bennet of the Sage. At the end of the year when he listed his 10 ten best and worst list of 2014 he put John Wick at number one best, OK now I had to see this movie. It also helped that this film turned up on a few other top ten lists of 2014, so I was actually going into this with the complete opposite view that I initially expected to be going into this film with. That rarely happens with me. Now that I have actually been out and seen the film I can give you my thoughts on how I think John Wick turned out in the end.
This story is pretty simple. John Wick, played by Keanu Reeves is a former hit man for the Mob who retires after getting married. His wife later dies of an un-named illness and then after she dies, leaves him a dog in order to help the grieving process. His world is rocked, however, when two days after getting the dog, Russian gangster Iosef Tarasov played by Alfie Allen breaks into his home, steals his prized Classic Ford Mustang and kills his dog. Now John is out for blood of both him and his father Viggo Tarasov, played by Michael Nyqvist. Yes this a very basic action plot, but I had actually got into the attitude of this that I had paid to see an action plot so I am not too looking for too much and I am not disappointed with it. This plot is actually very interesting and I was never bored watching this film, which is more than can be said about the last two weeks I have been doing this blog!! The film’s plot is aided by the fact that John Wick is built up for the first 20 minutes of the film as being a complete Bad Ass and we are completely hyped up to see this so when he actually does unleash his skills, it’s really satisfying. The plot is also aided by the fact the villains aren’t stupid. They are genuinely competent and do have strategies that would normally succeed in this scenario, however they are dealing with the hit man equivalent of the ‘Hulk’ and you more believe it’s down to John Wick’s skill than the villain’s incompetence. The villain’s aren’t exactly three dimensional, but as I said, basic action film plot so you are going to get very basic villains. The film’s characters are genuinely quite likeable despite the fact they are, by definition, extremely horrible people. You are not really siding with most of them, except John Wick, you are more tolerating them. That is not necessarily a bad thing, I think they are written well enough that you can distance yourself from the reality of what is being depicted. There are a lot of characters with a lot of small roles, but I am glad that these roles weren’t expanded too much otherwise the film would have had too many characters being bogged down, although it’s interesting how much you can play the game ‘spot the cameo’, which I will go in to more detail later on. The film really focuses on John and the gangsters, that’s one of the films big strengths and luckily it knows this and chooses to focus on this for most of the film. The big point about this plot is don’t expect it to be anything new, you have probably seen this story a few times, the only real difference is it’s the dog that’s been killed rather than someones partner, wife or kid this time. Believe me, the way they make this dog out, you will want these villain’s blood. I will say that the plot does feel slightly under-developed in certain parts and this world doesn’t actually feel too real! It feels very hyper-stylised, which does actually benefit the film in certain scenes, though I was struggling to get around the whole ‘hit men trade favours with each other through gold coin exchanges’ rather than just exchange of money. They could have put a bit more explanation to that. While I am into this, I was expecting this film to feel like an classic 80’s action film bought into the 21st Century, rather like Die Hard or a Reb Brown movie, but actually it surprisingly feels more like a first person shooter video game, though a very good first person shooter video game! This is definitely aided by the huge amount of enemies that seem to pop up out of nowhere and never stop coming and certain scenes feel like quick time events that I have seen in a lot of video games like Heavy Rain and God of War. I know that video games are trying to replicate action films, but this film more than any other is making me think that video games are now starting to influence films and that is definitely not a bad thing in my book. The video game comparison also didn’t help by that the fact that a few characters later on down the line were playing “Halo”, just before a shoot-out was about to start. Though I will say a couple of the charaters had dialogue that would have more suited a video game to the films detrament. My overall advice is, it’s a plot that you can get behind, but just expect this to be the story that you have seen before. It’s competently told, but you have seen it before! But you won’t remember that when you are begging for the people that killed that dog to get their just desserts. The basic moral of the story is “never mess with a man’s dog”.
Let’s now move to the cast, who for this film are really good, even though a lot of these roles are very small and don’t take advantage of the cast, however, as I mentioned, if the roles had been expanded it might have actually made the film an over done mess. Keanu Reeves, in this film, gives his best performance since A Scanner Darkly. My big problem with a lot of his films is I think, he is horribly mis-cast by people who don’t know how to take advantage of his style of acting and this was very evident in films like Henry’s Crime. Now he may not be as perfectly cast for this film as he was in A Scanner Darkly but he still brings his ‘A’ game and as I said, this is probably one of the best roles I have seen in him for in a long time. He really brings that intensity to the role and gives you the impression that he is a cold blooded killer who has seen many things that would give us the same expression if we had experienced it. Keanu also does a lot of brilliant non-verbal acting in this film which again has been one of his strong points. Michael Nyqvist also makes an excellent villain. He really makes you believe in this honour system that these gangsters have set up for themselves and he also feels like a big enough threat to John Wick without feeling too overpowering that John Wick can’t beat him unless he gets some random maguffin that can beat him, or as I call it Anime Villain Syndrome (see Dragon Ball Z for many examples of this). Alfie Allen is a pretty good one dimensional villain although I wouldn’t say his performance is amazing, but he is right for this role in this film. William Defoe has been bigged up in the advertising for this film, especially considering his name is third from the top on Odeon’s page on the film, however, he isn’t that effective or allowed to shine until towards the end of the film, which is a shame because actually he is pretty good here. Adrianne Palicki is alright as Miss Perkins but I didn’t think she gave one of the standout performances of the film, those go to Keanu and Michael. Other than that, everyone else in this film kind of feels like its a case of ‘spot the cameo’. They all have small roles that sort of enter the film, then exit the film and there is almost something for everyone. John Leguizamo is in this, although I wish his role had been a bit bigger considering he figured in most of the trailers and is really bad ass when he is on screen. If you are a fan of Deadwood you will be able to see Ian McShane in another fantastic role, fans of The Wire will be happy to see Clark Peters as briefly as he is in this film. WWE Professional wrestling fans will be happy to see Kevin Nash for the 20 seconds he is on screen. If you are a Kung Fu Panda fan, Randal Duk Kim is back. By far though, the best of the minor supporting cast is Lance Reddick as the hotel manager, he is absolutely hilarious in this role, I loved it. I can’t help but feel though, with a cast this good they do feel kind of wasted considering they are in such small roles. But I have already made my thoughts pretty clear on that altogether. The film is directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch who is normally a stunt co-ordinator, however I am wondering how happy he was with the final product, considering that he is un-credited. I think they do a pretty good job with directing these actors especially considering the premise for the film, they really get these actors to believe in this and they seem to be working together very well, but that is very evident in the action sequences which I will get into in a minute. Overall, pretty good cast though I do feel that a couple of them feel slightly wasted.
Action sequences! This is where the film really shines, they are really good, well shot and well paced. The camera is kept at a distance enough that we are allowed to see every move and every gun shot and be able to tell what is going on in a coherent manner and Keanu Reeves really gets into these brilliantly. The choreography is excellent, probably down to David Leitch’s direction. A lot of the shots are continuously held for decent periods of time, almost making them look as if they are done in one take and even when cuts are made, they are coherent to the sequence. Credit definitely goes to the brilliant editing in this. Now granted, none of these shoot outs or fights scenes are any where near as good as the previously reviewed ‘Kingsman Secret Service’, especially considering that film’s brilliant pub fight and church scene, but I would say that the night club sequence in John Wick is probably one of my top contenders for best action sequence of the year already, especially considering that the escalation really works. The only action sequences which didn’t fully work for me was the fight at the end of the Movie. I think people might understand what I mean when they see the film. The cinematography is also pretty damm good, though expect to see a lot of blue and grey whilst watching this film. I’m pretty sure that is down to a lot of the filters but there is not a large colour palette for this film. The camera shots are excellent and the sound track works well with the scenes but I can see people getting ‘dulled’ out by a lot of the imagery in the film, mainly down to a lack of a bit of a colour palette. Another weird aspect to this film’s editing is the fact that there is a lot of the scenes are spoken in Russian and there are obviously sub-titles to translate that, however, there is a weird emphasis on certain words in each of the sentences and I am not sure why it’s really there, it’s just feel like a weird stylistic choice, and that is probably my biggest negative with this film.
Overall John Wick is a very good action film. I can only recommend it to action film fans , however, because I don’t think it is going to largely appeal to people outside that demographic. Is there anything that is new or innovative here or has large deeper meaning? Not really, but it doesn’t need to do any of that, it’s just fine as it is. The pacing is pretty good, the action is excellent and it never over stays its welcome coming in a 101 minutes. The actors deliver pretty decent performances. It’s the exact film I needed to see after the last two reviews I had done!! However, I am in no mad rush to return to this film and I think I possibly might have enjoyed it more if the hype hadn’t built it up and if I had seen this before Kingsman. I would still recommend seeing this in the Cinema or getting it out of DVD if you like action films. A sequel has already been announced, but I came out of the Cinema thinking that I think this film would work better as a solo film and I am slightly concerned that it will become like the ‘Taken’ movies where they would have been better staying as ‘one film’!!
What are your thoughts on John Wick? Have I got it right or did I miss some key points that made this film bad for you. Please leave some comments section if you feel the need to, we welcome all comments. If you want to do some guest contributions to our site, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you haven’t seen the film but still want to leave a comment you can answer the question at the end of this review.
“Since I wouldn’t like to convert someone to action films with John Wick what would be a better film to try and convert people to Action Films?”
We now need to move on to my next reviews. For the next two weeks and I am going to be pitting DC against Marvel in a review showdown, starting on 24 April where I will be reviewing DC’s next animated film for 2015 “Batman Vs Robin”.
If you get a chance this weekend check out our contributor Neve’s second animation short for our site ‘Doguefight’, it’s a very impressive animation and I would like people to see it for themselves.
Thanks for reading my review, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed making it.
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