John Wick is one of the best American action movies I’ve seen in a long time that absolutely any fan of action movies should seek out immediately.
John Wick stars Keanu Reeves as John Wick, a retired hitman. He got out of the murder business when he got married. At the beginning of the film, his wife has recently died of a terminal illness, and he is mourning her. For the first ten or fifteen minutes of the movie, you could even forget you’re watching an action film. At first, it could be a movie about a man trying to come to terms with his grief. But then, bad guys show up, and the movie kicks in to high gear.
But before that happens, John gets a dog. The dog was a gift from his late wife, and it is just about the most adorable little puppy dog you’ve ever seen. One day, John is out cruising around in his totally kickass Mustang and bonding with his new furry friend, when he stops at a gas station to fill up the aforementioned kickass Mustang. Also at the gas station are a couple of rather unpleasant fellows with Russian accents, whom the viewer can clearly tell are bad dudes. One of them tries to buy John’s car from him, an offer which is refused.
Later that night, the Russian scumbags from the gas station break into John’s house (mistake), beat him up (BIG mistake), steal his awesome Mustang (REALLY big mistake), and, most heinous of all, KILL HIS ADORABLE PUPPY DOG (GIGANTIC MISTAKE).
So yes, dog lovers be warned, the adorable puppy dog meets a tragic end. The act itself isn’t seen directly (thank goodness), but it’s still a hard scene to watch.
From this point, I firmly believed that the Russian scumbags absolutely deserved whatever horrible vengeance John freaking Wick had in store for them.
Turns out that Iosef, the ringleader of the puppy-murdering scumbags (played by Alfie Allen, better known as Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones), is actually the son of Viggo Tarasov, a seriously bad dude who is the head of the Russian mob in New York, as well as one of John’s former employers.
Viggo (played by Michael Nyqvist, a Swedish actor known for playing Mikael Blomkvist in the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movies, as well the villain in Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol) is not happy when he learns what his son has done. He gets my favorite line in the movie when he tells his son that “I once saw John Wick kill three men in a bar…with…a…pencil.”
He tells his foolish son that they used to call John the Boogeyman, and that he was one of their best assassins. He even helped Viggo gain control of the mob by eliminating all of his former rivals, a task so daunting Viggo had thought it to be impossible, but John Wick is such a badass that he did it single-handedly.
Viggo knows that John will not sit idly by and allow Iosef’s actions to go unpunished, and he’s right. John unleashes a whirlwind of murderous vengeance that is awe-inspiring to behold.
But I know what you’re thinking: he goes on gangster-killing revenge spree because of a dog?
Well, yes and no. It’s because of a dog, but it’s not just a dog. Aside from the fact that pretty much any reasonably sane human being would be rather upset if someone murdered their dog for really no reason at all, the dog is representative of something bigger. The dog was a gift from his late wife who was delivered to him after she died, the dog was his only link to her, and, as John tells Viggo late in the movie, the dog meant that he did not have to grieve alone.
And see, that, to me, is powerful. What’s the only thing worse than mourning the loss of a loved one? The prospect of having to go through the rest of your life without that person in it. The dog meant that John wouldn’t have to do that, and a bunch of punks took that from him.
The scene where John explains this to Viggo is, I think, probably the best acting Keanu Reeves has ever done. He gets a lot of flack for his acting being flat, which sometimes it is, but this movie shows that there are some things he’s really good at. Watch the scene on YouTube here and decide for yourself.
And speaking of Reeves’ performance, he is awesome in the action scenes. He has a real physical presence, the way he moves and fights and fires weapons is completely believable. He moves with a sort of practiced ease, and I never had a problem believing that used to be this unstoppable killing machine, because, clearly, he still is.
Reeves’ performance is complemented by the way the movie’s many action scenes are filmed. The movie was directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (although only Stahelski is credited for whatever reason), both veteran stuntmen making their feature-directing debut. And based on the evidence this movie provides, I am 100% in favor of the two of them making more action movies, since they are clearly very good at it.
All of the film’s action scenes are shot in a way that makes it easy for the viewer to follow what is going on. Modern action films get a lot of criticism for using shaky camera work and really fast editing, but Leitch and Stahelski don’t do either of those things. Their camera movements accentuate Reeves’ movements and actions in a way that is never hard to follow, and absolutely thrilling to watch. The nightclub shootout in particular is the best cinematic nightclub shootout since Michael Mann’s Collateral (and reason #67 why I don’t go to nightclubs).
It’s just a really awesome action movie. Good acting from Reeves and the supporting cast (which also includes Willem Dafoe and the guy who plays Mayhem in those Allstate commercials), simple but interesting setup, and extremely well-choreographed and well-shot action sequences make this a film that should immediately go straight to the top of any action fan’s must-see list.