‘John Wick’ is pulp done right

by Trevan McGee on October 24, 2014

in Blogs

Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up

Where did this one come from?

Keanu Reeves may be one of the most laid back celebrities on the planet, but in his 12 years since completing The Matrix Trilogy, his career has been all over the place, taking heartbreaking roles in films such as A Scanner Darkly or playing up his calm nature as a ronin samurai in the forgettable fantasy 47 Ronin. But John Wick is different. Reeves’s role as the titular antihero is a near perfect fit in a story that is as direct and efficient as the killer it’s named after.

Essentially, a revenge story the ASPCA would approve, Reeves is John Wick, a widower with a past who just wants to grieve for his wife the way we usually do – driving his muscle car on a closed airport hanger, but when the son of a Russian crime boss breaks into Wick’s home and takes something precious, Wick comes out of retirement in a big way, killing his way across most of New York.

John Wick is a fantastic pulp action movie that knows exactly what it is and doesn’t attempt to be anything more than that. Reeves plays the character muted, calm and reserve, but is allowed a significant emotional moment early in the story. The rest of the characters that fill his world are interesting, dynamic takes on old noir tropes. Ian McShane makes a late appearance as Wick’s confidant, Willem Dafoe plays a contemporary to Wick with his own loyalties and ideals. Adrianne Palicki isn’t wasted as femme fatale, but is instead one of the most ruthless killers on display.

I doesn’t hurt that John Wick was directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, two veteran stuntmen who give the film its unique brand of action. The fight scenes in John Wick are expertly choreographed and actually deepen the character in a way, by revealing how focused, detail-oriented and brutal our antihero can be. What’s more, they’re fans of the long take action shot, so there’s no shaky cam, no smash cuts – they really want you to see what’s going on and more importantly that it’s Reeves doing much of it.

Maybe it’s because of lingering blockbuster fatigue from the summer, but John Wick comes off as a fresh and much-needed palette cleanser before the onslaught of prestige pictures and overwrought dramas hit in the next month. Its story may be derivative, and outcome a little too clean, but those dings aren’t enough to diminish an overall excellent action movie with some of the best fight choreography in recent memory, maybe ever.

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