“People keep asking me if I’m back. Yeah. I’m thinking I’m back.”
Keanu Reeves makes that bold declaration loud and clear in a hail of gunfire and broken bones, stepping into the title role of John Wick, the new action movie hitting theaters this weekend. From first-time director and veteran stunt worker Chad Stahelski, John Wick comes packed with action aplenty, an army of That Guys, an adorable puppy, and some killer Keanu.
For a first-time John Wick viewer, the less you know, the better. The story is relatively straightforward once it gets going, but its set-up is surprising enough that you want to go in pretty cold. All you really need to know is that it’s Keanu Reeves’ most kick-ass role since he first learned kung fu and dodged bullets in 1999’s The Matrix. (Stahelski and Reeves worked together on that one, by the way.) If it’s adrenaline you’re after, you want Wick; there’s nothing else like it.
One time, he killed three men in a bar with a pencil. With a pencil. That’s John Wick for you.
Five years-and-change ago, Wick retired from the killing game, after one last task that built an empire for Russian gangster Viggo Tarasov. But the life that Wick tried to run away from, it follows you, like a curse. That curse results in Viggo’s spoiled-rotten son, Iosef, crossing paths with John in a very bad way. Iosef’s actions (which we won’t spoil) awaken something terrible in Wick, and everyone in the Tarasov organization will pay the price.
Until Wick and Iosef cross paths, John Wick plays like a very different movie than the one you’d expect from posters and previews. It’s the story of a man in mourning, grieving the loss of everything he holds dear, trying to move on with some semblance of normalcy. He lives in a beautiful house in the woods. He interacts with as few people as possible. He’s sorting some things out. But Iosef closes down that long road toward inner-peace, forcing Wick to become the Boogeyman once again.
The film’s slower-paced first act is unexpected, but ultimately rewarding, given how it fuels everything that comes next. And everything that comes next is basically just Reeves shooting his way through New York night clubs in his vengeance quest against Iosef. Anyone who stands between Wick and Iosef gets a lethal injection of all-the-bullets, several to the chest, more often to the face. The only thing John Wick loves more than the life he lost is shooting people in the head, even when they’re already dead.
As Wick, Reeves plays cold and focused, speaking rarely, emoting even less. It’s vintage Reeves, in other words. Reeves doing what he does best. And when he does burst with rage and grief, it’s unexpected and moving. The things that fuel this character are wholly understandable to just about any warm-blooded, compassionate human being — even if the killing consequences are foreign to most everyone.
Anyone who stands between Wick and Iosef gets a lethal injection of all-the-bullets.
The wider world of Wick is a fascinating one, too, complete with an NYC hotel called The Continental, essentially a safe-haven for assassins of all shapes and sizes, owned by Ian McShane of Deadwood, staffed with a concierge played by Lance Reddick of Fringe, and playing host to killer guests like Clarke Peters of The Wire and Adrianne Palicki of Friday Night Lights. And that’s just a small slice of the familiar faces you’ll find in John Wick. Don’t bother looking at the cast list ahead of time; part of the fun is seeing who pops up on John’s path.
For action movie junkies, there’s nothing better in theaters right now than John Wick. It’s original, loaded with great character actors, built on the bodies of so many criminals, with Keanu Reeves standing atop the pile in classic condition. John Wick is a winner.
(Media © 2014 Summit Entertainment, LLC)