We are living through something of a golden age for action movies. At least one genuinely great one comes out every year, and we should feel grateful to have so many original, action-oriented movies in our lives these days. Among the crop of recent action standouts, though, there is one movie that stands alone.
The original John Wick, which became a phenomenon following its release in 2014, has the kind of legacy that few action movies can ever hope to attain. That legacy, in addition to the many things that make the movie so genuinely great, also just might make it the best action movie ever made. Here are five reasons it deserves that title:
It brought Keanu back into the mainstream
For a period in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Keanu Reeves was the biggest movie star in the world thanks to Speed and The Matrix sequels. Later on in that decade, though, and into the 2010s, Reeves had largely vanished from public view.
Eventually, though, John Wick brought him back into the light, and reminded us what makes him one of the great movie stars in recent history. Not only is he utterly committed to the complex set pieces that these movies are so reliant on, but he has the presence to play a character with the nickname The Boogeyman without it seeming like a stupid joke.
It’s both awesome and stupid
John Wick knows that any truly great action movie has to be both spectacular and at least a little bit ridiculous. Given John’s skills as an assassin, it seems unlikely that all the killing he does in this movie is, strictly speaking, necessary. It’s not the easiest or most convenient path to his goal, but it may be the one that is the most fun to see.
And for every heart-pounding action sequence in the first film, there are also plenty of genuinely hilarious moments where someone is utterly outraged that this kid had the gall to kill John Wick’s dog.
It reminded us what real action choreography looks like
Great action has always been part of mainstream cinema, but it’s undeniable that John Wick launched an entire wave of action cinema focused more explicitly on intimate hand-to-hand combat. The reason for that surge is that, in John Wick and its sequels, that kind of action looks incredibly cool.
Of course, not all of the imitators that have come since have had the magic sauce that made the first John Wick so special, and there were plenty of great action movies long before John Wick came around. What this movie did do, though, is remind us just how valuable great action can be.
It has solid emotional stakes
Although it’s easy to reduce the premise of John Wick to something close to a punch line (man goes on murderous rampage after brand new puppy is murdered), there’s plenty of real emotion going on in that first installment. The dog is not just a dog — it’s a token of his recently deceased wife, the woman who made him give up his life of murder for a newer, more peaceful existence.
That’s why the dog’s death hits John’s so hard. It’s as if his innocence has been killed in a single stroke, and he must hunt down all of the people responsible.
Its hero is not superhuman
To say that John Wick is a typical human would be a lie. He’s certainly better at both killing and not getting killed than the typical person, but especially in the first John Wick, he’s also remarkably vulnerable in every fight sequence, and victory never feels totally assured.
What’s more, he loses his breath, gets caught unawares, and never feels like he has total control of any given situation. It would be easy, given the skills John is supposed to have, to make him essentially untouchable, but John Wick keeps one foot firmly grounded in reality, and is all the better for it.
The latest John Wick movie, John Wick: Chapter 4, hits theaters on March 24.
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