‘You can either hand over your son or you can die screaming alongside him…’
What happens when a stuntman makes a movie? In the case of stuntman turned director Chad Stahelski, he crafts a thrilling 80s throwback and calls it John Wick. Keanu Reeves plays the eponymous retired hitman who sets out on a revenge mission. Because this is an action movie the fighting is frantic, the explosions are massive and the baddies are Russian. Stahelski isn’t subverting the genre but he does pay homage to it. I have written before about how modern action movies don’t work because they are too knowing and self concious to truly capture the kitsch cheesiness that made the glory years of action movies so memorable and endearing. One notable recent(ish) exception is Taken. John Wick is in a similar vein to Liam Neeson’s revenge themed movie and both films benefit from keeping the story simple and the action constant.
Keanu Reeves is perfect for a role that has hardly any dialogue and never calls for Keanu to stray from his two effective facial expressions. It is astounding that Keanu Reeves has starred in defining action movies in three different decades in the shape of Speed, The Matrix and now John Wick, and though he is much maligned, there is no denying the impressiveness of that achievement.
Elsewhere, Willem Dafoe is great as the elder statesman of hitmen, as is Ian McShane in a similar role. Michael Nyqvist brings some much needed charisma in his role as standard Hollywood villain and the direction is assured throughout, marrying a frantic pace with impressive action sequences.
John Wick is not a fashionable film, nor is it particularly ground breaking, but its success shows that there is still a market for hard, violent action films. If you are looking for a popcorn flick that takes itself just seriously enough, John Wick is a great starting point. I really wanted to love this movie going in and I’m delighted to say that I did. Apparently, John Wick: Chapter 2 is even better. Happy days.