At first glance, John Wick looks like any other mid-budget action movie released in the last couple of years: revenge, Russian mobsters, and an aging action star that has not been relevant for a decade. However, there is much more to this than meets the eye.
John Wick is an action movie directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen and Willem Dafoe. This is the directorial debut of both directors, and they previously worked on over 40 films together as stunt coordinators and second-unit directors (including The Matrix trilogy, 300 and Captain America: Civil War).
The story is about John Wick (Keanu Reeves): after the loss of his wife, he receives a last present from her in the form of a cute little puppy, so that he can grief with someone by his side. But peace does not last long, for a group of Russian mobsters (led by Alfie Allen) enters Wick’s home late at night, steals his car and kills his puppy. Too bad that John Wick is a retired hitman, and now he is back into action and will stop at nothing until he takes revenge.
No better actor than Keanu Reeves could have portrayed John Wick: his hardened looks and stoic persona make you understand how much he has gone through, and how far he is willing to go. What truly makes this movie memorable are two things:
1) the action: having worked as stuntmen for many years, the directors know how to choreograph and shoot an action scene. Most importantly, the actors underwent a training program to learn all their moves during the fight scenes. Thanks to this approach, the action is well-shot without the need to use fast edits or to shake the camera in order to hide the stuntmen’s faces, because most of the times the actual actors are performing their own stunts. The type of action employed is known as gun fu, which is a combination of martial arts with the use of guns (which was popularized by John Woo in the East, and Robert Rodriguez in the West).
2) the setting: the story takes place in New York City, but the reality that the characters live in is very different from our own. Screenwriter Derek Kolstad creates a living and breathing underground world of hitmen and mobsters without using expositions scenes to explain how everything works, instead using the age-old tactic of “show, don’t tell”. The assassins have a set of rules that they follow, they all dress sharply, they have their own currency in the form of gold coins, and there is a hotel (called The Continental) that is a safe haven where they cannot be touched. This approach makes the story interesting, making you wonder how everything in this world works, leaving the door open for more exploration of this lifestyle in following entries in this franchise.
The rest of the cast does a fine job, and they are aware that the story is not meant to be taken too seriously. The production design makes great use of neon colors to light the sets, and the electronic soundtrack by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard increases the tension and mayhem that are unfolding on the screen.
Overall, John Wick is one of the better action movies of the past decade thanks to committed performances by its cast, excellent action sequences and smart use of world-building. A must-watch for fans of the genre, and a great way to start a new modern action franchise.
Violence & Gore: 8.5
Sex & Nudity: 2
Drugs & Profanity: 6
Intensity & Horror: 7