John Wick (2014)
Somehow I don't remember John Wick being released. I can't recall any advertisements or previews. Then again, it was released in 2014, and most of what I remember from that year is film after film of terrible CGI starring whatever new action hero was being forced on the public. It would be understandable if John Wick would pass under the radar.
What I do remember is hearing about it a few years after it came out, since the film slowly became a cult favorite as well as a cultural phenomenon. It was heavily referenced in one of the most famous Rick & Morty episodes, and writer Derek Kolstad scored a sleeper hit with the similar Bob Odenkirk vehicle, Nobody. Keanu Reeves has never really fallen out of the public eye, but John Wick did a lot to boost him in the later part of his career. It's also been one of those rare original properties that has been allowed to grow its audience.
John Wick (Reeves) is a man who is quite well off. He has met the woman of his dreams, but those dreams are shattered when she passes away. As a last gesture of love she arranges for a beagle puppy named Daisy to be sent to him so he won't be without a companion. Within a few days even that is taken from him when Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), the son of Russian mob boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), gets mad because Wick won't sell him his vintage Mustang. Iosef and his pals invade Wick's home, steal the car and kill Daisy.
What Iosef doesn't know is that Wick is a former hitman, once employed by Viggo, who was a legend before his retirement. Hoping to prevent his son from being killed Viggo puts a hit out on Wick, encouraging John's friend Marcus (Willem Dafoe) to turn on him. He also doubles the bounty if anyone in the Continental, a hotel and haven for people in the profession, is willing to break the rules and do business on premises. A rival named Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) takes up that challenge. Nevertheless, Wick pursues Iosef, determined to bring him down even if it means returning to his previous life.
Keanu Reeves, despite having a great reputation with fans and with coworkers, has never been the greatest emotive actor. However, he's excellent in a physical role, making him perfect for roles in movies like Point Break and The Matrix. John Wick plays to his strengths, allowing him to do many of the stunts in the movie, and not forcing him to do a lot of heavy acting. Still, this is one of the movies where he's better at it than usual, particularly at the beginning when he's still freshly grieving.
Viggo is a different take on a villain, being someone who is hoping that things may turn out differently than he knows they will. He's pretty much resigned to what is going to happen the moment he finds out what Iosef did, and Alfie Allen is good at playing a spoiled brat. There is enough we know about the bad guys to make us hate them, which is all that is needed. John Wick is not a movie concerned with nuanced characters, but with elaborate, violent comic-book style action sequences. If one is expecting anything realistic at all that pretty much goes out the door the moment Wick walks into the Continental. Neither Kolstad nor director Chad Stahelski are concerned with anything more than giving the audience the good time it paid for.
That's what has kept audiences coming back for more of this series. John Wick may live in a highly fictional world of impossibly skilled hit people that have their own underground community, but his reasons for revenge are so simple that almost anyone can sympathize. Some of the events, though nowhere near the level of stylistic violence that happens here, are even based on reality, as a guy really did pursue a bunch of punks who killed his dog for fun - only making sure they were turned into the proper authorities rather than blasting his way through a nightclub.
It is one of the few action films that establishes that it's purely in the realm of fiction, thus not insulting audience members when it comes to the more outrageous scenes. Despite all the killing that happens the movie itself is quite fun, as Kolstad and Stahelski decided to see what they could get away with as well as how entertaining they could make the film. John Wick succeeds due to its absurdity and somehow making its extremely unlikely hero relatable on a human level as well.
John Wick (2014)
Time: 101 minutes
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki
Director: Chad Stahelski
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