Fantastic Fest Review: Don't Mess With Keanu Reeves in 'John Wick'
by Alex Billington
September 20, 2014
When it comes to action movies, the good ones seems to be few and far between nowadays. Not only do they lack interesting characters and coherent stories, but the action just sucks, it's never good, it's shot poorly. Thus I must admit that it is completely refreshing to come across an awesome action movie that delivers, yet doesn't try to over deliver. John Wick starring Keanu Reeves as John Wick is the latest movie to join the pantheon of great modern action movies (in the last 10 years), including The Raid 2, Kick-Ass, Crank, Shoot 'Em Up, Wanted (just a few that came to mind while watching this). It's nearly perfect, and is the kind of pure action I've missed. Just a man, his guns, endless henchman, and tons and tons of headshots. Oh yes.
What works so well for John Wick is the simplicity - no extravagant backstory or exposition, just a man who has lost everything, may be skilled at killing, getting pissed off at some mobsters who decide to mess with the wrong guy. It moves quickly, giving the audience enough of an emotional attachment at first (including using the oldest trick in the book - an adorable puppy) to understand Wick and to not feel bad when he eventually kills a whole shitload of people throughout the rest of the movie. Wick is, basically, an extremely skilled assassin who retired and decided to spend his days with his wife. But she got sick, he lost everything, and when/if you ever set him off, you're fucked. There's no turning back, everyone dies and we get to watch.
Directed by David Leitch & Chad Stahelski, two stuntmen who have been working with Keanu since The Matrix making their feature directing debut, the film builds a great world around Wick that he gets to
play kill in. Set mostly in/around New York City, there's a hotel downtown that is "off-limits" for any business, and the setup there is brilliant. It's the kind of setup where they can build an entire franchise around this, starting from there and telling stories about other assassins and killers who stop by for rest and recovery. It still feels like New York and it doesn't push into sci-fi territory, but it also feels like the kind of world where great action movies belong and this one fits perfectly. There's even sleek cars and lush cinematography, too.
On top of the world of John Wick, directors Leitch and Stahelski really know how to design and film action. With so many dull, poorly-shot action movies prevalent in Hollywood nowadays (yes it's true), it takes real talent to deliver something new in this world that actually excites and entertains die-hard movies fans. We're the ones this kind of action movie is made for, and if it doesn't live up to the likes of other great action movies, no one is going to care about this one at all. Thankfully the action is John Wick is fucking fantastic, with Wick delivering non-stop headshots, knife stabs, judo throws, plus a bit of martial arts. It's intense and thoroughly thrilling to watch, taking me back to those days of watching 80/90s action classics growing up.
I just can't believe how much this movie surpassed all of my expectations, I honestly wasn't expecting it to be THIS awesome. But it is, and it really connected with me (maybe it was that puppy). I miss seeing movies like this. Pure action with great characters, and exciting world wrapped around it all, no extravagance, no big ideas. Just great action, the kind that leaves you wanting more, wanting to rewatch and experience this all over again. Keanu Reeves is back in the game, kicking ass and taking numbers (body count according to the directors: 84). John Wick truly is an outstanding action movie and I hope it finds the right audience, because it's the kind of action movie we all deserve to see again. And I already want more set in this world.
Alex's Fantastic Fest Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing