You’d have thought the Americans would want to wage war with Middle Eastern bad guys as opposed to Russians. They seem to be cropping up in almost every violent revenge/thriller, lately. The Equalizer didn’t so much “equalize” as simply “revengerize”; thereby massively doling out unfair odds to the competition. Less than a month later, out comes Keanu Reeves to make sure the Russians stay down.
Here, Keanu plays John Wick, the titular ass kicker in question. He’s a retired hitman who’s recently bereaved after his partner passes away. In a fitting tribute to her love for him, she sends him a final message accompanied by a cute puppy dog. The opening twenty minutes is pure grieving on Wick’s part, and he’s just about getting over the whole damn thing when one day he stops to fill up his car at the wrong gas station.
There’s a pent-up, angry Russian juvenile named Iosef who takes a liking to his 1969 Mustang. Wick won’t sell it and drives off. Later, he’s visited by this nincompoop who resembles a curious cross between Ewan MacGregor and Peter Dinklage. Iosef and his chums knock ten bells of shit out of Wick, and kill his dog. And this really pisses John off. Or, should I say, really gets on his wick.
So, Wick goes on the hunt to find Iosef who has run back to his father; a megalomaniac patriarch named Viggo, played by Michael Nyqvist. Father tells son he’s killed the wrong owner’s dog; that Wick used to work for this clandestine oligarchy, and now he will come for them.
And, boy oh boy, does he ever come for them.
About 45 minutes into John Wick, I lost count. By that I meant, I lost count of how many Russian henchmen Wick had dispatched. Lost count on how many bullets were fired, and how many litres of blood had splattered. And there was 45 minutes left to go.
Into the mix is Willem Dafoe as a hitman hired to kill Wick and, just to make sure, Adrianne Palicki is a female hitman out to get him, too. Both are ordered by Viggo to “take care of him” but, you see, Wick is a walking grim reaper of death and makes up for in body count what he lacks in one-liners.
John Wick is mile-a-minute, bloody, messy and razor-sharp in its direction and efficiency. It truly never lets up after its relatively sombre opening twenty minutes. But from that point on, hold on to your pants.
Directed by stuntman Chad Stahelski (with David Leitch), John Wick boasts no fewer than five awesome extended action set pieces; my favourite being slap bang in the middle of the picture set in a nightclub; reminiscent, to an extent, of the Kane and Lynch video game. All the set pieces in question feature innumerable weaponry from knives, to guns, to high calibre fuck-you canons. At one point John manages to, I shit you not, flying head butt someone with a plastic bag over his head and soon thereafter go on to punch someone with his SUV. It’s truly astonishing stuff.
Okay, it’s stuff we’ve seen before, but this time director Stahelski shows real verve for the energy in his direction; you feel every hit, wallop and stab. It’s actually indescribable. You can see everything. And this is almost certainly down to some truly stunning and creative cinematography by Jonathan Sela. The soundtrack is gobsmackingly awesome, as well – from light hearted 80s inspired “chill out” to grinding, thumping bass-ridden pangs of incoming rad doom.
And the utter, gasping remorselessness is also something which will leave you reeling and rooting for Wick. He’s the audience’s antithetic Anton Chigurh; death is coming for these Russians. It’s just a matter of time how they are despatched and with which weapon. Most of it is played by stealth, which means the majority of the movie is played out execution-style, for a grand total of (easily) 150+ onscreen kills. Commando, you have met your match, here. Want more proof? David Patrick Kelly turns up as the Winston Wolf character to clean up. Man, this film just fucks the right notes and orders them all a cab after it’s shot its load.
And to think, there were us critics bemoaning how watered down action films are. Not here, not this time; this is giddily stupid, masochistic fun, and I emerged from the screening a dribbling buffoon, high on the silly, gloriously sound-tracked mayhem, easily happy to sit through it all over again.
I defy anyone reading this review to disagree, and instead just take the plunge and enjoy yourself. John Wick is FUCKING AWESOME.
Author: Andrew Mackay