Directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski
Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist,Willem Dafoe, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane
John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is just starting to get over the recent death of his wife with the help of Daisy, the world’s cutest beagle puppy, when snot-nosed Russian mobster Iosef (Alfie Allen), lays his eyes on Wick’s classic ’69 Mustang, beats the living hell out of our mourning hero and kills poor Daisy. This turns out to be a monumental error of judgement as our man Wick turns out to be a retired assassin so badass he’d give Leon The Professional and Jason Bourne the vapours. Wick shoots heads like Jordan shoots hoops, and that’s exactly what he proceeds to do, slaughtering the vast majority of New York’s criminal fraternity in his quest to pop a cap in Iosef’s snivelling ass.
Brought to the screen by stunt-maestros-turned-directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, John Wick is an old school action flick – if your notion of “old school” encompasses the flood of John Woo-inspired violent melodramas we got in the mid ’90s. The plot is perfunctory, serving only to move us from setpiece to bloody setpiece, and the world it takes place in is a kind of heightened, hyper-cool universe of world class assassins and covert crime lords that’s only an Instagram filter away from Sin City.
That all sounds a bit derivative and, to be honest, it is, but it’s all executed in a knowing, affectionate way that invites appreciation rather than scorn. Plus, it’s all in service to some top notch action that ditches shaky camerawork and rapid-fire cutting for long takes and excellent choreography – connoisseurs of cinematic mayhem will be well served here.
Reeves’ brand of Zen blankness is a perfect fit for the material and he’s now of an age where his somewhat frayed edges lend some credence to this kind of tough guy role. He’s supported by a very impressive ensemble, many of whom only crop up for a scene or two to lend the proceedings some gravitas. Willem Dafoe is a senior hitman, Lance Reddick a concierge, Ian McShane a mysterious underworld powerbroker, and Michael Nyqvist is mob boss Viggo, father to Iosef and Wick’s former employer and current nemesis. A cast of this calibre certainly helps the pulpier elements go down smoothly, and all present commit to the film’s B-grade aesthetic.
And make no mistake, John Wick is a B movie, and proud of it; a rollicking, ruthless slaughterfest that delights in sending its large cast of nameless goons to their fates in inventive and painful ways. It’s fairly unsophisticated stuff, but sophistication and entertaining are not the same thing. You’d have to be pretty joyless not to get a kick out of John Wick.