An action movie that absolutely rocks the meter, John Wick is the kind of film that reflects perfectly on the time of its making. Remember the fine de siècle visions of the future and the excitement as we passed through the Millennium? Remember the arrival of the internet, and the fresh notion that we could solve our on-going problems with race, with terrorism, with social division, because we were all connected to, and regularly communicating with, each other?
John Wick is having none of this kind of namby-pamby idealism. He’s a just man with a grievance. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, sure, they used violence to enforce justice and the law. But when Wick (Keanu Reeves) takes a sledge-hammer to the concrete floor of his apartment and starts to dig out the guns and ammo of yesteryear, you can bet it’s not some abstract notion of wrong or right he’s enforcing; it’s personal. Not only is he mourning the death by terminal illness of his wife (Bridget Moynahan), but the adorable Beagle she gave his to remind him of her has been killed. And his car has been stolen. By anyone’s standards, this is a terrible day at the office. But our hero has one thing in his favour; he’s not just anyone, he’s John Wick.
Expanded universe sequels, video games, a proposed tv show and more have followed in the bloody footsteps of Chad Stahelski’s 2014 thriller, adding value to this stripped-down story, but as with James Cameron’s Terminator, nothing beats the first time around the block. I saw John Wick on a gloomy fall in AMC Lincoln Square at an 8pm screening, having heard good things. The creators referenced Scottish writer Alistair Maclean and his best-selling brand of professional private soldier. But John Wick takes things to another level, offering up bursts of rabid action fusing The Matrix, video games and everyone’s fantasy of getting ones own back.
Watching Wick defend his house, then start in the basement of a nightclub and diligently work his way through an endless supply of hoods offered the kind of satisfaction that few movies do, and left the audience cheering. The good guy wins, the bad guys pay the price, instant justice is served, but it never looked so balletic and choreographed as this. Even better, there’s a willingness to subvert clichés; the climax sees Wick take on a man much older and less fit than himself, hardly a fair fight even after Wick has taken some punishment along the way. And rather than an underdog or everyman, Wick is a legend in his own profession; scene after scene features the baddies incredulous and cowering in their boots that John Wick is alive and coming after them. Rich on ill-gotten gains? Think you can hide behind the anonymity of crime? John Wick is after you, and he’s on a suicide mission to take down the entire rotten system while he’s at it.
Parking ticket? Printer ink run dry? Feel the government is letting you down? Stick John Wick on and feel refreshed and revived in 101 minutes. The catharsis of action is dealt out in outbursts of frenetic killing, so whatever kind of bad day you’ve had, John Wick should cheer you up. He’s sour, he’s stoic, he’s put upon and he’s easy to identify with. But he’s also been training every second that you’ve been sitting idle on the couch, and he’ll get things sorted in a way that you can never imagine. The John Wick franchise expands on Dirty Harry’s credo ‘There’s nothing wrong with shooting as long as the right people get shot,’; it’s a fantasy that appeals because real life is tough, and watching one good man cut through all the nonsense makes for a truly epic watch. The sequels have been classy, but each one slowly dispels a little of the mystery that makes John Wick so enjoyable; the original film has an unstoppable momentum, a rage against the machine that has to be seen to be believed.