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John Wick 2014 *****

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.


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  1. Your point about the sequels is so accurate. The seqeuls have been bittersweet experiences for me. It great that the story continues, but there seems to be a lack of understanding from the filmmakers as to what really made the first film so good. Part two was a disappointment and part 3 was to focused on bloody, violent painful death scenes. Part 4 and 5 will more than likely continue to water down the mystery and mystic of the character and the world he exists in.

    • I’m still here for the franchise, it’s still a cut above for all the faults. But they’ll never recapture the energy of this one; thanks for the comment!

    • Indeed, what a mover! Reeves is to fight choreography what Gene Kelly was to dance, he takes it to another level.

  2. A classy thriller with a brilliant series of set-ups establishing that the baddest of the all-time bad guys does not want to tangle with John Wick. There was enough solid background myth to lift this up a notch. And the idea of a hotel for assassins was great. For a guy whose acting is generally disdained Reeves has been solid box office for over a quarter of a century. Five stars is the least we can offer this picture.

  3. Just like the Matrix, I’ve watched the sequels and then pretended the first movie WAS a standalone.

    I think the appeal to me is the absolute absence of worry about consequences. Wick doesn’t care if he dies (he’s not looking to die, but he simply doesn’t care), he doesn’t worry about the Law, nor about the Law of the Underworld. He isn’t worried about eternal consequences either (as the movie is definitely humanistic in that the Here and Now is all there is). He kills for personal satisfaction and revenge and I have to admit, that appeals to something primal deep within me.

    • Right, and something I’m finding myself doing is trying to seperate franchises from movies, as I did with Unbreakable. John Wick 1 works as stand-alone for me, even if other information crops up in the later films. Yes, I find Wick’s freedom from responsibility to be liberating as a viewer; this is a bad-ass world, and Wick is literally on a self-appointed suicide mission; he seems surprised to be alive at the end!

      • As a reviewer, it has to be hard to separate the film from the franchise. Do you have any non-trademarked super secret tips you could share? You know, for when I give up on books and decide to become a big time movie blogger? 😀

        It wouldn’t surprise me if John Wick had an ending where he died at the end. That type of ending would seem to be more in tune with the whole movie. But then, you couldn’t have sequels and Hollywood seems to love sequels even if they have no plans for them.

        • What a flattering question! Say what you see. Every film, franchise or otherwise, makes a promise. Does it keep the promise? That’s all you can hope for; at the end of the day, I’m just a boy, sitting down to a movie, hoping to be entertained.

          Agree that John Wick could have died at the end, and the movie would still work. But franchises gotta franchise…

          • Flattery? My good sir, I thought you knew better by now. That was for when I unseat you and take over the Blogosphere as the Number 1 Movie Reviewer of the World 😉

            As for franchises, I feel like I lose out no matter what. If it’s a standalone movie, I want more and complain about that. If it’s a franchise, I complain about how the series goes downhill.

            you know, maybe I WOULD make a great movie reviewer….

            • You already are a great reviewer, moving into movies would hardly be a test of your intellectual rigour!

              • The thing is, I lack that broad charisma you have. I’m great one on one and can do a lot with that. But mass appeal seems to have escaped me.

                Teach me, sensei!

                • How do you judge mass appeal? What makes you think you don’t have it? Bear in mind wordpress is one of a number of platforms, I’m also on BBC and so forth, so it’s easier to generate a bit of heat with other irons in the fire.

                  If I’ve got to be Yoda here, I’d say, look within your heart. I’ve not noticed any lack of charisma on your part, and the world seems in thrall to your commenting gifts!

                  • mass appeal is the ability to handle multiple social mediums at the same time. I don’t, because I know I can’t (I tried to create a Bookstooge Empire back around ’14 or so, with going all out on about 5-6 different platforms. It didn’t last the year, hahahhaaa).

                    Look within my heart? Gotcha. Good thing I take all those meds for my diabetes. I bet my heart is in top notch form today!

                    Being the last day of vacation, it had better be! Going to be a real strain going back to work tomorrow, hahahahahaa.

  4. This is definitely a franchise that I have enjoyed very much so far. And with a part 4 and 5 now announced, it has no signs of stopping any time soon yet😊😊 (I also wouldn’t be surprised if in somehow this all gets incorporated into the new Matrix sequel) That would be a twist wouldn’t it?😂😂
    That said I agree with you: I think part 1 definitely is the best one out of the three😊

    • Thanks! Now that the house style is established, we can see that Wick 1 isn’t typical of the franchise, but it had such surprise as the time, and sure doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. Is John Wick one of the virtual reality worlds from The Matrix? Quite possibly, but nothing will tarnish the blast of this movie!

    • Agreed! Love the whole shebang, and the franchise has a class that makes it stand-out from the crowd. Cheers!

  5. I loved the second film of the series and thought it was the best. This one didn’t do that much for me. Too much like a first-person-shooter video game. The second one added more mythology and I thought it all worked really well. But then Parabellum was just a lot more of the same. Not sure where they’re going next, but I heard parts 4 and 5 are being shot back-to-back. I hope they have some new ideas.

    • I’m a fan of the franchise, but while the first film hasn’t yet evolved the style of the later films, I kind of like the purity, although I get the flaws. The world-building has been a bit hit-or-miss, but I liked when we just had to imagine it for ourselves.

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