Once upon a time, before he retired, the Russians called him Baba Yaga. The Boogeyman. This and this alone should tell you that John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is not a guy you want to mess with.
Too bad nobody told Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) before he killed Wick’s dog. Not just any dog, either, but a parting gift from his recently deceased wife.
Iosef’s father, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), is head of the Russian mob in New York. To say he’s disappointed in his son’s behavior would be a bald understatement. His mood hardly improves when Wick starts systematically dismantling his empire. “They know you’re coming,” someone says, during a pause in the chaotic proceedings. “Of course,” Wick answers. “But it won’t matter.”
It’s like the part in Dredd where Karl Urban growls, “Judgment time.” Holy crap. The adrenaline rush is tangible. You want to punch the air because your inner twelve year old recognizes all of this for what it is: distilled butt-kicking. No frills, fats, or additives, just lots and lots of bang.
Okay, so that’s a tad reductionistic. I don’t mean to dismiss the script (which is actually quite good), the acting (swell across the board), or Chad Stahelski’s sharp, sensible direction. But I think I’m hitting close to the main reason John Wick works so well. The film is never too big for its own bullet-riddled britches. Like Dredd and Die Hard before it, this is a shoot-em-up with no delusions of profundity. The goals are modest: a) tell a good story and b) shoot holes in everything. It meets both criterion with style to spare, but it never pretends to be anything other than the cinematic equivalent of a funnel cake. This, in contrast to last year’s Equalizer reboot, which tried to mix stomach-churning ultraviolence with literary airs and ended up beaching itself like a whale. John Wick is better — far better — than that.
Much has been made of the action scenes, and for good reason. The shootouts here reach higher levels of kinetic insanity than I hitherto thought possible in a film. It’s like watching a ballet with guns and tuxedos. You have to see it to believe it.
Keanu Reeves. To be honest, I’m not aware of anything he’s done since The Matrix that was actually any good. Until now, anyway. His casting is perfection. Granted, he isn’t required to do much beyond wipe out the Russian mob and deliver a snappy line here and there, but he does it all with such conviction that nothing else really matters. Keanu is Wick. It’s a welcome return to form, I must say.