John Wick is an action movie that would have been right at home twenty or thirty years ago. It’s a paper-thin revenge story about a retired hit man (Keanu Reaves) taking on the Russian mafia because they killed his puppy. That’s not a joke, it’s the real plot of the movie. The inciting incident of the film is that a Russian gangster (Alfie Allen) kills his puppy.
It’s the kind of action film in which the story really only exists to justify the wanton violence on display and I can kind of appreciate that, in an old-school sort of way. It kind of reminds me of Commando or Cobra – those 80’s movies where the bad guy is totally bad and the good guy is totally good (and macho as hell, of course) – which is why I say it would be right at home thirty years ago. I’m not necessarily condemning the film. It’s just that it doesn’t try anything new or take any risks. It’s an action movie by the numbers. This is one of those movies where the bad guy catches the good guy and instead of killing him instantly, ties him up and monologues at him. Like I said, it’s straight out of the past.
There are certainly things to like about it. There is some interesting world building when John Wick reenters the world of contract killers. The villains are given more personality than most movies of this type grant them. There are even moments when it seems that John is sad that he has to kill people who were once his colleagues to get at those that wronged him. Unfortunately, this notion of familiarity between John Wick and his criminal peers is not really explored to any satisfying conclusion. It mostly just feels like the idea was underdeveloped.
The action has a very UFC sort of feel to it. It’s very dirty and visceral, mixing grabs, body slams and high kicks with bullets to the head. At times it’s exhilarating but other times it just feels rote.
Watching this film I just kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. There’s enough of a kernel of originality in it that I thought for sure that it was going to throw me for a loop at any moment but that moment never came. Maybe my expectations were too high but I left feeling disappointed and yearning for something smarter.