Keanu Reeves has been trying to come back into action for a while now… Yeah, I’m thinking he’s back.
“John Wick” is Keanu Reeves’ return to action, after “Man of Tai Chi” and “47 Ronin” didn’t perform as well as he might have wanted, co-directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. On the surface it is a simple revenge thriller about a professional assassin who comes out of retirement to kill the son of a Russian mafia boss who stole his car and murdered his dog.
Keanu Reeves is one of the most dedicated action stars that Hollywood has ever seen. He is not a martial artist in his spare time, but on-screen, he is extremely serious about it. Between 2010 and 2012 he took a break from acting and put a lot of time into studying cinematography and camera-work, partly with the purpose of finding new ways to film fight scenes. So when he came back, he started working on directing “Man of Tai Chi”. While that film wasn’t a complete success, neither on an artistic level nor on a financial level, but it had some really amazing fights. John Wick, directed by Chad Stahelski, who has worked with Reeves as a stuntman since “The Matrix”, is a success on every level and might just put Reeves back into the action-star role that he so deserves. If you don’t believe me, watch this.
So whether you believe any of that or not, Keanu’s zen-like style works perfectly for the role of John Wick, ex-assassin who quit when he found a woman he loved. He is elegant and carries himself with a good deal of melancholia, but when the fighting starts, that elegance turns into almost superhuman deadly precision, in some brilliantly choreographed fight scenes. Think of the knife-fights in “The Raid” and put in a pistol. The directors both started out as stuntmen, something that to my knowledge has never turned out well before. Only this time, it does. They get some help from cinematographer Jonathan Sela, who has previously worked on movies such as the at least beautiful (we won’t talk about the rest) “Max Payne” and “A good Day to Die Hard”, which… wait what? And the movie is produced by Eva Longoria from “Desperate Housewives”? How did this movie ever turn out so well? Anyway, “John Wick” looks really good, and Sela’s work provides an intoxicating atmosphere to the different setpieces, be it a hotel bar that is realised in some very strong green tones or a loud club that is home to one of the coolest action scenes I’ve seen lately.
Which brings me to the movies second strong point, maybe even more important than the great action and fitting actors. The world that this movie is set in seems so special and draws you in unlike anything I’ve seen in an action film since “Scott Pilgrim”. Where “Taken” has only one really interesting set-piece in its slave auction towards the end, “John Wick” checks into a hotel that is a kind of demilitarized zone for the mobsters, led by a mysterious “management”, that enforces its one rule, no business in the hotel, with cold efficiency. Where Liam Neeson kills people left and right, never fearing that he might encounter people who are not his enemies, Wick’s world is populated with car mechanics, cleaning crews, hotel managers and other assassins, all of them merely small characters with minimal screen time, but characters nonetheless. They know John Wick and his enemies and they have some stance towards them. The result is a fascinating world that actually managed to make me want to explore this world deeper before Reeves has even landed his first headshot, of which there are plenty.
In conclusion, this is a return to form for Reeves and a surprisingly good movie. It is my favourite action movie since “The Raid”, mostly because of the great world-building. It even beats out “Taken”, and I loved that movie. So if you find yourself with the choice between Liam Neeson throat-chopping a bunch of random bad guys for the third time (not counting “Taken-on-a-plane” and “Taken-in-Berlin”) and this, “John Wick” gets my recommendation. If you want to take your girlfriend, you can get her excited for it by telling her about the cute dog that’s in this (a lot of “awwwwwws” during the first fifteen minutes), just don’t show her the trailer.