Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen
Directed by: Chad Stahelski (debut)
Written by: Derek Kolstad (“The Package”)
In the early stages of “John Wick,” screenwriter Derek Kolstad decides to create motivation for Wick’s revenge in a way that might be upsetting to many filmgoers. It is a bold sequence that is equal parts brutal and an effective piece of table setting. It’s unfortunate that rest of the film can’t quite live up to its establishment.
After the loss of his wife, being assaulted and robbed of his car, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) decides to return to the assassin life that he once led to exact revenge. As he faces the dozens of men out to get him, he must navigate who he can trust and find a way to take down the people who hurt him the most.
In what many are calling a return to form, Reeves embraces the action star role with aplomb. It isn’t an acting performance to write home about by any stretch, but in this recent renaissance of 50-plus year old action heroes, Reeves is good fit. An issue that “John Wick” has that it shares with many other films is a complete lack of development for any character other than the protagonist. Sure, there are a few solid moments from character actors like Ian McShane, but characters like fellow assassin Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) serve such little purpose and the films villain, Viggo Tarasov is not only typical, but made even more plain by a particularly hammy performance from Michael Nyqvist.
One thing “John Wick” does well is initial world building, where everyone knows everyone and there are codes of ethics and appropriate ways of behaving. While the development is done nicely, it is the further execution that often comes off as hokey. The one element of the film that “John Wick” seems to be proud of is its usage of stylized action sequences, be it in the form of hand-to-hand combat or the far more frequent gunfight, some of which are quite cool and slick. The problem lies in the fact that by the time the middle of the film rolls around, the motivation has run dry, the narrative has gone generic, and a once promising first act is squandered, leaving only empty action that we have seen a million times.
In its defense, “John Wick” is a film that unquestionably knows exactly what it is. It uses humor and graphic violence to embrace its B-movie sensibilities and wears it as a badge of honor. While this might make for a few fun moments, it doesn’t make for a good film. After a well-executed set-up, anything unique or higher-level gets lost in a blaze of bullets.