Director: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe, Alfie Allen
As a film, John Wick knows its strengths - it is not well-defined characters, it is not a host of back stories and it is definitely not a beautifully-plotted revenge angle.
Its strengths are Sad/Bad Keanu making a grand comeback after almost a decade - yeah, it has been that long since Matrix trilogy finished, action scenes so well executed that they leave you gasping and an urbane villain who lives by a code. Hell, when did we last encounter one of those?
The film knows its audience too, so it is not too worried about having a female lead. We see the wife (Bridget Moynahan) of Reeves (titular John Wick) as a video on a smartphone and a woman in various stages of sickness who dies as the film opens.
Shot in almost monochromatic tones, her rain-soaked funeral leaves Wick blind with grief. An implosion is averted when his wife's posthumous gift arrives - the world's cutest beagle who we will learn to love, as will Wick.
He has another prized possession, a '69 Mustang. Some Russian toughs eye it and when refused, turn nasty. They break into Wick's house, steal the keys and kill the dog. This film, which has enough killings in it to justify four films, death of the dog is the one which will haunt us.
Now, it turns out that Wick is no suburban householder. He is a former hitman who gave it all up to live in peace with his wife. The man who messed with the wrong pooch turns out to be the son (Alfie Allen) of a Russian mobster Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) for whom Wick used to work.
Enraged by his dog's killing, Wick confronts his former boss and sets about decimating his henchmen, one bullet at a time.
As mentioned earlier, story is hardly the strength of this you-killed-my-dog-prepare-to-die film. Its mettle, instead, lies in its relentless action and artistically choreographed gun-fu sequences.
Gun-fu -- sophisticated close-quarters gunplay that has been inspired by Hong Kong action cinema, gives John Wick its edge. Its action is kinetic and we have rarely seen the likes of it in the last few years. Almost classic in its appeal, the action is the handiwork of directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, who have both worked earlier on Hollywood's high-octane action dramas such as Matrix and Mr & Mrs Smith. They delve into their experience and present us with tight action sequences which are both brutal and breathtaking.
That brings us to another strength of the film - Keanu Reeves and his chance to launch a franchise via this film. Coolly collected, he channels his inside Neo - almost black wardrobe helps - and hardly says anything. For Keanu - known for his limited range and commanding presence - that's always a plus. We have met sad Keanu after quite a while (especially the scenes where he is thinking about his dead wife) and we would like to see more of him.
A talented band of character actors also helps this thinly plotted film along. Michael Nyqvist delivers as the charming Russian mob boss who respects his adversary and lives by a strict code. We just wish he could have played it with more venom and vengeance to justify the gory goings-on in the film. Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe and Lance Reddick appear briefly but add wit and charm to the film.
As the suave manager of a hotel for mobsters where "business talk" can have serious consequences, Reddick is utterly appealing. This Intercontinental Hotel where dinner and drycleaning are code words for more nefarious business is one of the few touches of wit in the film which otherwise lives up to comic and video game genesis.
Even the stark frames we saw earlier are replaced with pop colours - chases in neon-lit restaurants, the vivid red of blood splatter and ruby red shirts that henchmen wear under the black suits. To let the audience know that the film is aware of its filminess, we get subtitles with words popping out a la comic books.
An 'A' film this is not but if some good old action is what you are looking for, this is your manna from heaven. Just leave your thinking caps behind.