By Drew Parton
Well, that mystical time of year has come to an end. Time to just pack up the spiderwebs and vaguely KKK-ghosts and get out all the turkeys and vaguely racist Native America decorations. In the spirit of this change, I decided to go out and see Keanu Reeves’ new movie, John Wick.
Now, I want to start out with a small aside on Mr. Reeves. First off, I don’t think he’s an idiot or a bad actor. His voice contributes a lot to that assumption, but he’s actually a well spoken and nice individual. I honestly think that given a good script and a competent director, he can really perform (see Street Kings). People like to reference all the bad movies he’s done, but that’s just Hollywood. Even the most prestigious actors and actresses have some movies they’d like to forget.
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It’s best exemplified by the phrase: “Shakespeare’s gotta get paid.” Not everything can be art house masterpiece theater or a pet topic. Some times you have to crank out 47 Ronin.
If nothing else, Keanu was a large player for two childhood shaping-movies: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and The Matrix. Now, I know I’m not the first person who’s ever talked shit about The Matrix sequels, but honestly, looking back I don’t think the first one was really any good either. It has solid action and an interesting aesthetic. But all of that has been done to death and copied ad nauseam. I think what I really hate about The Matrix is how smart it thinks it is. It’s not a good premise or a interesting introspection into reality. It’s stupid, trite, pretentious, wax poetic bullshit that you get from people in an introductory philosophy class. The whole “reality may not be reality” goes back all the way to Plato’s Cave allegory and then again with Renee Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. It’s been done. And done better than “machines use humans as batteries.”
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, however, should be mandatory watching and might actually lead to world peace.
But, I digress. John Wick is about the titular retired mob hitman (Keanu Reeves) who is brought back in to the game on a roaring rampage of revenge. I’m gonna get this out of the way: John Wick is a fucking cruel movie- a good one, but cruel. The film begins with John waking up on the day of his wife’s funeral. As he wanders around the empty house we’re treated to an UP-style montage of John and his wife meeting, falling in love, and her dying from cancer. After the funeral, John receives a dog in the mail from his late wife that was meant to help John grieve. The movie then spends the next 10 minutes or so making us fall in love with this little guy:
And the dog too.
In a scene that was spoiled by the trailer, The Russian Mafia Lord’s son (played by Alfie “Theon Greyjoy” Allen) becomes envious of John’s suped-up mustang, breaks into his house to steal it, and kills his dog. IT IS A CRUEL, CRUEL MOVIE. This starts John on his way back into the hitmen underworld to seek revenge on Alfie Allen.
The movie plays a lot with color and mood. Initially, the whole film is a cold blueish-grey as John is detached and mourning, but as john goes deeper and deeper into his dark former life- the world gets more and more vibrant and colorful. The whole film is really quite delightfully stylish and smooth.
It’s not only smart and funny but the action is intense and stylized. John Wick’s gunplay reminded me of a less silly and frilly Gun-Kata from Equilibrium. The cast is surprising and effective as well: I was pleasantly surprised by bit roles for John Leguizamo and Willem Dafoe, as well as phenomenal performances by all of the leads. One of the greatest casting decisions in the film left me actually laughing out loud. Back in my review of The Equalizer, I failed to mention (mainly because I couldn’t find the actor’s name) that one of the Russian mobster goons had a delightfully dapper waxed mustache- like Dick Dastardly or the guy from Lazytown.
Guess what? That same dude with the SAME MUSTACHE plays a small part in John Wick- as practically the same character! My brother, John (from “Parton the Interruption”), dubbed this character “Tactical Wario.”
Another thing the movie John Wick does well is world-building. The seedy underground world of assassins and mafia is actually one of the coolest things in the film. “The Continental” Hotel is a secret hub/safe haven for assassins, and unsurprisingly is run by Ian McShane (Al Swearengen of Deadwood, which you all should also see), whom I’ll pretty much watch in any movie. The rules and code of honor of the assassins is really neat to see, and their sort of sub-culture was actually more interesting than most of the other stuff from the film.
Alfie Allen is one of the few things that draws the film down. He plays Theon Greyjoy again, down to the T. Except this time he does a poor job of faking a russian accent. He’s a sniveling coward who does things to try and prove that he’s a manly man, but ends up pissing off some unfortunate folks (though at least in this movie he keeps his penis). It’s oddly fitting that when he’s in scenes with his father (played wonderfully by Michael Nyqvist), not only is his character being dominated, but he’s being completely outclassed as an actor.
Final Thoughts? Go see it, it’ll be painful if you like dogs (and/or have a heart), but the film was awesome and amazing and I’m glad to see Keanu back in action like that. If you’re a fan of good action movies that are smart, stylish, and witty. Go check out John Wick.
Be sure to check out my other column Trope-ic Thunder, where I discuss science tropes in the media.
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