John Wick (2014)

Rating: B

Dir: Chad Stahelski and David Leitch
Star: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe

There’s something refreshingly direct and old-school about this. Bad guys piss good guy off. Good guy ruthlessly destroys bad guys. The end. Who needs more than that? However, it’s as much in the execution and the concept, and Reeves – along with the rest of the cast and crew, who deserve plaudits for their parts – deliver the goods, to a bone-crunching degree. Wick (Reeves) just lost his wife after a battle with illness, and she sends him a gift from beyond the grave, in the shape of a puppy. An unfortunate encounter with a Russian mobster’s son (Allen) at a gas-station, leads to the theft of Wick’s car – and, worse yet, the bastards kill his dog.

Yep, they killed Keanu Reeves’ puppy, and now they must PAY. For Wick used to be a mob enforcer, who used to work for the punk’s father, Viggo Tarasov (Nyqvist), and according to the gangster, once killed three people with a pencil. That delight remains unseen – I was really hoping we’d witness a battle in an office supplies closet – yet there’s plenty of alternative mayhem to make up for it, as Tarasov realizes the only defense is a good offense. There have been a lot of shitty adaptations of video games; this is a really good adaptation of a video game, albeit one which doesn’t actually exist. It has a fully-realized world, one in which the police simply don’t exist, even after a hellacious shoot-out at a night-club leaves dozens of corpses behind, and an interesting range of missions for Wick to accomplish, as he tracks down his prey with relentless dedication.

It’s the action which particularly elevates this to a memorable level, being unashamedly R-rated, with head-shots to spare, and the kind of close quarter gun-play last seen in Equilibrium. It’s likely Reeves’ best work since the original Matrix, and makes the most of his limited acting, as well as impressive physical capabilities. Both directors are veteran stuntmen, and it’s clear this is where the effort and energy mostly went in this production: but at least it has effort and energy, and plenty of it, rather than being a lazy adaptation of another comic-book. As refreshing as sucking on a lump of lemon ice. More please, Hollywood.