To simply read a synopsis of the plot of John Wick, there’s not much to get excited about.
A man loses his wife to a disease, and her final gift to him is a cute little puppy. Russian gangsters break into his house and steal his car and, in the process, kill his dog. He then seeks to kill anyone he has to, which is a lot of people, to enact revenge for his puppy. It’s odd, pretty simple, seemingly difficult to relate to, yet is given tremendous life and interest on screen. John Wick somehow finds a unique balance of drama, action, and even humor that makes it reminiscent of classic action movies in the vein of Die Hard.
I’m not quite sure what separates these fantastically fun action films from the awful schlock that dominates Netflix, but balance initially seems to come pretty close to describing my personal reaction. John Wick does a great job at overselling the things that a viewer likes to indulge in onscreen, yet doesn’t beat him/her over the head with melodrama. It also creates a unique, exciting world of assassins that is uncommonly creative for a film like this one. It’s quite easy to see why the film is so popular. It strikes a chord with both the film fan, who is aware of the historical context in which the film exists, and it also remains low brow enough for any fan of pure action films to enjoy immensely. The acting, while dry, is also better than average, especially on the part of Michael Nyqvist who plays the film’s antagonist. In fact, all of the acting across the board, Keanu Reeves included, is considerably better than most typical shoot ’em ups. Reeves plays the title character quiet, serious, and calculated, which serves the movie well. He also doesn’t speak much, a good choice for the character as well as Reeves’ sensibilities.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the film that seems to work, in my opinion, is that the emotional drive of the main character centers, for the most part, on a puppy. The puppy certainly represents the last vestige of Wick’s late wife and his ability to cope with the loss, but that little dog is so cute it is truly painful when it is taken away. Perhaps the genius of John Wick is taking something somewhat ludicrous, which is how I would categorize shooting 80 some odd people in the face because one of them killed my dog, and making it not only believable, and justified, but completely emotionally engaging. What was laughable on paper is anything but laughable on screen.
No doubt the best thing about John Wick is the elaborate action sequences. The choreography, camera movement, and editing is not so unique that it draws attention to itself, but serves as a standard for this type of film. It’s easy to imagine you’re watching a Bourne film with a rebellious streak when these scenes play out. Overall, it’s quite refreshing to see Keanu Reeves in a great film. I also secretly hope that this begins an all new film franchise akin to the James Bond films as we see John Wick being sucked back into the life he thought he’d left.