Thank you to the marketing team of this movie for making sure every trailer has it very loud and clear that the dog gets killed. I am definitely an animal lover, and any movie with animals getting hurt or injured is not for me (can’t watch the new Planet of the Apes movies, and those are CG apes!). I don’t care what you say about Boondock Saints – I hate that movie because the cat gets killed. I knew the dog wasn’t going to make it in this one before going in, so I was prepared enough to close my eyes for that scene. It is the action that “sets off” John Wick.
Keanu Reeves is actually better than you think and has been for a long time. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is easily one of the best movies ever (yes, I said it, and I stand by it). And his performance in Parenthood is actually very impressive. I think he’s best in action movies, and I enjoyed 47 Ronin last year, and yes, the Matrix was great (the sequels were not), but Speed is probably his best action movie, "Pop Quiz, Hot Shot!.
I love a pure, straightforward action movie that is more visuals that plot. John Wick is a retired hit man who used to work for the Russian Mob. He met a woman, fell in love, and requested out. They let him go after demanding he do an impossible job, which no one else could have pulled off – but he did. He had a lovely life with his wife, but then she got sick, and slowly started to pass away. On the day of her funeral, she arranged to have a little beagle puppy delivered to John – with a note letting him know he would have to learn to love again – and he could start with the puppy. He takes his car out for a spin, and has a minor run in with some punk Russian twenty-somethings at a gas station. They break into his house that night, beat him up, and kill the dog. He immediately comes out of retirement to hunt every single one of them down to make them pay. As it turns out, the kid who killed the dog is the son of the mobster he used to work for. While the mobster understands that his kid was an idiot, he still can’t let John kill his kid – so he puts a hit out on John. John then has to battle other hitmen and more Russian Mobsters to get to the kid. But don’t worry – he does. Sorry, spoiler alert, but really – you knew he was going to get that kid.
The movie is directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, both of whom are seasoned stunt performers. In fact, Stahelski was the stunt double for Keanu in the Matrix movies. When he and Leitch started putting this movie together, Keanu agreed to be in it because of their past relationships. This is actually a really good thing because Stahelski knows Keanu’s abilities in and out and is able to choreograph amazing fight sequences that are almost entirely Keanu. And, really, the fights in this movie are absolutely amazing.
The cast is also pretty fantastic:
- I’ve pretty much always been a Keanu Reeves fan, I even saw My Own Private Idaho (I do NOT recommend that), but this movie seems to be something he really enjoyed doing. The relationship he already had with the director really pays off in the incredible action scenes. He’s also really surprisingly good in the quiet scenes.
- Michael Nyqvist from the original Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movies plays the head Russian mobster, Viggo Tarasov. He’s very good – you absolutely believe that he values John Wick for his abilities, and the friendship they once shared, and almost regrets having to turn against him to save his wretched son.
- Speaking of which, the wretched son is played by Alfie Allen. He’s already somebody you hate since he plays Theon Greyjoy on Game of Thrones…or you know, Reek. In either case, he’s spectacularly terrible in this, and you really cannot wait for John to finish him off.
- Willem Dafoe plays rival/friendly hitman Marcus. You can’t really tell which side he’s on for a bit, and he’s not doing anything you haven’t seen him do before, but he’s really really good at this type of character, so he’s perfect here.
- Adrianne Palicki plays Ms. Perkins. She’s been exceptional as Mockingbird on MAOS lately, and she’s pretty good in this too. She’s another rival hitman, and she goes just a bit too far, and ends up breaking the Hitman Rules. Which is not stood for.
- Ian McShane plays the head of the hitman hotel, the Continental. And when Ms. Perkins breaks the rules, he makes sure she understands that is no good.
- Lance Reddick plays the concierge of the Continental – and he seems to be able to get you anything you need at any time. If you’re a hitman staying at the Continental, and you have the gold coins.
- John Leguizamo has a very brief role as the chop shop owner that the Russian kids take John’s car to once they steal it. As soon as he recognizes the car, he bitch-slaps the kid and demands they remove it from his shop. He then explains to Viggo why he slapped his kid, and Viggo fully understands.
- Martial Artist/Actor Daniel Bernhardt is in this as one of the mob henchmen. Basically he’s there to have an amazing fight (or two) with Reeves.
- Dean Winters (everyone's favorite Mayhem) pays Avi, who seems to be Viggo's assistant? accountant? sidekick? Whatever he is, he's got no combat skill - but he has a couple of entertaining lines.
- Bridget Moynahan plays Helen, John’s dearly departed wife. She’s barely in the movie, just enough to be lovely, then sick, then posthumously puppy-sending.
- Also – keep your eyes peeled for both Kevin Nash and Keith Jardine as bit players.
Overall – the action is amazing, the movie is slick and fast-paced. If you can get past the puppy-murder (I closed my eyes), then you should enjoy the rest of the movie, and welcome back Action-Keanu.
8 out of 10; Lost points for losing that puppy, and really, as soon as the puppy showed up, I groaned, because it’s the cutest puppy ever, and you know what’s going to happen to it. Gained points for John Leguizamo being awesome. Lost points for Alfie Allen, sheesh, that kid makes me want to greet him with a punch to the throat - I suppose that means he’s talented?
Bonus Video 1: Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. This was a very quiet action movie with Lucy Lui and Antonio Banderas – very little dialogue and almost all visuals. I always loved it, and I feel like John Wick is in that vein.
Bonus Video 2: 47 Ronin – If you missed this last year, you should check it out. Keanu was good in this too.
Bonus Video 3: Cast interviews: