‘John Wick’ Review: A Keanu Comeback

'John Wick'

Movie Rating:


Lately, the impending arrival of a Keanu Reeves action movie has been something to dread rather than get excited about. Thankfully, the delightfully nostalgic, deliberate throwback ‘John Wick’ has put an end to these concerns. This sucker is the real deal. Recognize.

The best part of ‘John Wick’ is how bare-bones it is as a piece of genre filmmaking. The plot unfolds with the efficiency of a vintage Walter Hill picture. No time is wasted with tiresome backstories or heavy-handed character motivations. The audience is given the bare minimum of information required to understand why all of the shoot-outs and bloodletting go down. The past is eluded to only briefly and flippantly, often as a joke. The rest is just a straight-up rush to the good stuff that audiences showed up for in the first place.

Keanu Reeves plays the sad and vaguely tragic lead character. In the opening scenes, we learn that his wife just died, leaving behind a dog in an attempt to fill the gap. That’s all he’s got. Just as soon as we become attached to their relationship, a group of young punk Russian gangsters show up at his house unannounced to kill the dog and steal his sweet vintage car. Shortly after, the lead punk learns from his crime lord father (Michael Nyqvist) that John Wick is a retired assassin and by far the deadliest in the game. The fury of Wick will now come down upon them in a hail of bullets, killing everyone and everything in his way. Cue the action. End of narrative.

And oh how wonderful the action is! Directed by longtime Hollywood stunt coordinators David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, ‘John Wick’ is strictly a physical action affair with very little digital enhancement. The set-pieces are all based around blades, handguns and harsh combat. The flick has the raw physicality, edge and intensity of an early John Woo movie without any of the slow-mo ballet flourishes. It’s dirty and nasty action, yet with some pretty exquisite choreography and a dark streak of humor that keeps viewers laughing and cheering.

The directors revive the brand of gunplay action audiences craved in the ’90s with the boundless forward momentum of a ’70s or ’80s exploitation movie. It’s a pure entertainment rush, just one that leaves you with a little dirt under your fingernails. Leitch and Stahelski have created an old-school action movie for viewers who lament the death of the form. As a cherry on top, they prove to be pretty damn entertaining storytellers as well.

Aside from being a revenge flick, ‘John Wick’ can also be categorized as one of those old-men-returning-to-action movies that have flooded screens since ‘Taken’. Keanu might not quite be as grizzled and aged as Liam Neeson, but he has slowly slid out of the limelight since his ‘Matrix’ heyday, so a comeback was in order. Not only do the directors take full advantage of the fact that Reeves is more than capable at delivering the on-screen gunplay with ease, they also give him a role perfectly suited to his skill-set.

A quick Google or trip to YouTube will confirm that Reeves isn’t exactly a master thespian. However, he has a strong screen presence and is perfectly believable within a small window of human behavior. As a cold-hearted killer who never expresses emotion, the actor can step up and deliver just fine. Then when it comes time to knock off dozens of bad guys, he’s right in his comfort zone. Reeves delivers plenty of knuckle sandwiches with ease and then tosses off some deadpan comedy and stoic pain for good measure. This is the best he’s been on screen in over a decade. Surrounding Reeves are a collection of character actors like Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe, and best of all Ian McShane, who handle the heavier acting, dole out a little ass-kickery, and have way too much fun with the tongue-in-cheek comedy.

Add it all together and you’ve got yourself one big blast of an action movie. It’s funny, dark, pretty to look at, well performed, expertly paced, and most importantly filled with boundless streams of stylish bloodshed. ‘John Wick’ is not a movie that dares to challenge genre conventions. It makes no attempt to poke at grand themes or challenge the form. It’s a straight-up, basic B-movie – no fuss, no muss. The movie sees no shame in aiming for that goal and then surpasses expectations.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone craving a little old-school R-rated action could possibly be disappointed. If the movie proves to be the box office hit that it deserves, Reeves should be primed for a comeback, while Leitch and Stahelski should find themselves on a path to becoming the newest hot shot action manufacturers in Hollywood. I can’t imagine anyone saw that coming. What a slick, sick little genre treat.


  1. NJScorpio

    I hope this starts a wave of new Keanu action movies.

    I very much enjoyed his role in ‘Man of Tai Chi’, and I’ll still put in ‘Constantine’ every few months. Plus, I hear he is a damn nice guy (donating much of his money, etc.)

  2. Sounds like a much recycled story but also sounds like another film I will love.
    (And besides, not many directors/writers have the balls to kill children or dogs, thus not mimicking reality)

  3. Chapz Kilud

    Can we all agree that John Wick and The Equalizer are very similar films? Then it makes no sense to me that John Wick was rated 3.5 stars while The Equalizer was rated 1.5 stars by the same reviewer. Philip criticized about the cliché Zen philosophy from The Equalizer. Guess what? John Wick had no philosophy at all. It’s nothing but a senseless killings out of vengeance. As for the action sequence, it’s not significantly better than The Equalizer, though you can argue quantity is a quality on its own. If you really crave for artfully choreographed gun fights, there is no one better than John Woo. Even his famous Better Tomorrow 1 & 2 or Hard Boiled have much better storyline than John Wick.

    And if Philip thinks The Equalizer is ridiculously silly, what about John Wick? Who goes off on a killing spree for killing a precious pet? You put yourself in The Equalizer then you can accept the narratives. You do that with John Wick, then you have to resort to “It’s only a movie”.

    I actually watched The Equalizer couple of times. I enjoyed it very much and I intend to buy it when it comes out on Blu-ray. I won’t say the same with John Wick.

    I like Keanu Reeves. In his most recent interview, he expressed his regret of not getting the roles from comic novels, such as Wolverine or Batman. I actually think he’d make a better batman than Ben Affleck. Unfortunately this movie is not a way to comeback.

    • Phil Brown

      Hi Chapz.

      It’s dumbell Phil here to address your concerns. Yes, John Wick is a silly action movie that I liked and The Equalizer is a silly movie that I didn’t like. The difference comes down to tone and intent. The Equalizer is presented in sombre serious tones that wants to trick the audience into thinking it’s addressing important issues and reaching levels of deep drama in between shots of Denzel killing people with a hammer. It’s not though. It’s trash, just trash that pretends to be something more. That bothers me. John Wick on the other hand never pretends to be anything other than pulp trash and allows the filmmakers and actors to have fun. That’s the difference. That I can get behind.

      Not to mention the fact that John Wick wastes no time getting down to business and giving audiences what they want, whereas The Equalizer goes on for-fucking-ever setting up dull cardboard characters as if they are tragic Shakespearean figures. Call me crazy, but I like fast pacing and entertainment in my action movies. As far as being able to relate to the stories by putting myself into the mindset of the characters, I never said that I felt that way about John Wick. I’m neither a contract killer like John Wick nor a highly trained government agent with a child prostitution vendetta like The Equalizer. I can’t relate to either character. But I did find John Wick more entertaining. Again, it’s personal taste.

      Also, in regards to your frustration about me not liking The Equalizer, but liking John Wick even though they are both revenge films…well…yeah, I think there can be good and bad revenge movies. That’s how genre movies work. They all comply to a certain form that makes them part of a genre, but that doesn’t mean that by liking one you have to like them all. As far as me thinking that the John Wick’s action scenes were more stylish and effective that The Equalizer, again that’s just a personal taste. Sure, Equalizer looked slick because it’s an expensive Hollywood production made by master technicians. I just found those slick action scenes to be tedious, while the blood-splattered carnage of John Wick entertained the hell out of me and employed really effective physical stuntwork that I found lacking in The Equalizer.

      And yes, I also think that John Woo’s Hong Kong movies have astounding and beautiful action scenes that are infinitely better than any of the shoot em ups in either of these movies. I also think that Martin Scorsese is a better director than Ed Wood. Some things don’t need to be stated in every review.

      I’m glad you like The Equalizer and I hope you buy the Blu-ray and have a ball. I won’t.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Chapz Kilud

        Hi Phil:
        I appreciated the response. I understand where you’re coming from. I agree it all boils down to personal preference. Though you think it’s trash and cheesy, I found it compelling for The Equalizer to develop McCall’s world and how his growing friendship with a hooker lead him to react without thinking thru the consequences. I enjoyed those human qualities even in this type of movie. You prefer the violence movie to get right down to business and skip the drama, and that was what John Wick did. I get that now. If you eliminate the human element of Training Day, then it wouldn’t be a good movie. That’s just my take. But you’re the reviewer and you’re very consistent with your take.

        Thanks again for commenting.

        • Phil Brown

          Hi again. In the case of these two movies, that’s definitely how I feel. I agree that the strongest action movies to get you to you to empathize and relate to the hero more deeply (Die Hard being the best example), but Equalizer just didn’t do it for me on that level. So I’ll take the carnage of John Wick between those two specific movies. Training Day definitely being better than both, for the reasons that you said (at least for the first 2/3s).

          • Chapz Kilud

            You could get what you wish for if Sony does make a Equalizer sequel now that McCall’s background is out of the way. But without the groundwork from the first it’s just going to be silly and old to jump right into another 90 minutes of slaughter from rogue secret agent. I was just thinking what was the last action spy movie I liked. Salt was one of them. Again, if you take out the human qualities and drama with Salt’s husband, then the movie wouldn’t be as good. I understand now where you’re coming from though. Thanks.

  4. Chris B

    Ehhhhh…saw this tonight and was kind of underwhelmed to be honest. I’m all for fast paced action movies but we had barely 10 minutes to connect with our main character. Fantastic action scenes are entertaining but can only make up for lack of emotional engagement for so long. In the case if John Wick they began to feel redundant and silly….kind of a disappointment of a film .

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