Sunday, January 25, 2015

John Wick review

    I didn't go into this movie expecting much. I love Keanu Reeves, I do, but it's kind of a long-standing relationship where I'm aware of the man's many faults even as I enjoy his work. He loves much of the stuff I do like anime and martial arts but he's not always right for the role. It's great he got Constantine made, for instance, but a robot would have emoted more. So, when I heard he was going to a Hong Kong-style action movie set in America, I was skeptical.

    So what's my reaction?

    This is an awesome movie as long as you completely ignore the plot, which, thankfully, the movie does. It's kind of like the infamous video game Bad Dudes, where the plot consists of the words, "Ninjas have kidnapped the President. Are you bad enough to get him back?" That is John Wick in a nutshell. Russian gangsters have killed John's dog (and stolen his car), he's going to kill them all.

My name is John Wick. You killed my dog, prepare to die.
    First of all, I have to give them props for avoiding a tired cliche. A lesser movie would have had John's wife or child or lover or something. Speaking as a dog-owner, though, if I was a retired hitman then you better believe I'd be killing the guys who killed my dog. The fact said poochie is the last gift John's dead-by-natural-causes wife gave him is only icing on the cake. Plus, the car is a classic Mustang so there's that too.

    In fact, the more you think about it, the more the seemingly flimsy plot hangs together. Characters react to John coming to murder them all because of his dead dog with a mixture of both disbelief as well as fear. Both because it's a bizarre situation and awareness that, yes, this is a person who is capable of killing them all.

    In fact, I rather like the way the main character is treated. The mobsters don't express skepticism one man could kill entire New York branch of the Russian mafia. No, they treat him like Darth Revan from Star Wars: The Old Republic. I.e. An invincible badass who will is going to mow them down like grass.

    "Throw everyone at him. They won't stop him but they'll slow him down."

John will kill as many guys as his clip has bullets. Maybe half as many as he shoots them again to make sure they're dead.
    Despite the fact it starts with the premise John is the Boogeyman of the criminal underworld (bizarrely, they use Russian witch Baba Yaga as an example), they also inject a copious amount of authenticity into the John Woo-style action scenes.

    John Wick's Tactics: John wields one gun, conserves his ammo, reloads constantly, uses headshots because everyone is wearing a vest, double-taps enemies on the ground in case they're just wounded, and uses tactical movement. He's basically what Equilibrium said the Grammaton Clerics were supposed to be as opposed to how they were shown--guys who are mathematically perfect gunslingers.

    This is not a deep movie despite a number of heart-tugging scenes with John's wife, his dog, and his mourning of both. John wants revenge for the death of his dog, so he goes out and gets it. However, it surprises me by being deeper than it has to be. There's a scene where the head Russian mobster is offered a chance to end this by turning over his son (involved in the dog-slaying) to preserve his empire. Instead of cold-heartedly selling his son down the river or refusing outright, we see the emotional devastation the man goes through as he contemplates doing so as well as the consequences of his choice.

Ms. Perkins is without any redeeming qualities but she is snarky and nice to look at.
    The world-building is good, too, as this doesn't take place in anything resembling the Real WorldTM and it doesn't attempt to. There's a secret luxury hotel for criminals in New York City, which is the kind of place vampires would hang out if this world had them, and the guests pay in gold coins. There's all manner of unspoken rules and codes of honor which, being criminals, people throw out all the time but get murdered for in delightfully efficient ways.

    I even like the secondary characters with Alfie Alden's Iosef being sympathetic despite his murderous loser status. He's awoken the Devil and there's nothing which can save him. I also liked Adrianne Palicki's Ms. Perkins who is a subversion of most female assassins in fiction. Despite being ridiculously beautiful, she's asexual to John and ruthlessly efficient. William Dafoe's Marcus is a character without much relevance to the plot but is a nicely underplayed piece of cinema.

    In conclusion, really, this movie is better than it has any right to be.


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