Despite starring in some undeniably iconic roles early in his career, Keanu Reeves has struggled to maintain any sort of momentum, with every critically acclaimed performance or box office success followed by a string of disappointing and underwhelming projects. But thanks to his former stunt double Chad Stahelski, Reeves once again finds himself headlining a solid action flick that has plenty of buzz around it.
Despondent over the death of his wife, retired assassin John Wick (Reeves) spends his days moping around his house, with a beagle puppy as his only companion. The dog arrived on his doorstep shortly after his wife’s funeral, a final gift so that John wouldn’t have to carry on alone. But an untimely run-in with Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), the son of a local Russian mobster, results in the theft of John’s 1969 Ford Mustang and the death of his puppy, leaving John with nothing to love – and nothing to lose.
Yes, that’s a ridiculous segue, but it also perfectly conveys the tone of John Wick. The premise is unapologetically silly, but Reeves approaches the material with such fervor that we quickly forget about his motivations. It doesn’t matter that Wick is singlehandedly disassembling the infrastructure of the Russian crime syndicate because of a dog – what matters is how much fun the film is having while he does it. Wick stalks from scene to scene with the precision of The Terminator, scarcely wasting a single movement as he dispatches bad guys in impressive numbers, with equally impressive methods.
Surrounding the nearly non-stop action is an interesting mix of supporting characters, including Ian McShane as the owner of a hotel for assassins, whose roles dictate that no business be conducted on the premises, and Willem Dafoe as Wick’s mentor, Marcus, himself an expert sharpshooter. And we can’t forget Adrianne Palicki, a fellow contract killer out to collect the $2 million bounty placed on Wick’s head by Tarasov’s father, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), who also happens to be Wick’s former employer.
Stahelski, who first doubled for Reeves on The Matrix before moving on to several other films with the actor, including Constantine, Man of Tai Chi and both Matrix sequels, has teamed up with longtime collaborator David Leitch for John Wick, a stylish revenge thriller that heralds the arrival of a bold new voice. While Stahelski is credited as the director due to DGA regulations, this is very much a team effort, as Stahelski and Leitch have channeled their decades of experience as stunt coordinators and second unit directors into a remarkably original film that boasts some of the best action sequences in recent memory.
While John Wick certainly isn’t a perfect film – the script is paper-thin in more than a few places, and Reeves has a handful of laughably poor dialogue deliveries – it never stops having fun. This is a film that refuses to take itself seriously, opting instead to just strap in, buckle up and enjoy the ride. And as long as audiences can follow suit, rather than searching for some deeper meaning, they should find themselves pleased with the results.