There is something about this movie that fills me with glee. Is it all the shooting, punching and kicking? Is it all the well-tailored suits? Is it The Keanu? Yes and yes and yes again.
Action movie Keanu is my favorite Keanu. Second only to action science fiction Keanu. He only has two speeds in this movie: sad and mad.
What’s the set up?
John Wick’s wife dies of a protracted illness. It’s all very sad. And then Theon Greyjoy pops up and Theon Greyjoys all over the place. Which is to say, spreads his particular brand of pathetic douchebaggery all over Keanu’s very nice home. Theon, or Ioseph, as they call him in this movie, and his lackeys break into John Wick’s house in the middle of the night, beat the ever living boom boom out of John and then steal his ride because Ioseph is nothing more than a skin bag of ambulatory meat and bones awfulness. And an idiot. So, you know, Theon Greyjoy. In fairness, it’s quite an impressive ride. Ioseph also commits a much more heinous crime than grand theft auto. Something so terrible that anyone anywhere can suddenly understand why John Wick goes on a mighty rampage following the defiling of his home and theft of his ’69 Mustang. Come on, man, the dog. I thought there was some kind of unwritten Hollywood rule about harming animals on screen.
Not that I ever need an excuse to watch Keanu rampaging with gun-fu and kung-fu all through a blighted city. As per the trailers, John Wick, is a retired assassin. To hear them tell it, the greatest assassin that ever assassined for all time and space. Ioseph tries to unload his stolen goods at Aurelio’s (John Leguizamo) chop shop but, being possessed of two grey cells to rub together, Aurelio demands to know where Ioseph got the ride and then proceeds to smack him around. It’s… kind of awesome. Ioseph cries and threatens to tattle on him to his daddy and Aurelio is like, beat it, pinhead. So Ioseph takes off with the car and Aurelio sweats it because he knows.
Here is the thing about this movie. It’s funny. Very funny. The laughs it elicits from single syllable dialogue is masterful.
As promised, Ioseph goes home to Russian gangster daddy, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), and tattles on Aurelio smacking him like the whiny diaper baby that he is. And so Viggo gets on the horn with Aurelio and is like, so I hear you hit my kid? And Aurelio is like, Yup. Viggo is like, ….? And Aurelio busts it, He stole John Wick’s car. And jacked up his dog. And then, I kid you not, Viggo goes, “Oh.” And then hangs up as sweaty bullets of nerves and fear leak out of every pore. Then he goes over to his kid and punches him in the gut a few times because Ioseph is an idiot. Who then tries to swagger his way out of it like, who’s this John Wick guy anyway? Some kind of Boogeyman, he sneers. I mean, sneers because have I mentioned? He’s an idiot. Just assume that for every time I type Ioseph, I am just leaving off The Idiot right after it. And so Viggo is like, No, fool. He’s the one you send to kill the Boogeyman. And then we launch into some John Wick back story which goes something like this: he used to work for Viggo and then one day wanted out “over a woman, of course” and whereas Viggo may be smarter than his son, he certainly rivals him in overall dickitude, he tells John Wick he can have his freedom but he has to do one last job first. Which is the most impossible job that an entire horde of assassins couldn’t have pulled off, but John is one part ninja, one part murder unicorn and all parts awesome. So, not only does he survive the job, but he piled so many bodies around the city, they could start their own methane plant. Viggo says the work Wick did that night laid the entire foundation for his business today. And his idiot son went and stole his car and then the thing with the dog. Viggo basically tells his kid he’s screwed. Death is coming for him and despite all their best efforts, they’re not going to be able to stop the inevitable carnage. Ioseph had the good grace to look properly chastised. Or constipated. It’s hard to tell sometimes.
Dean Winters has a marvelous supporting role here as Viggo’s lawyer, Avi. I’m so used to seeing him be the wise-cracking muscle that seeing him as this jumpy numbers guy who doesn’t even carry a gun just brought another dimension of laughs.
So now we’ve set the stage. It’s a revenge rampage film. But one of the better ones because a) Keanu and b) it’s funny. Sure, it’s not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, but I completely buy into Keanu as John Wick being a complete bad ass who ran out of cares to give the second he realized that the dog his wife gave him as her dying gift to him was no more. What can you do after that? If you answered put the remains of your puppy in a nice box, respectfully bury her in the back yard and then sledgehammer your way through your floor to get at your assassin murder tools, you win the door prize. There are no real surprises in this movie; no hackneyed M. Knight twists at the end; no last minute betrayals; no overwrought emotional outbursts or pointless monologues. What you see is what you get. Here is a guy in a black suit and he’s coming to kill you.
There are some brief fun interludes from the relentless bloodletting with … more killing. But it’s at least killing outside of Wick’s revenge-porn. The Continental is the preferred hotel for discerning assassins because they are discreet and accommodating of the unusual vicissitudes of their type of work, but they are very strict about enforcing the rules. And the number one rule is: No business on Continental grounds. Winston (Ian McShane) prides himself on the hallowed neutral ground he’s carved out of this murder soaked town. And the penalty is steep for anyone who breaks the rules, as Ms. Perkins (Adriane Palicki) discovered when she broke the rules twice over. It’s a terrible thing that both female actresses in this movie end up dead with the third one spouting such horrific dialogue that she should have also been killed.
The one criticism I have for this movie, and it’s a big one, is that it is lousy for female characters and representation. Sadly, we must all look elsewhere for that. The three aforementioned women are it for the entire run time. Passing the Bechtel test, they are not. Making one of them a codeless (and it turns out incapable) assassin acquits them of nothing here. John Wick’s wife, Helen (Bridget Moynahan), we only see in flashbacks and on a saved video on John’s phone that he rewatches every time someone pauses in their bid to kill him. So maybe every ten minutes or so. They introduce one fairly useless female bartender, Addy (Bridget Regan… ok, it’s weird that two of the three women in this movie are named Bridget, right?) whose only purpose is to spout dialogue so cringeworthy that I very nearly gagged in my seat. They did give her a name so there’s that at least. The writers had to find a way for someone somewhere to tell John where Ioseph was hanging out, and apparently, they couldn’t find a better way than having her leave a note on a napkin. It’s bad, not gonna lie. Oh, wait. The dog, Daisy, is also female. But talking about her makes me sad so I won’t.
There’s a point in the movie when John really lets all his anger unfurl. He’s trussed up in a chair with no clear means of escape, surrounded by lots of men with guns. And Wick snarls, “A lot of people have been asking if I’m back. Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.” Yeah, you are, Keanu. Yeah, you are.