In 2017, my first issue of “Reel Reviews” was published as I took a look at the theatrical release of “John Wick: Chapter 2.” A couple years and several reviews later, I reviewed its 2019 sequel, “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.” Now, after 3 years, we’ve made it to our 100th Review! So, to commend this event for the paper, it’s time to complete the circle as I review the movie that started it all, for both this franchise and this column. Let’s take a look at the 2014 film, “John Wick.”
On the day of his wife’s funeral, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) receives a farewell present from her in the form of a young dog named Daisy. Unfortunately, his chance to grieve in peace is short–lived when a small group of thugs, led by Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), break into John’s house to steal his car, and in the commotion, John’s dog is brutally killed right in front of him.
What Iosef and his thugs fail to realize, however, is the man they attacked was no ordinary man. They soon discover that John Wick is in fact an infamous ex-hitman with more skeletons in his closet than a graveyard. Now, with nothing left to lose, the Boogeyman of the Hitman Underworld has returned to wreak vengeance upon the Tarasov Crime Family. The film also features William Dafoe, Michael Nyqvist, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane and Lance Reddick.
I discovered this film by accident when I was browsing for something to watch on a boring weekend several years ago. On paper, the entire story sounded ludicrous and nothing I’d find special, but I gave it a chance. When it was over, I was blown away by the amount of effort and talent that was poured into this film.
Now the big question is how does “John Wick” set itself apart from the numerous theatrical and direct-to-video action films that come and go every year? I believe that can be perfectly answered and summarized by my favorite quote from the movie: “Well, John wasn’t exactly the Boogeyman. He was the one you sent to kill the Boogeyman.” Our main protagonist is not written as a hero looking for redemption or honor. He’s written as something threatening and powerful. In a typical action story, it’s usually the antagonist that’s built up as this dangerous and wicked threat that our protagonist has to overcome. In “John Wick,” however, it’s the other way around. We’re following the story of the world’s deadliest and experienced assassin as he tears apart New York for revenge.
Just to make one thing clear, John Wick is not a wicked character—he never harms civilians or innocent bystanders—but he’s certainly no hero. He’s just a man of conviction seeking retribution.
Believe it or not, this is not the first story to follow this concept either. Are there any John Rambo fans out there who remember the famous Sylvester Stallone film “First Blood” from 1982? That story focused on a powerful and threatening protagonist, who after being abused and mistreated, goes on an all-out war with the ones who wronged him. And like the classic action icon John Rambo, John Wick has grown into a household name most moviegoers recognize. The moral here is don’t mess with people whose first name is ‘John.’
Both “John Wick” and its sequels were directed by professional stuntman and stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski, a man with numerous blockbuster credits to his name, including the original “Matrix Trilogy” where he acted as a stunt double for, you guessed it, Keanu Reeves. Stahelski and Reeves both know their stuff, because “John Wick” has some of the best action I’ve seen in a film. It’s a blend of gunfights and hand–to–hand combat, which are all perfectly lit so you can see the action, and best of all, there are no headache–inducing shaky camera movements. One detail I adore about this film, and the others as well, is the fact that our protagonist actually has to take the time to reload his weapon during the action. Which from a technical standpoint is realistic, but I also feel it adds to the tension of the fights as John Wick has to rush to reload his gun before the next thug tries to kill him.
Now, a word of warning. Seeing as this is a 6-year-old film, I am going to dip a little into spoiler territory for this next paragraph, so you have been warned.
Keanu Reeves was born to play John Wick. He perfectly captures the look and feel of an infamous hitman. Plus, even the way he wields the various weapons he finds all are done perfectly. It helps that Keanu Reeves actually took real combat training so he could be prepared for the role. Now that’s dedication! However, I also have to credit his acting as… well, it’s tricky to explain. In the beginning, he comes off as meek and harmless, then by the end, he’s like a force of fury and destruction in human form. And like I said before, on paper this concept is kind of ludicrous—a hitman doing all of this because of a dog, it sounds dumb, doesn’t it? Well, the truth is, as we learn in the story, it was more than just a dog to him. It was John Wick’s last chance to grieve for his wife. Killing the dog did more than anger John, it destroyed his last chance to be at peace. Now, all that’s left is chaos as he returns to the dark world for vengeance, an act that leads to the consequences of “John Wick 2,” then “John Wick 3,” and so on.
“John Wick” is Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language, along with brief drug use. This is a must-see film for all action lovers. While you’re at it, after checking out the first film, you might as well go see its sequels as well, because they just get better and better. The final score for the first “John Wick” film is an outstanding 8.5 out of 10!
On a last note, thank you all for listening to the critiques of a strict critic for up to 100 Reviews.
Matthew Mendisana is a Lynn University alumnus. While he possesses a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, it’s the arts that attracted his attention. He currently serves as a Journalist and Copy Editor to the Coastal Breeze News and is working on becoming a Published Author.