Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Movie #322: John Wick

John Wick is an action/revenge movie starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, John Leguizamo, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe, and Alfie Allen. It's also the name of a game designer, we know, so just get that out of your system.

The titular character (Reeves) is grieving the death of his wife (Bridget Moynahan, kind of wasted in the role, but keep reading). We don't see her except in flashbacks, and we just know she died after a battle with some kind of illness. On the evening of her funeral, Wick receives a delivery - an adorable little beagle puppy, with a note from his wife telling him that she's at peace, but he needs to learn to love something.

Wick, obviously broken up, begins to care for the doggie, but this healing process is immediately cut short when Iosef (Allen), the son of a local crime boss (Nyqvist), breaks into Wick's house with some of his droogs, steals Wick's car, and murders the puppy. And then the brutal revenge rampage starts, because it turns out that Wick isn't just some nobody, he's a former assassin (once in the employ of Iosef's father, as it happens) so terrifying that people call him "the Boogeyman."

The rest of the movie follows a pretty standard "badass murders everyone" pattern, and then at the end, Wick finds himself a new puppy, and walks off into the night, still trying to heal.

OK, so, I really like this movie. I saw it in theaters and I'm happy to own it. Here's why:

First, the movie makes the grieving process that Wick is going through feel real. Reeves isn't the most demonstrative actor on the best of days, but here it makes him look numb, which is appropriate - he's a hardened killer who has no idea how to be vulnerable, and he desperately needs to be. Also, the movie lingers on moments of vulnerability - when he receives the card from his wife, when he buries the dog, when he converses with a bartender who knows him and knows what he's feeling.

Second, OMG the world-building in this movie is fantastic. It doesn't insult us by giving us a wide-eyed assassin-in-training or something. The world is just taken as read. Everyone knows Wick, because he's that badass. Even the Nyqvist's character, Viggo, protects his son out of desperate love and obligation, but he knows, deep down, that he's fucked. The city has a hotel for the criminal underworld that has its own currency, for crying out loud, and a set of rules that are strict but that people are quite willing to break for the right reasons. Seriously, if you want to see how Vampire: The Requiem could look, watch this movie.

Third, the fight choreography. I've never seen anything quite like it. Wick is methodical, dispassionate, and precise. He double-taps. He takes deliberate head shots when fighting groups. By the end of the movie, he's beat to hell, but you believe everyone is afraid of him.

Now, there are a couple of issues with this movie. One is that I have a hard time understanding why Viggo goes after Marcus (Dafoe), Wick's friend - the stated reason that is that Marcus helped Wick when he was supposed to be killing him, but you've gotta figure that Viggo knew Wick would come for him (and yes, he was fleeing the city, but still, it felt silly, tacked on because Wick needed to kill Viggo and we needed a reason for him to do it).

And then other thing is Adrianne Palicki's character, Ms. Perkins. She's another assassin who takes the contract on Wick, breaks the rules of the Continental, and then gets executed by the shadowy...crime-police for doing it. I'm actually fine with how she's portrayed in the movie and with what happens to her, but I've seen some folks suggest sexual violence at her execution. Having watched it again, I don't buy it - it's four guys, surrounding her at compass points, each firing a single shot. You see it from a distance, she dies standing up and doesn't make a sound, and no one says a word to her that references her gender or appearance. She's treated exactly like the other badasses in the movie.

But anyway. I really enjoy this movie, and I hear there might be a sequel, but frankly if they made a prequel about Perkins and just had Wick show up in a supporting role, I'd be all about that.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Kill Bill