What can I say about JOHN WICK? It's an engine of a movie; it takes the audience where it wants to go, and it does it in an enjoyable, streamlined manner. That seems like damning with faint praise, but I laughed often during the film, and it's a blast seeing Keanu Reeves take apart the competition with more headshots than I can recall seeing in a Hollywood production. During last night's Q&A, the filmmakers counted 84 total kills in the movie, and I believe it; it's an assembly line of death that Reeves dishes out through the course of the film, and each kill is shot with maximum impact.
That said, JOHN WICK almost feels like a parody of action cinema; each action sequence is shot incredibly well and choreographed to the best of the filmmakers' abilities, but the worldbuilding that director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad do in the movie goes far and beyond what most movies of this nature accomplish. In an odd way, JOHN WICK reminded be of the old Looney Tunes cartoons where the wolf and the sheepdog would punch in a clock before going about their assigned roles. It can be safely said, in fact, that the background world is more interesting than the story, but I think that was fully intentional. John Wick (Reevs) goes on a revenge spree after Iosef (Alfie Allen), son of notorious Russian mobster Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) steals Wick's car and shoots his dog. The dog was a gift to Wick from his now-dead wife, so Wick gets his revenge by killing pretty much anyone who enters his line of vision. Wick, you see, was once the hitman known as Baba Yaga, or, as translated in the film, "The Boogeyman," and he scares Viggo enough to bring in some high-priced talent to take Wick out, including sniper Marcus (Willem Dafoe), and Jenny (Adrianne Palicki), who doesn't respect the rules.
There is a vast world created underneath in JOHN WICK - a world where a particular hotel chain is safe ground for killers, and if you break the rules there you could be punished severely. There's a weird kind of union among the film's hitmen and if this turns out to be a franchise I hope the filmmakers explore it even more, because much of the movie's fun comes from there. It's got great moments in the dialogue, where a single "Oh" can bring the house down with laughter (it's all about the context). JOHN WICK is pure junk food cinema, but it's junk food made by really excellent chefs.
There's a real sense of audience participation with JOHN WICK. The film is a blast with an audience who knows what they're in for. It also helps that the action is so well done. It's beautifully shot and lit by Jonathan Sela, and the camerawork is playful but not aggressive. I've long admired great action cinematography and JOHN WICK has a lot of it, and it especially helps to know where everyone is in a room, and how Wick navigates his way out of it. It's a lot like the design of a rollercoater, built to thrill and surprise during every action moment.
Reeves does good work here - he knows what kind of movie this is and knows just when to restrain himself and just when to let loose. This is the kind of thing that Nicolas Cage makes all the time now, but Reeves has a special affinity for action and for fight scenes in particular (and no wonder). He may be showing his age a little bit, but Reeves has all the swagger and ability necessary to make it work. The supporting cast also has a lot of fun with it - I especially loved seeing David Patrick Kelly again, who I haven't seen in movies in a while. He plays one of those interesting background characters that you ordinarily don't give much thought to in a movie like this, but again, it's the world underneath the world we see in the film that makes it so interesting, and I hope it gets explored in any future sequels. JOHN WICK, for action fans, will feed that addiction nicely, and it's well made, funny, and full of those awesome moments that action fans crave.