Before we get going, in case you missed it last week, I’ve gotta tell you about Stardust. It’s an app where you can react to and review movies, TV shows, and the latest trailers. I’ve got an account there now that I’ll be trying to update regularly, both with quick 30-second spoiler-free video reviews of the films I talk about here, and some flicks I don’t! Download the app here and when you do, search for “Connor Mighell” and gimme a follow so you never miss me! Now, on to the review.
Growing up, my favorite movie was The Matrix. I loved its blend of innovative action, bold cinematography, and pop philosophy. Plus, I thought the dark-sunglasses-and-leather look Keanu Reeves sported as Neo was really cool.
Then Keanu traded his leather duster for a three-piece suit. And now, when I think of his most iconic role, I don’t think of Neo. I think of John Wick.
In case you’ve never heard of him, John Wick is another action star with a first name that begins with J (James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer, John McLane…). But he’s anything but ordinary. A near-perfect shot, an expert in most weaponry and fighting styles, and “a man of focus, commitment, and sheer will,” as his enemies say. In this outing, after he capped a Camorra crime boss named Santino in the sanctuary of the Continental Hotel, where no dirty deeds are to be done, the worldwide order of assassins he works for basically burns him. He’s got one hour before the whole criminal underworld – in NYC and elsewhere – descend upon him.
This would be a problem for a normal man. John Wick is the Boogeyman. And here, the Boogeyman destroys action movies.
Let me explain. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Marshaled against Wick is the full might of action movie tropes – a very tall and large man, for instance, whom John beats to death with a book as if to say “anything Bourne can do, we can do better.” Then there’s the swift katana-wielding motorcycle gang, the Middle Eastern assassin warriors, and even armor-clad SWAT troopers by film’s end. And even two of the famed stars from The Raid, who face off with Wick in a masterclass of hand-to-hand. Wick takes on all these comers, and bests them all in artful, visceral, and clever ways.
What I’m saying is that this is the greatest American action movie ever made, from a fight sequence standpoint. In that category it’s absolutely unparalleled, and I’m not sure how the inevitable John Wick 4 is going to top it.
Wick uses his environment to his advantage unlike almost any other action hero. Combined with the unflinchingly real (and occasionally hard-to-stomach) way the movie handles its action scenes, it leads to several moments of possibly intentional hilarity, like when three bad guys in a row die by horse kick to the face. (I am not making this up.) When I wasn’t in awe, I was laughing in disbelief.
Halle Berry isn’t asked to do much dramatically, but she shines in her extended tag-team action scene with Keanu Reeves, aided by her two trusty bulletproof-vest-clad dogs. (Sidebar: One of the most delightful things about these movies is their unabashed love of pups. Wick’s whole arc started mostly because three Russian morons killed his dog. Glad to see two of them get some revenge for their species, finally.) I would love the upcoming Continental TV series on STARZ to center on her, or at the very least to feature her prominently.
Acting-wise, most everyone does a fine job. Standouts are Zero, a highly dangerous killer who goes after Wick while fanboying over everything he does, and the Bowery King. Honestly, Lawrence Fishburne has such fun with that role that it’s infectious. I’m so glad we’ll see more of him in future Wick films. Now all we need is Carrie-Anne Moss for a full-fledged Matrix reunion.
This movie falters slightly in the plot department, though. The worldbuilding accomplished in John Wick: Chapter 2 feels like a happy medium between the spareness of John Wick and the overcomplicated buffet proffered here. Prior to this flick, things seemed relatively straightforward: John was part of a highly skilled cadre of assassins working for the High Table, a council made up of representatives from all the major organized crime rackets around the world, and served by the Continental hotel chain, a set of elegant full-service safe houses. You were paid in unique gold coins for every job; those coins could be used to purchase individual favors; and there were only two ironclad rules: no conducting business in the Continental, and every marker (basically a blood pact between assassins) must be honored.
This movie introduces a power higher than the High Table with odd rituals involving finger-slicing, and hints at John’s deeper backstory in an out-of-nowhere manner. The most bewildering thing of all, though, is Winston’s heel turn at the film’s end.
Faced with the chance to regain his favor with the High Table and his spot running the Continental, after fighting their men off all evening, Winston agrees. He shoots John Wick several times point-blank until John takes a forty-foot swan dive onto asphalt that he some how survives. This was such a sudden, dumb thing to do that I thought for sure Winston had hatched a plan with John to throw off the High Table off his scent for good. But no, after years of friendship with John and after seeing the truth of his legend come to life, Winston decides to stab the Boogeyman in the back – the exact thing he chastised Santino D’Antonio for in Chapter 2.
I suppose John needs a new motivation to keep him gunning for the powers that be in future films. He’s now so far afield from the small-yet-big stakes he fought to avenge in the first film. Various characters have to keep reminding us that yes, John Wick started all this over a dog and a car.
I was also disappointed that we didn’t see more than one foreign city. The bounty on Wick’s head was international, and baddies try to take him down in Morocco, but Casablanca and its desert surroundings are the only non-NYC place he ventures. That’s more a quibble, though.
Aside from that, as I said, this film is a treat. If you like well-made action and talented shotmaking, you’ll love this movie.
Next week I’m traveling a good deal, but I’ll try to get a review of Aladdin up if I can. Until then, roll credits!