Five years after this film debuted, the wife and I caught this movie last night. The good words on this 2014 film starring Keanu Reeves have always been good, but it was a recommendation from NPR's the Pop Culture podcast that first put the movie on my radar. Granted, it was a while ago, but any film not of the usual NPR type but still recommended by NPR is worth a look.
Then, on a recent episode of Fatman Beyond, writer Marc Bernardin talked about the third one in such a way to finally compel me to start watching this franchise. The one piece of knowledge I knew going in was the entire series of events was started because Wick's dog died. Could that really be the reason?
The film opens with Wick morose over the recent death by illness of his wife. He takes out his frustrations by driving on an airport parking lot very, very fast in his 1969 Ford Mustang. Then, one day, he receives a gift from his dead wife in the form of a beagle puppy. The corresponding note brings more sadness and tears, but Wick gamely warms up to the dog. It's the last act his wife did for him, so the dog is really special.
And alive. Well, until the son of a Russian mobster takes a shine to the car and decides it should belong to him. Iosef and his comrades break into Wick's house, beat him up, kill his dog, and leave with the car.
In a movie full of wonderfully stylized violence, the various scenes of bad guys learning what Iosef did and to whom are great. Even Iosef's father, Viggo, upon getting a phone call about his son's mistake, just hangs up the phone. You see, he knows, he KNOWS, what's coming.
He tries to prevent it. But we know how this movie ends before we even begin.
The violence is well choreographed and violent. It was, um, "good" to see a hit man actually knowing where to aim his gun. I'm talking about the numerous head shots he dishes out. There were a lot of "pop pop" in the action scenes, where Wick would deliver one bullet to the torso and another to the head.
But Wick wasn't some dude who never got hurt. No, he was vulnerable. He got bloodied, stabbed, and shot. It made the character a little bit more believable.
I say the following with full reverence: About halfway through the film, I asked the wife if she thought Keanu actually memorized dialogue because he always seemed to be speaking in reaction to something someone else said. And the dialogue was so normal, I wouldn't have been surprised if Keanu improved some of it. Again, not a knock. Just an observation.
Like the NPR folks said, this is a movie that knows exactly what it is: a shoot'em up thriller. In a way, it's like a kaiju movie in that you are only there to see the shooting. You don't need--want?--hardly any backstory. Actually, Wick's nebulous backstory worked to the film's advantage. You don't need John Wick: The Prequel. He is what he is. Just put guns in Keanu's hands and tell him to shoot and fight.
John Wick delivers this simple recipe in spades. Really enjoyed the movie and will definitely be checking out John Wick 2 (and 3) this summer.