‘John Wick’ review: Probably the most fun film Keanu Reeves has ever done

John Wick review: Keanu Reeves as an ex-hitman out for revenge in John Wick
Keanu Reeves is an ex-hitman out for revenge in John Wick

John Wick review in a nutshell

Light on plot, heavy on action. But what awesome action it is!

Click here or scroll to the bottom for where to watch John Wick.

Movie synopsis

The most feared assassin in the world, John Wick, is out for revenge after his ex-boss’ son unwittingly and senselessly breaks into his house, beats him up, steals his car and kills his dog.

John Wick movie review (with spoilers)

There are movies which I go into, knowing there’s a high likelihood I’ll have an amazing time, and come out delighted when my expectations are met. (See: Marvel movies, Christopher Nolan movies.)

And then there are movies I go into, not really expecting much except some escapism for the next hour or so, and then come out ABSOLUTELY RAVING ABOUT IT and recommending it to everyone and their grandmothers, because not only am I surprised by how good they are, my enjoyment reached *stratospheric levels* due to the fact that I had little to no expectations at all. (It’s like math, where dividing anything by zero gets you infinity.)

The second category is much rarer, because I usually know what I’m getting into. But John Wick DEFINITELY belongs to it.

Keanu Reeves in John Wick

A few things didn’t portent well for the film: John Wick was only slotted into the release calendar two months ago, which means up until August, almost nobody had heard of this movie, and it only had two months to drum up publicity. Plus, when I did hear about it, I thought “okay, sounds like your run-of-the-mill action movie”. Keanu hasn’t done a lot of good movies recently — “recently” being the last 15 years since The Matrix. I thought I’ll probably watch it, just because, but I won’t get my hopes up for anything spectacular.

And then I actually watched it.

I’m telling you: the trailer, the TV spots, the freaking synopsis do NOT do justice to the movie. It’s essentially a B-grade action movie with the simplest plot in the world, but GOSH, is it so well done! It’s a level of kickass-ery and FUN that you won’t get until you’re sitting in the theatre from start to finish, watching the situation escalate and the one-man body count swell ludicrously.

How fun is John Wick? Let me count its ways.

I don’t know if the filmmakers intended it to be so, but John Wick is one of the funniest films I’ve seen this year, and I mean it in a “haha so funny!” way. The whole movie builds him up into this myth, this Boogeyman, and his name literally strikes fear into the hearts of those who hear it. They speak of him in hushed reverence, and they should: he singlehandedly kills over a hundred men in this movie. (I don’t know if that’s the exact figure, but it sure feels like it.) And he’s freaking unstoppable.

John Wick in the nightclub racking up the body count
I’ll be really surprised if they don’t turn John Wick into a video game when all is said and done. (Edit: They didn’t turn John Wick into a video game, but they incorporated John Wick as a character in an existing video game! That’s such a smart move by Lionsgate, since they don’t have to spend money to create a new game.)

The story is that this idiotic gangster-wannabe, played by Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones (Alfie Allen really has the face to play stupid assholes), breaks into his house, beats him up, steals his car and kills his dog, which was a gift from his wife who died a few days ago. This idiot happens to be the son of his former employer, the head of a Russian mob, played by a menacing but sometimes delightfully cartoonish Michael Nyqvist. John Wick then goes on a relentless and utterly focused revenge spree to kill the prick, taking down every obstacle thrown his way with barely any trouble.

At times, I felt like I was in a first-person shooter video game where the gamer is ridiculously accurate — something the filmmakers reference later in a scene where a character plays a first-person shooter game, and dies while doing it. Along the way, John gets shot, beaten up, thrown over a second-floor banister and all, and he still gets up like a golem who has only one directive — to hunt down the bastard who killed his dog.

It’s amusing also that Alfie Allen’s character keeps asking the gamer to “stop playing the forking video game”, and then John Wick helps him solve that annoying problem. ?

I know people like to joke that Keanu has just one expression, but in this movie, playing morose, determined and hellbent on revenge is a good look on him. The rest of the cast, which includes the likes of Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki and Dean Winters, are not too bad themselves. John Leguizamo shows up for all of five minutes to punch Alfie Allen in the face and introduce audiences to the fear that John Wick inspires in everybody. And then he scuttles off into the background and never appears again (after telling John Wick who the assbutt who stole his car is, of course). Even the Russian mob boss was laughing maniacally in an OMG-that-crazy-forker-is-still-here way by the end; you could see him practically give up trying to outrun his destiny.

Alfie Allen and Keanu Reeves in John Wick
Alfie Allen as the idiot who sets John Wick off. (The tagline of the movie being “Don’t Set Him Off.”)

For a while, I wondered why John Wick’s house is so easy to break into, and then I realised: he is JOHN WICK. Even the cops know to stay out of his way, so it probably didn’t occur to him that people will be stupid enough to, you know, break into his house, beat him up, steal his car and kill his dog.

And you know the best part? John Wick only owned that dog for one freaking day. I know it’s the thought that counts and all, since it was given to him by his dead wife, but one freaking day.

John Wick and his dog, whom he LOVES
John Wick and his dog, whom he LOVES.

The filmmakers did some really cool world-building for the film. John Wick is part of a secret underworld of hitmen who all frequent the Continental Hotel in New York, using special gold coins as their assassins’ currency. (Probably a reference to Greek mythology, where the dead are buried with coins so they can pay Charon, the ferryman of Hades, to cross the river Styx. The hotel concierge played by Lance Reddick is also called Charon.)

There’s even a specialised body disposal service that the hitmen use when they’re done with their kills, which makes you wonder why you never bothered to think of how people got rid of bodies in other movies before. And like all secret societies, this world has a code too; when one of the characters break it, they get their comeuppance at the end — delivered with a cool one-liner.

John Wick is directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, two stunt coordinators and 2nd unit directors on several of the biggest blockbusters of the past decade, and one of whom used to be Keanu’s stunt double. This is their first feature film, but all that watching other masters at work has really paid off, because they couldn’t have had a better debut. The set-up is so simple (which is part of the reason why it’s so funny), and from then on it’s action all the way, which is right up their alley.

And unlike most action movies, the fight scenes here are not a blur — you can see exactly what is going on, which is why it is so enjoyable to watch John Wick take down his enemies. Since the action sequences take up about half the movie, it’s a relief to enjoy watching them.

Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch on the set of John Wick
Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch on the set of John Wick

Also, the movie does away with two common action movie cliches: Unlike most action heroes, John Wick doesn’t shoot indiscriminately — he takes aim each time before he shoots, and his gun actually runs out of bullets, and not just at inopportune moments. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie where the protagonist reloads his gun so often in the middle of a fight, even if he carries on shooting each time as though he hasn’t paused.

If I were to compare it to The Equalizer and A Walk Among the Tombstones, both of which are action movies which came out last month, this one wins HANDS DOWN, and has the most likelihood of being remembered 10 years down the road. It’s probably the most fun film that Keanu has done, EVER. It was wonderful seeing him be badass again, instead of whatever he was thinking when he made Man of Tai Chi and 47 Ronin.

John Wick in hand-to-hand combat at the nightclub
In one instance, he has to resort to hand-to-hand combat, because his gun runs out of bullets.

In short: You CANNOT *not* watch this movie. Because John Wick is FORKING awesome.

Where to watch John Wick

Streaming services: John Wick is on Netflix Singapore, Catchplay+ (Singapore) and fuboTV, but not Netflix US, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu.

Rent/Buy: Get it on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNOW, Microsoft, Redbox, Catchplay+ (Singapore)

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