Before I review the ludicrous, wonderful John Wick, I need to tell two stories.
A few years ago, driving back from camping in Sequoia National Forest, some friends and I approached a traffic light around Visalia, CA and saw a little dog dancing around in the intersection. It’s one of those roads that has stoplights every few miles or so but is otherwise like a two-lane, 55 mph highway. Farm country. There were dead dogs on the side of the road all the time. We picked him up and drove him around, asking people if they knew him. No such luck. It was a holiday and the shelters were closed. He was filthy and neglected. He stayed the night and never left. He’s called Bandit.
Maybe a year or so later, my partner at the time was approached by another dog wandering lost near where she worked. Again, no one seemed to know this dog in the neighborhood. Protocol was followed: signs were put up, her picture placed in the book at the shelter, and so forth. She moved in, too. She’s called Emma.
In time, they became very close friends, even if Bandit’s skepticism of the situation has never quite worn off.
These stories are relevant, because it’s important to situate yourself. I could pretend to be a reviewer (and do!), but I’m first and foremost someone who watches movies, and brings to them my experiences. So when John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is gifted with a dog from his dead wife, her last gift to him, you can imagine where my sympathies fall. When the awful, privileged children of organized crime casually kill his dog, in the midst of a frivolous car theft, you can imagine my horror.
And when John Wick recovers and decides to basically go to war with anyone involved, racking up an absurd body count as retribution, you will be unsurprised at my approving nod. This is a virtuous cause.
There is almost nothing to talk about when talking about John Wick, aside from action and vengenance. Also, Willem Defoe is in it, so that’s good. Reeves walks a line just short of parody, but manages enough schlock gravitas to sustain the whole thing.
Deeply indebted to Hong Kong fisticuffs, grappling, and pulsing set pieces, John Wick at its best when things are in motion, and drags every time people talk. Luckily, the whole kinetic thing mostly avoids talking. There is a plot – Reeves is a former hit man, other things happen – but it is irrelevant. This is a movie about a man whose innocent friend was killed, and who means to see him avenged. Even if it that means squaring off with every other killer in town, possibly the world. It’s a matter of principle.
This stylish, lovably dopey entry in what is hopefully a Keanu Reevesaissance (or, in a brilliant phrase from among The Dissolve commentariat, the “Kea-NU Wave”) cries out to be replayed, or at least certain scenes do. It’s shot and edited well, and some of the choreography is fantastic. Most of all, it’s completely accepting of its own ludicrousness, and so just keeps dialing it up. The spectacle is absurd, and fun.
If you are averse to wanton violence, it’s not for you. If, on the other hand, you like car chases, smashy-smashy, well-placed kicks to the leg, and the bad guys getting what they deserve, you will probably enjoy it.
If you fall into the latter camp and also love dogs, you should go watch it right now.