American cinema has been continually producing very bland and forgettable action movies (The Equalizer serves as a recent example—does anyone even remember that movie?). This year’s earlier martial arts showcase, The Raid 2, easily beats out everything else from the genre’s crop, and that is especially including the Marvel/superhero movies that are more about spectacular set pieces than innovative, fascinating action choreography. Well, maybe the American Kung-Fu fan/renowned action star is the best chance we have at an effective American action film at this point.
“People keep asking if I’m back; yeah, I’m thinking I’m back!” Keanu Reeves returns to staple badassery as John Wick who has recently lost his wife to cancer. After the painful funeral, he unexpectedly receives a delivery package at his door—a final gift from his wife in order to help ease his grief: a cute, little dog. Of course, trouble never ceases to find Wick and after unintentionally pissing off a group of Russian mobsters at a gas station, they give him an unpleasant visit where he witnesses the murder of his dog and suffers a brutal beating. Oh, it’s on! Little do those guys know who they’re messing with—a bogeyman who has even spooked the mob boss into beating some sense into his culprit son and letting him know what exactly he has done. John Wick—with his deadly skills teased and his true background mysterious—readies his weapons, and pure ruthless revenge ensues from there on out.
The movie accomplishes just what American action cinema fails at every time. The action sequences are filmed with the use of astonishing cinematography—plenty of wide shots to perfectly display everything that transpires on-screen without confusing the audience. The camera invariably gives us a good layout of the particular environment, which is followed by John Wick’s clever utilization of those surroundings to break bones and rupture skulls. In fact, the film is so embellished with glitzy style that even its subtitles come all vibrantly colored with a catchy font and ingenious screen placement.
The majority of the film is set at nighttime, and thus, we get that metropolitan vibe along with a dusky color palette—an alluring greenish/bluish hue. In addition, a groovy, cool soundtrack incessantly complements the impressive action sequences; the best segment taking place in a violet-lit, intensely-staged night club as guns blaze and dubstep drowns out the screams. And despite Keanu Reeve’s transparently limited acting range, this tough-as-nails role certainly plays to his strengths with the intimidating monotone one-liner delivery and that never-ending, rigid look of sheer ire.
Unlike The Raid 2 however, there’s no compelling narrative to give the film’s duration any necessity to continue. John Wick simply comprises one action scene after another. Unfortunately, the combat gets repetitive fairly quickly—repeating wrestling techniques (choke holds, etc.) and blowing brains out with the same up-close strategy—and it honestly feels like the plot struggles with where to proceed next. “Oh, I need to kill this guy, and now I have to kill this other guy in another location.” The story essentially follows this formula and hopes that the viewers find that adequate enough for non-stop entertainment. An hour in though, it clearly begins to drag and doesn’t show any sort of storytelling restraint in terms of when enough is enough, which is the same issue The Equalizer shared.
If this high-octane extravaganza was only slimmed down by thirty minutes, it would’ve made for a far more satisfying and memorable experience, but I just can’t say that John Wick even compares to the consistent mastery The Raid 2 boasted. This one has its fair share of cheesy, awkward moments (albeit with intention) but also just overall shallowness. With that being said, beholding the first hour alone makes it worth seeing over every American action movie this year (I still don’t know if that says a lot about the staleness of the genre nowadays, or if I should just accept that John Wick surely possesses stunning quality?).