Picture this “Die Hard” action fan hearing that Keanu Reeves was making a mysterious low budget action thriller that would rival THE MATRIX (1999) series. Picture me interested but not doing cartwheels. Yeah, Keanu Reeves did make some great films but I just never saw him as the finest of thespians. I enjoyed many of his films but around him and not so much IN him. Films such as the BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989) and BILL AND TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY (1991) films were fun and hellishly witty, as well as the underrated MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991)– but more so because of a great turn by the late River Phoenix. And yes, THE MATRIX at its time. These films were great because of what surrounded him– great support, witty scripts and outlandish plotting. Him? Not so much.
Then a comes JOHN WICK (2014).
I saw the preview and was intrigued. Alright, I’ll admit it, I’m the worst type of filmgoer – you know the one that has the film potentially ruined for him by reading every damn review he can get his hands on. Yup, the element of surprise be damned. I’m all over every paper and online review site I can get a hold of to see what the film is all about and how they rate it so perhaps not to have to waste my time on dross. This has saved me much coin and trouble, but the element of surprise is sometimes shot all to hell.
Then a comes JOHN WICK.
I had read whatever available reviews there were when it first opened due to the fact that it was a nothing film coming out of nowhere with an already pretty cool lead actor that really couldn’t act by many accounts. They said pretty good but really give it accolades because they weren’t even sure.
Then a comes JOHN WICK…. viewing night.
Holy ‘skata’ as we Greeks would say. Where the heck did this wee film come from and how did they pull it off so beautifully? The buildup was so deafening in its silence. There were a few characters that gave you a subtle leadup to what was locked up within the character of John Wick so beautifully played by Keanu Reeves. Why you ask after I had damned him to reviewer’s hell by saying he wasn’t relevant? Because he IS John Wick, the character, and John Wick IS the actor, Keanu Reeves. He is that good because he is so…… bland. Do I want a nonstop talking character to be wreaking havoc in so many cartoonish and deadly ways? No, it wouldnt be sinister enough. Beware, John Wick is coming.
The action is insane and ballet-like in its creativity and it takes a full half hour to get into the first destructo sequence which is just perfect. Yes, character development, folks, in spades. The film was like a shot out of the blue and so perfect and needed for its time. We weren’t turned off by the violence because I kept expecting Friz Freleng to pop up in the credits as the director. Yes, he of all the best Warner Brothers cartoons. The director is a first timer that was originally Keanu Reeves’ stunt double on THE MATRIX films, Chad Stahelski. Keanu Reeves’ was pitched the idea of JOHN WICK by Mr. Stahelski and Keanu immediately agreed. The full trust of these men shows in both the acting and the confidence of script. Chad trusts Keanu enough to film all of his scenes fully and with nary a body double in sight and Keanu entrusts his director with the direction. The complete trust shows. From the excellent choreography to the stunts, to the fully formed world down to the psychedelic lighting. All brilliantly done because its totally unexpected. And it’s triggered by this long-retired hitman over a dog. It wasn’t just a dog as John Wick oft repeats in the film to our delight.
Yes, Baba Yaga is coming.
Ok, ok, I have to admit my original intention of this piece was to garner a renewed appreciation of how great the series was but to be honest, for me the other two sequels – JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (2017) and JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3- PARABELLUM (2019) were more of the same except at a grander pace, bigger budget and more baddies thrown at Keanu Reeves character than the original. Kind of like the original BLADE (1998) series with Wesley Snipes. Cool but we now know what to expect – like your favorite roller-coaster ride at the amusement park and being in love with the same person for the past 20 years. Comfortable and totally expected. Don’t get me wrong, the battle in Rome between the singer Common as assassin Cassian and John Wick is great in that they are both neophytes to this type of action but pull it off beautifully– the end fight between 3 of action film’s best fighters and John Wick. Adept and so fraught with tension and wit all, but nothing will rival of the multiple pleasures of the first film. I found myself constantly exclaiming out loud “No way!!” or cussing like mad to myself all the while smiling while watching the film. That’s a sign of a good film, brothers and sisters. Yes, I like to show my appreciation that way as I did at a recent viewing of BAD EDUCATION (2020) with Hugh Jackman.
Baba Yaga, the devil, is coming…. and no, it’s not just a dog.