Cinema-goers will know him best as Neo from the physics-defying Matrix trilogy, but since the franchise came to a close over a decade ago the memorable big screen performances of Keanu Reeves have been few and far between. His latest project is ‘John Wick’, an action-thriller in which he takes the eponymous role. Wick is a highly skilled hitman who is forced out retirement to take revenge on a gang of criminals led by Iosef (Alfie Allen) who foolishly wrong him shortly after the death of his wife. If it all sounds a bit familiar, that’s because it is. In his mission for vengeance, he encounters his old pal Marcus (Willem Dafoe) and crosses paths with a former associate Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), but in the society of assassins he was once a member of there is a fine line between friend and foe. The directors at the helm are former stunt co-ordinators Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, though the latter is left uncredited for his contribution.
Once the scene is set and the back-story of our leading man is revealed, a lot of the action that follows takes place within acutely choreographed fight sequences. These set-pieces mix together the beat ’em up and shoot ’em up methods as John Wick uses any means necessary to take down the countless number of opponents he faces. However, the martial-arts and anime influences in the film’s visual style conjure up similarities with recent ‘one man versus everyone else’ movies such as The Raid, which makes Wick look a bit clunky and less polished in comparison. At times the constant grappling becomes a little watching someone play a fighting video game with just one finishing move combo in their locker. Aside from the repetitive action though, the plot that unfolds is consistently entertaining, has moments of solid tension and is surprisingly unpredictable given the premise.
Despite the fact that he might not be quite as agile as he was in his aforementioned Matrix days, it is enjoyable to see Keanu Reeves killing the bad guys again and his star quality shines through Derek Kolstad’s unimaginative script. His performance gives depth to his character and the struggles he has come through, which make for the odd poignant moment as he grieves for his late wife. Game of Thrones star Alfie Allen puts in a suitably whiney turn as the small time crook of the piece, who just so happens to be the son of a mob boss. In contrast, veteran talents Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane aren’t allowed the time to make the most of their screen presence, and are rather wasted in their minor roles.
Whilst ‘John Wick’ doesn’t do anything that can be deemed unique or original, it does what it does with confidence, and is the film it sets out to be. The plotting plays up to revenge movie genre expectations with the usual string of captures, rescues and backstabbing and the minimalistic script dishes up a few typically cringey one-liners, referring not only to the age of the protagonist but I’d like to think it also pokes fun at the maturity of Keanu Reeves himself, who turned fifty last year! Will he be next to get categorised into the ageing action hero bracket, alongside Liam Neeson, Jason Statham et al? During an exchange where he is told he’s looking terrible, Wick casually replies ‘rusty, I guess’. Rusty he may well be, but he’s still bloody good fun to watch.