John Wick is a joke. In a good way, that is.
Early in the film, the title character (Keanu Reeves) is attacked in his home by Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), son of local mob boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). Iosef Tarasov kills Wick’s dog and steals his car, not realizing that Wick was a top assassin for his father a few short years ago, known across the city as “The Boogeyman.” Wick left the business to be with his wife (Bridget Moynahan), who had contracted a terminal illness but left him that dog before her death. As a matter of course, Wick goes on a rampage through the local Russian mafia.
Watching John Wick is like listening to a friend tell a long, untrue anecdote that everyone started out thinking was true and thought was a horrible story, but once they begin to understand is exaggeration becomes a hilarious piece of satire. Once you get it, you get it. The movie isn’t meant to be taken seriously even beyond its nature as an action movie, most of which are meant in jest. But it is also a triumph of the genre that pulls together both old, illogical action tropes and modern style and demand for continuity.
This movie pulls of the rare, special trick of satirizing a genre while also being an impressive member of that genre. John Wick has several long, satisfying action scenes composed primarily of long shots that are wide enough to get the full sequence in, so the audience can really appreciate it. It’s got a long-haired, neutral-faced hero who supposedly does a lot of his own stunts. It’s got Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane.
It’s also got a grand hotel in the center of town where all the action heroes stay and spend their own special currency on their own special doctors and morticians who magically erase the collateral damage they cause and keep them in fighting condition despite their injuries. John Wick addresses the plot holes in all of its predecessors with wit and a wry smile.
This is Chad Stahelski’s directorial debut, and it’s kind of a sweet story. Stahelski met Reeves on the set of The Matrix where he worked as Reeves’ stunt double for the more intense scenes, and the two have worked together frequently ever since. Stahelski coordinated stunts for the sequels, as well as Constantine and V for Vendetta, Reeves’ and the Wachowski siblings’ next major features, respectively.
The Matrix –– the first one, at least — was much more than an action movie, but it established Reeves in the public consciousness as an action star and the Wachowski siblings as action filmmakers. But they petered out when they tried to fit into that pigeonhole. Now, Reeves is back in action mode, but with the stuntman who helped him establish that part of his reputation.
For viewers who get the joke, John Wick is a terrific meta movie, but not everyone will. For viewers who don’t like action movies, this will simply look just like any other one. The target audience is still too narrow for it to deserve a broad recommendation.
Either you’ll really love this movie, or it’ll look like just another action flick.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and news editor for the NT Daily. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter when I can be bothered to make one, and shoot questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.