I remember seeing an ad for a new Keanu Reeves movie and thinking it was the dumbest thing I had ever seen. Needless, over the top gunplay, a ridiculous sounding plot and the whole thing looked and sounded derivative of one of his past works. The film? 1999’s “The Matrix.” Everyone loved it and I was proven wrong. But surely that couldn’t happen again, right?
Film 13: “John Wick”
My excuse for not seeing it: Basically, everything up above. The description I first heard was “Some gangsters kill a hitman’s dog and he seeks revenge.” That sounded dumb enough that I briefly considered that it might be a parody.
But what “John Wick” is is a pretty strong film about grief. As the film opens, Wick is seemingly not coping with the death of his wife, and the death of her final gift to him, a dog, is what brings it all crashing down. The fact that the dog is killed by the son of a Russian mobster, played by Alfie Allen as a hybrid of Theon Greyjoy and Ramsay snow. Though I’m not sure I’m thrilled that one of the few uses of a correctly spelled variation on my name is a dog-killing coward.
I enjoyed that Michael Nyqvist’s Viggo Tarasov initial reaction to finding out Iosef had killed John Wick’s dog is resignation that his son has likely signed his own death warrant. “Road to Perdition” has a similar plot, but the fact that the first attempt to take out the hitman there is done by a low-level thug with no preparation showed a real lack of foresight by the mob. Here Tarasov at least throws some real weight behind trying to solve the John Wick problem.
I also liked that “John Wick” seems to exist in a slightly alternate reality, similar to the “Kill Bill” films, where insane violence seems to be an accepted part of the world with mainstream businesses designed to accommodate it.
Initially, I was a little disappointed that Wick didn’t pay a higher cost for returning to the hitman life. The trope is generally that when an old gunfighter picks up their guns again, it’s for the last time. Richard Harrow from “Boardwalk Empire,” or Wolverine in “Logan” are some recent examples. But as the “Hitman as coping mechanism” theme became more apparent, I was willing to let that slide.
Random thoughts: I was a little thrown by Wick being referred to as “Baba Yaga,” with the explanation being that he’s like the boogeyman. Except Baba Yaga isn’t the boogeyman, or a man at all. She’s a Russian witch with a house that stands on chicken legs. I’m totally cool with a feared and powerful character being compared to a feminine character, but it seems like something Russian mobsters would be more likely to do as a show of disrespect, rather than fear.
Movies it inspired me to check out: Probably “John Wick: Chapter 2” at some point. One of the film’s co-directors, David Leitch, is directing the second “Deadpool,” though I was already planning to see that. I’ve seen “Hard Boiled” and “The Killer,” but I should probably check out more of John Woo’s Hong Kong filmography. Similarly, I’ve seen “Oldboy,” but still need to see the rest of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy, “Sympathy for Mr. Vegeance” and “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.”