John Wick

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The opening of this film is close to perfect for its needs. In this sub-genre of action, revenge fantasy, the most difficult aspect is making the motivation believable. The second most difficult bit is making the avenger’s skills believable. The first 5 minutes of the film answer the first problem with a  brutal scene that will have many  people ready to just walk out. It isn’t that the moment is overly violent, it is that directors, Stahelsi  and Leitch, emotionally manipulate the moment so well, and it is done so coldly, that it hits hard.

Unfortunately, that emotional impact quickly vanishes due to Reeves (47 Ronin) lack of emotion as well as the script and editing choices. It becomes, in essence, just a massive splatter fest; a reverse angle of Death Takes a Holiday. It even end up losing the revenge angle because Wick is devoid of emotion–he takes no pleasure or angst from the kills. If you enjoy such things, and I admit that it can be quite cathartic, the result is simply a well-done shoot ’em up. As a movie, however, we lose the opportunity to watch the man turn into a monster. It simply can’t have impact without an understanding  of what he has lost of himself… and we really don’t get that kind of time with him before the inciting incident in the story.

But another gap in the execution, if you will, was that there was no real flow to the story. What the creative crew failed to absorb when planning and delivering the film was how to make the overall collection of moments emotionally satisfying. They were so focused on small vignettes of action and engagement, they lost the arc. Given that the directors and writer are all first timers, the amount of success versus these gaps is impressive. The directors come out of an extensive stunt background; they’re used to crafting individual moments for impact, not an overall journey. You can see the result throughout the movie.

These overall aspects laid out, it should be noted that the world that is created is fascinating, edgy, and inventive. Also, the side characters really infuse this plot with their own stories and emotion thanks, mostly, to their own talents. Some of it is cliche silliness, like Palicki (GI Joe: Retaliation), but some of it is deeper, such as Nyqvist (Europa Report) and Dafoe (A Most Wanted Man). Even Leguizamo (Chef) has impact despite only a few minutes of screen time. Allen does well as the asshole son, but it is mainly a reprisal of his Game of Thrones character.

Come to this film for the action alone and you’ll be satisfied. If you want a real movie with action in it, any of the Taken films are a better bet for you. You can cringe or rejoice that the directors are already talking a sequel to this bitter-pill of an existential nightmare that is Wick’s life. If they can actually build a story this next round, I’ll be on the cheering side. If it is more of the same… well, I might just tuck in and go for the ride again too, but I’ll still gripe about the lost opportunity of a film that could have been.

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