action movie freak
"Yeah, I'm thinking I'm back."
This movie is different (better) than most "Action Movies" today because it's the directorial debut of the 87Eleven Action Design Team Owner/Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch—people who know Action (as it should be). Not only do they truly know Action Movies, their firm does the most impressive stuntwork in the business. I say that because after I first found out who 87eleven was—Ninja Assassin blew my socks off in 2009—whenever the Action in a movie was so good I wondered "Who did the Action on this?" Yeah, 87eleven!
Check out David Leitch's 2nd Unit Director Reel and Chad Stahelski's Vehicle Reel on vimeo. You won't be able to look away. The words "visually arresting" come to mind. Speaking of visually arresting . . . I'm also a huge Keanu Reeves fan, so I had high hopes, which John Wick lived up to and then some!
From beginning to end, there is a definite overall color scheme, an advanced feature for first-time Directors. (I think it adds to what Keanu Reeves calls "a heightened reality".) It reminded me of the look of The Matrix, and had a seasoned professional's touch—and that's true across the board. Everything about this movie was top notch!
One of the many things I loved was they kept the drama simple. There’s just enough story at the beginning to make the character of John Wick sympathetic, and to make you hate the villains, but then we jump right into the Action. The first scene shows us he's just gotten the crap beaten out of him and he may be dying or dead. There are a few great movies that open with the lead character already dead, but I was hoping it would turn out he wasn't, because Action Movies should pump you up at the end. It works really well though as shorthand to make the character sympathetic (knowing that he's been through so much pain and almost given his life—you would be wondering what's worth fighting that hard for, but you already know because the trailer gives it away). The story is that he lost his wife to illness. She arranged a gift of an adorable beagle puppy named "Daisy" to arrive posthumously with a note saying that the puppy would help John learn to love again. Then the bad guys kill his dog and steal his car. I'm thinking he's pissed.
Going back in time, we get glimpses of John Wick's ideal life with his loving wife, beautiful home, and the car: A 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1. It’s dark grey with a black double racing stripe, and he loves this car; takes it out regularly to race it on a runway. The fact that he races regularly is made clear when he drives up to a chain-link fence with a gate, and just looks at a security guard parked back-in against the fence for admission. No words needed, the guy buzzes him in. He knows him, knows what he's there to do. It's a joy to watch scriptwriting without unnecessary exposition. Writer Derek Kolstad didn't dumb it down and have the gatekeeper say something like "You here to race, again?" We get that.
The filmmakers also knew they didn't need to explain to us that John Wick is angry over the loss of his wife, and some of that rage is let out by fast driving. He's letting off steam and honing his driving skills. Loved the close call of Wick coming out of the hangar sideways so the car fits underneath the shape of the door—he's raring to go. In a great movie, you don't consciously think "What's the payoff going to be for this?" but there most certainly is one. We see he's got driving skills, but it doesn't spoil how he uses them at the end. That rumble of the Mustang's 429 V-8 engine1 speaks the language of American Muscle power, and we, too, are in love. We and John Wick aren’t the only ones. A chance encounter at a gas station introduces us to the villains, and the villains to the car.
The punk-ass spoiled son of a Russian mobster (Alfie Allen is really great at being a prick) wants to buy the car. It’s a scary thought that there are people in the world who operate this way. They see something they want and when they can’t have it, they think they can take it. There are no laws for them. The son, “Iosef” (Yoseph), speaks Russian to his flunkies, but then speaks smarmy English to John Wick. Surprise! John Wick speaks Russian. So bad ass. He’s been out of the crime scene long enough not to recognize this is his former employer’s son, but he knows an insult when he hears it, and doesn’t back down. The car’s not for sale, and he’s not taking any shit.2
When John recovers, he cleans her blood off the floor, buries the dog, and changes out of his pajama pants, but he keeps on wearing the t-shirt with his blood on it. I think it shows his love and his rage that he doesn’t care what he looks like, meaning he doesn’t get ‘dressed’. He just throws on some clothes and goes out. A clean shirt would have seemed a little dandy-ish and would have closed the book on that scene. The blood on his shirt brings his rage along, despite his calm demeanor.
Stupidly, Iosef tries to ‘clean’ the stolen vehicle’s ownership. He brings it to a garage run by "Aurelio" (John Leguizamo). John Leguizamo doesn’t get enough credit for his acting skills. He’s got a built-in sense of street smarts that makes you believe his take on any ridiculous situation. Few actors could pull off what he does here while maintaining your respect and not taking you out of the scene (making it all about them). A car that prime has to be known. It just shows what an idiot Iosef is, that he thought he could get away with stealing it. Of course, Iosef has no idea who John Wick is, but he sure as hell is about to find out, and they picked John Leguizamo to school him.
Let the lessons begin.
So I stole a fucking car!
It’s not what you did, son, that angers me so. It’s who you did it to.
Who, the fucking nobody?
That fucking nobody . . . is John Wick.
He was an associate of ours. They called him “Baba Yaga”.
Well, John wasn’t exactly the
boogeyman, he was the one you sent to kill the
John will come for you. And you
will do nothing because you can do nothing.
There's a little more about how John Wick completed an "impossible task" to get where he was, which adds to the legend, but that's, hopefully, for another movie . . . After Viggo's done telling Iosef who John Wick is, he sends Iosef away, then calls Wick to plead his son’s case. One of the cool things about John Wick is that he’s a man of few words. He says nothing when Viggo calls, he doesn’t even say hello. He just listened, then hung up when he realized where Viggo was going with the conversation. And Viggo gets the point too. Viggo orders everyone they can get to launch an attack on Wick’s house (you can see on his face it's probably a waste of time).
Task a crew.
How many do you have?
We see John Wick unearth his hidden stash of weapons and money. It’s so creepy awesome that Viggo sings the Baba Yaga song to hype John Wick while we are introduced to Wick’s past. Armed, dressed impeccably, gun in hand, by the time the crew of assassins Viggo ordered arrives at his house, John Wick’s ready.
JOHN WICK TRAILER 2
It’s rare that an Action Movie makes the effort to show the Hero reloading each time he uses all his bullets. Sometimes they will show him reloading occasionally (for realism), but you don't think to count shots because they’re already way past that point. The act of reloading is seldom part of the flow, it’s more like a break. Of course the Hero is out of harm’s way long enough to do it, but you almost never see him use his bullets sparingly, or super accurately3, based on the situation and/or on when his next reload is due. This movie is amazing in this respect. As multiple armed assailants come at him, you can almost see Wick assess the threat level and prioritize, immobilizing the nearest assailant while shooting two more, then turning his attention back to the one he just incapacitated. (At least two reloads in this movie particular were highly entertaining and impressive, and worth the ticket price alone.)
The myriad takedowns and number of headshots were astounding. Usually, we Action Movie Freaks are all about the Killcount, but I don’t remember ever thinking this before: “Killcount? Hell, we need a Headshot Count for this movie!” Aaaah the violence. Yes, we Freaks are sick that way. It's hard to shock and surprise us anymore, but they do that here. We squirm and grimace in appreciation as victims fall. John Wick is a total Bad Ass. He's all business. The kills are creative and there's more than one Gnarly Kill—You know, one that makes you either clap in appreciation or chuckle in awe; and at least two that probably give it the "R" rating (which is what we pay for)!
He dispenses with all his opponents very quickly. He takes one guy down while jumping on another guy. He shoots without having to look. He shoots without mercy. Mixed with the shooting, there’s some fighting, and knife fights: owch, owch, owch! This is a classic type of Action Movie scene: the "many against one" . . . There’s also some great comic relief when a Police car shows up to find out what the commotion is. Again, love the few words.
The Club scene kicks up the Action even from the first shootout, and that's impressive. Each successive Action sequence gets better and better. Iosef manages to get away, and after the Club scene, Wick regroups and survives a hit by "Perkins" (Adrianne Palicki). Then, he hits Viggo where it hurts, in the assets. They go from handguns to automatic weapons as we have a gun battle in the street. Ever since 1995's Heat, we love us some gun battle in the streets. Take that shit outside. We're kids playing war all over again. The sound effects are killer (my favorite word from the '80s)! Wick is knocked down in an original and surprising way, using a vehicle as a weapon. He doesn't stay down long though.
Viggo and Wick have a verbal confrontation. When Viggo tells him what torching his assets cost him, John Wick replies "Yeah, I kind of enjoyed that." You gotta have Trash Talking in an Action Movie.
Daniel Bernhardt is a stand-out in this movie. If you don't already know who he is, he was the guy Jason Statham fought in Parker. He plays one of Viggo's henchmen (the head henchman) "Kirill". His two fight scenes with John Wick are the best in the movie.
With a little help
from "Marcus" (Willem Dafoe), John Wick escapes Viggo's
execution order and goes after him. Talk about relentless.
What a chase! I really wished the trailer hadn't show John
Wick jumping on the hood of the car. Just that one thing. Loved
that moment, and that gun (what a cannon!). Forcing Viggo to
tell him where Iosef is, Wick goes from the street to a Safe House location.
They'll know you're coming
Of course, but it won't matter.
More Trash Talking :D. The next Action sequence with Wick as a sniper is epic! If you're not into the special effects by now, the headshots here should impress the shit out of you. All the headshots with the blood mist show you just how deadly accurate John Wick is. Next, we get massive explosions (another of my Action Movie Essentials). As John Wick comes at Iosef past bits of burning blown-up cars, gun in hand, his "locomotive breath" combined with the strut, is pee-your-pants time for Iosef!
I also loved that there was no exploitation of women(!). Perkins even wore a turtleneck and she held her own for a while (John was wounded) in their fight scene. There was no nudity (unless you count partial butt cheeks). The girls in the club, and the women in the vault were well covered. How refreshing!
The supporting cast is excellent. It speaks to John Wick's character that Willem Dafoe's character protects him (dies for him). It puts John Wick as a bad guy (assassin) on the right side (another Action Movie Essential).
The best scene for me was the last Action scene which I dubbed "the car fight". John Wick uses the Dodge Charger as a weapon. He easily takes out of the two vans racing toward the helipad. Then the vehicles do battle and John Wick shoots while driving (like hitting someone and shooting them through the roof as they roll over the top of his car.
So, this movie is the kind of Action Movie we've been craving since the "Golden Age of Action". Hate that expression because it implies that Action Movies are past their prime, but they will never be! All they need is people who understand what they are to make them, and boy oh boy do we have that here. With this movie in such capable hands, I thought maybe, finally, things would change with how the Stuntwork is credited in Action Movies, and I waited through all the credits because I was hoping not only for outtakes (which Action Movie Freaks love), but also, I was hoping that they were going to show the Stuntmen who do these amazing things, and have their names and faces onscreen so we get to know who they are (like we do the stars of the movie). This is LONG OVERDUE, but there were neither outtakes nor any other-than-ordinary credits. Maybe they will do it in their next movie (hint, hint).
I really hope more Action Movies being made by Second Unit people is a sign of things to come (like the team of Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh who did Act of Valor) because I feel the Action Movies belong in the hands of the Second Unit. The first movie I saw that was a Second-Unit Director's debut as Director (if you don't count Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco made 7 years earlier, which I won't) was Final Destination 2 (David R. Ellis), and how awesome was the Action in that movie?!
Despite the sad beginning story line, the movie leaves you feeling the way an Action Movie should, PUMPED UP! Can’t wait for another John Wick ass whopping. Yeah, I’m thinking Action Movies are back! "Uh huh."
ARTEMIS Women in Action FILM FESTIVAL
December 10 - 13
December 14 - 17