This review is based off of the edited TV-14 version of the film. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would be more negative.
It’s time to look at a pretty big film from back in the day. Pretty much any fan of the action genre knows about John Wick. Unfortunately you also know what comes with the territory as the plot itself is quite well known as well. The film is unable to get past the unfortunate decision to have the dog die in the beginning. It’s a cheap way to force in some tension and just doesn’t work. You absolutely can’t have the dog die like that. At least the sequels shouldn’t have the same problem unless they literally do this again.
The movie starts with John’s wife dying. She was sick for a long time and finally passed on. While dying she was able to send John a puppy so that he could have a reason to keep on going. Unfortunately a Russian mafia group shows up and murders John’s dog. He’s now decided to take revenge by murdering all of them. It’s been a while since he was in the mafia game but now he will have to return for one last ride. Fortunately for John you never really lose those skills. He’s got a lot of guns and at this point nothing else to do. He is 100% focused on his task and nothing is going to stop him.
It’s a pretty unique direction to have John Wick be so feared by the villains. They constantly refer to him as Baba Yaga which is effectively a Russian Witch. The definition they used here is a little different though and they’re just saying that he is extremely scary like a monster. The instant his name is mentioned the villains start cowering and wishing that they had messed with someone else. They were all gangster until Wick showed up. He lives up to the legend pretty well as he murders a ton of the agents after him. He definitely wasn’t playing around here and definitely did not take any prisoners. Whoever got in his way was doomed. The only time he didn’t end up finishing his opponent it came back to bite him.
I liked the hotel idea too where villains don’t go after each other. It’s a safe haven and it’s important that you obey the rules. It also shows that the owners of the hotel have a lot of power since everyone obeys this rule. The hotel itself has a great end scene and I liked the concierge the whole time. The guy was quick on his feet and just felt like a veteran. He knew what was going on and always had the answers. Part of what makes the film so different is how it relies on prior knowledge that you don’t know and doesn’t try to throw it at you via origin stories. We really don’t need John’s origin. You can piece everything together on your own without help and it’s just more fun that way.
The soundtrack is quite large for this film. There are quite a number of different themes that play during the film. Certainly a lot of battle themes to accompany the fights and rock themes to get you pumping. The themes all work and Wick himself has a theme that plays during some of his big moments. The film really knows how to score its scenes and when you mix that with the intense fight scenes there is not a dull moment in the film.
John makes for a great lead and it was good to see him go to any length to avenge his dog. It’s certainly a noble mission and the villains can’t really defend themselves for these actions. John did give the leader a chance to surrender his son for this blunder and the villain didn’t take it. John wasn’t crazy or anything, he spared those he could and just focused on taking out all of the characters who were threats. There are quite a few other supporting characters here who were fun but the best one was definitely Marcus. That guy came in clutch quite a bit. John wouldn’t have done nearly as well without him. It’s definitely a shame how he went out although that was inevitable by the end.
So there’s a lot to like here and it’s a very interesting thriller. The characters were carefully constructed and as far as revenge thrillers go this one can compete with all the rest. An indestructible main character like John is fun to follow and of course it’s always nice to see all of the villains getting taken down a few pegs. That being said, the negatives are even stronger than the positives which is why this film ultimately fell all the way down instead of managing to win out.
The obvious negative here is the dog death. It destroys the whole film particularly because of how it goes down. The film makes the scene rather brutal and what makes it even worse is that this is a puppy. The film gives us quite a few scenes with the puppy so we can grow to like him. Again, this is a very easy way to build tension and it’s a cheap shortcut. The three ways that films usually do this is by having an animal die, a person close to the lead get tortured to death, or have the wife/girlfriend get assaulted. All 3 of these ways are definitely not good ideas in the slightest and will usually doom a film’s score. The animal one in particular is hard to get around and with a dog of all choices. There’s just no way the film could recover from this. It’s a very direct negative so it may look like it’s outnumbered by the positives but the scene is not one that you will forget so easily.
John Wick is also a very violent film. It’s certainly about as violent as you’ll get with a shooter film. Characters are tortured and there are quite a few headshots that don’t shy away from showing them completely. Characters meet their end in very violent ways as well. This film is definitely trying to live out the revenge fantasy where you put yourself in the main character’s shoes and revel in what’s going on. The film definitely could stand to tone down the violence though. If you did that and change the part about the dog then this film would be in much better shape.
Overall, John Wick is a pretty engaging film. It may have lost its traction from the start with the Puppy’s death but even though the movie is misguided, a lot of effort was clearly put into it. The soundtrack alone is evidence of that and then you’ve got the strong character cast to back it up as well. It’ll be interesting to see what plot the sequels go with. Something has to get him back in on the action right? I assume the movies are going to bump more people off but just about everyone he knows is already dead. Either way I guess John won’t be getting his happy ending yet. I hope the hotel appears again though, that was a pretty interesting locale.