This Keanu Reeves action movie, directed by a couple of stunt men, evokes other movies. More than most films, it elicits comparative reviews: “it reminded me of X”. So some will tell you it’s like a John Woo gangster flick, and others will think of old school 80s action films. The more adventurous will think of The Raid and The Raid 2. All of the comparisons are understandable, but John Wick doesn’t come off very well when compared to the better of those films.
If you’re thinking of the John Woo who made movies in America like Mission Impossible II and Paycheck, then you’d be close, but those aren’t very good movies. If you compare it to Woo’s better American films, like Face/Off, then it doesn’t look good. And if you compare it to Woo’s classic HK action movies like Hard-Boiled, well, it’s no contest.
There are a lot of similarities to the Raid movies, but again, the comparison doesn’t look good for John Wick. There is one sequence in John Wick that would look good in one of the Raids, but that’s only one scene, and one reason those other movies are so good is that they don’t let up. John Wick ratchets up the action, to be sure, but not to the extent the Raid movies manage. Also, most of Keanu’s work involves shooting people, and while the body count is impressive, and Keanu’s got the moves, eventually it gets kinda boring watching yet another gun battle/slaughter. Martial arts movies like the Raids offer much more variety, and thus, much less boredom.
John Wick does look good in comparison to old school movies like, say, Commando. And I don’t mean that as an insult. Movies that don’t reach for the stars, but just try to do one thing well, can often be enjoyable. There are a few attempts in John Wick to make us care about Keanu’s title character, and all I can say is, they didn’t work on me, any more than I really cared if Arnold rescued Alyssa Milano. I didn’t watch Commando for that.
John Wick looks even better when compared to the standard action movies of the present. Leitch and Stahelski manage to create visual action that the audience can comprehend, which is another reason is feels old school (and I don’t mean that as an insult).
Plus, Keanu Reeves has his usual solid screen presence, and there are lots of good actors in supporting roles: Alfie Allen from Game of Thrones, Willem Dafoe, Dean “Mayhem” Winters from Oz and 30 Rock, Adrianne Palicki from Friday Night Lights and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., John Leguizamo, Ian McShane from Deadwood, Lance Reddick and Clarke Peters from The Wire, even pro rassler Kevin Nash.
So, Keanu Reeves shoots dozens of people trying to get revenge, lots of interesting actors turn up, some hamming it up and others underplaying, the action is coherent, and the movie doesn’t run too long (although it does get repetitive). In the 80s, I saw movies like this every week, and liked them. But it’s 2014, where movies like The Raid and The Raid 2 get 8/10 ratings, and John Wick is nowhere near as good as those. Thirty years ago I’d probably give this 7/10. Now? 6/10.