John Wick

Chad Stahelski’s debut directorial venture “John Wick” stands tall as a testament to the fact that plots don’t matter, it’s how they’re told that do.
By Ankit Ojha on October 24, 2014

“John Wick” is stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski‘s debut directorial effort and stars Keanu Reeves (“The Matrix,” 1999) as the titular character. He’s lost his wife from an ambiguous terminal illness and receives his final gift from her—an adorable beagle—designated to help him with his grief. An ill-fated encounter leads to Wick’s car being robbed and his dog killed. The criminals behind this act—dismissing their victim as a “nobody”—don’t know they’ve set their impending deaths in stone by poking the bear.

Sound familiar? That’s because it is. Revenge has been a staple part of storytelling for ages—the first known revenge story being playwright Thomas Kyd’s “The Spanish Tragedy” (1592)—and has gone on to gain literary fame through William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” (and its various onscreen adaptations). Michael Winner’s “Death Wish” (1974), Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” (2000), and Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” (2003-2004) prove that revenge is a vital ingredient of some of modern (and classic) cinematic pop culture’s biggest hits.

With popular narrative devices come redundancies—and if you’ve been around enough direct-to-video B-movies, you’ve seen more than your fair share of awful-to-mediocre titles. On the surface, “John Wick” sounds exactly like that kind of movie, and its trailer does not help matters either. What anybody expecting to hate-watch the film won’t expect, however, is just how much Derek Kolstad (“The Package,” 2013) adds to the film’s overall image system.

John Wick - Keanu Reeves
A Pupper to Kill For // Keanu Reeves in a still from Chad Stahelski’s John Wick, a Summit Entertainment, 87Eleven, and Thunder Road film.

His worldbuilding boasts incredible attention to detail, turning the underworld into this secret organization with its exclusive-to-assassins hotel, custom currency, and intricate rules. Stahelski, for his part, makes it look like he’s been directing big feature films for a while now, taking Kolstad’s screenplay and turning it into a stylized, hyperreal action thriller that rarely misses its punches. Using the incredible eye of cinematographer Jonathan Sela (“Max Payne,” 2008), every shot is purposeful and dramatic, giving its visceral narrative an almost hyperreal bite.

John Wick” might be here to give viewers a grand ol’ time, but the film’s immersive worldbuilding serves only to aid its USP: action. The movie boasts some of the best-looking, most stylish action choreography you’ve seen in a long time. Of the many set pieces you’ll witness, an elaborate sequence in a nightclub is the most fun viewers will have watching the eponymous Wick take down a horde of bad guys.

The film, of course, has its challenges. Russian mob bosses are so passe, and recycling this stereotype does it no favors. Add to this the bland follow-up to the final fight, and that’s all of its flaws summed up because it’s got so much conviction that nothing can stop you from buying into the world through and through—not even those dips in the narrative. The rest lies squarely on the shoulders of Reeves, Michael Nyqvist (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” 2011), and Willem Dafoe (“Spider-Man,” 2002)—and they’re all incredible.

Ultimately, “John Wick” is a testament to the fact that plots don’t matter; it’s how stories are told that actually does. The film knows precisely what kind of movie it is: one that kicks serious ass and provides moviegoers a fantastic time out. With the help of screenwriter Kolstad’s immersive worldbuilding, Stahelski’s debut as a film director succeeds highly as an entertaining action thriller. Packed with impressive performances and set pieces that will make your jaw drop, it’s worth every penny of your ticket and overpriced popcorn.