So, last year I saw a trailer for John Wick and, man, I laughed my ass off. It looked terrible. It looked beyond terrible. I had a giggle fit that lasted, like, a solid minute.
But after the movie came out, I heard a surprising number of good reviews for it, and not just people saying stuff like, “Man, this is so-bad-it’s-good,” but like, “Dudes, this shit is AMAZING.” So eventually I was like, “Okay, well, I’m gonna have to give this an honest shot at some point,” and some point turned out to be last week.
Ultimately? I was like, “Yeah, that was pretty decent.”
There won’t be any real SPOILERS until the Spoiler Section, but I am going to talk about the Inciting Incident that takes place in the first fifteen minutes or so of the movie. It’s in every single one of the trailers, so I don’t feel particularly bad about it, but just so you’re prepared. In related news, my friend Marisa has decided that my superhero name should be Spoiler Alert. I’m concerned my powers are dubious at best.
1. Here’s what I think: if I’d seen John Wick right after watching this trailer, I’d have been super impressed because of my exceedingly low expectations. After reading all the buzz about it, though, my reaction was more like . . . yeah, that was okay.
I didn’t dislike John Wick. Parts of it are pretty awesome, actually. I’d probably try out sequels, if sequels are indeed made. (I believe two are planned, but hey, that’s what they said about It, The Dark Tower, and countless other, non-Stephen King projects.) But I didn’t love John Wick, either, and I think a lot of that had to do with three different moments where characters choose not to kill someone for Clearly Plot-Related Reasons, despite the fact that their characters would totally have killed that person. Trivial? Possibly. But the more it happened, the more it seemed ridiculous and out of character to me, and I’ll take a lot of bullshit in a story, but if I don’t buy a character’s motivations, you’ve lost a lot of ground with me as an audience member.
2. But that’s for the Spoiler Section. Let’s go back to John Wick’s beginnings, shall we?
So, this is John Wick’s Tragic Dead Wife (Bridget Moynahan). I’m sure she has an actual name, but let’s not even pretend to care about it, okay? The important part is this: John used to be a bad, bad man, but then he fell in love and retired from all that Dark Side stuff. There were Happy Times for a while, but then his wife died — as wives do — and John Wick was very sad. It turns out, though, that his wife was something of a planner, and before her imminent demise, she took time out of her busy existential “Oh my God, I’m dying” crisis to purchase her husband a puppy so that he’d have a companion to comfort him in his time of grief.
A few things about this:
2A: According to Wikipedia, David Leitch (one of the directors/producers) had this to say about Tragic Dead Wife: “Helen’s the crux of the movie, so to have an actress like Bridget come on board in such an important role was gratifying.” According to IMDB Trivia, however, Bridget Moynahan has a whole eight seconds of screen time in John Wick. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about Hollywood’s cognitive dissonance towards female characters, I don’t know what will.
2B. The line in the trailer that made me completely lose it? “I lost everything. That dog was the final gift from my dying wife.” Having just rewatched that trailer, I still crack up, although the actual moment where the dog dies is surprisingly super sad, like, “Jimmy, NOOOOO!” levels of sad. Which, in a way, is kind of impressive: I’ve known people who will entirely swear off any story where an animal is killed, but I think it’s been well-documented by now that my cold, dead heart is significantly harder to move. (In fact, I can think of at least three movies where a dead cat has actually made me laugh, although in my defense, those movies were supposed to make me laugh. Yes, I’m aware that I sound like a sociopath right now.)
Just to be clear, though: the dog has more screen time than Tragic Dead Wife. In case you weren’t sure which was valued more in Hollywood. Hint: it’s not the women.
2C. Daisy the dog (Andy the dog) is pretty ridiculously cute, though.
Awwwwwww . . . I just want to snuggle it forever. Although, can we be honest here? I’m not so sure I’d actually want a post-mortem puppy gift only a few days after my significant other’s funeral. Like, it’s sweet, in a way, and seriously, that dog is insanely adorable, but puppies are also, like, work. Responsibility. You can’t just ignore them and sleep on your couch for three days straight. A dog could totally help provide comfort or give you some kind of motivation to keep moving, but it could just as easily end up being a living thing you neglect in the height of your depression. I guess what I’m saying here is, if you die, I’d rather have some kind of edible arrangement delivered instead to comfort me, thanks.
3. Sadly, John Wick’s Tragic Dead Wife does get John a puppy, and it’s killed because Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is, yet again, a dick.
Damn you, Theon. Must you ruin everything?
Actually, this movie has a pretty delightful supporting cast, chock full of actors who kept surprising me when they popped up. There aren’t any big surprise cameos, I don’t think, but I didn’t exactly do much research before watching John Wick, so the only person I knew to expect was Neo. Other actors in this movie, in no particular order: Toby Leonard Moore (Wesley from Daredevil!), Adrianne Palicki (Bobbi from Agents of SHIELD!), Bridget Regan (Dottie from Agent Carter!), Ian McShane (Al Swearengen from Deadwood!), Michael Nyqvist (that dude from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo!), Dean Winters (that dude from those Allstate Mayhem commercials!), Lance Reddick (from Fringe and The Wire!), Clarke Peters (from Person of Interest and The Wire!), John Leguizamo (from my favorite Baz Luhrmann films!) and Willem Dafoe (from everything!).
Some of these roles are pretty small parts, but that’s okay. I wish more directors took their supporting casts this seriously.
4. I also enjoyed a lot of the action, particularly the big gunfight at the fancy nightclub. I’m a huge fan of movies that pair violence with unusual music (which is why this fight scene in Grosse Point Blank will remain one of my favorite fight scenes of all time), so I love that this kinda quiet song is used as John Wick legit stabs and shoots people left and right. Fun times.
Also, I have a ton of nostalgia for Marilyn Manson, so I was stupidly happy to hear him on the soundtrack. Am I sounding like a sociopath again, or just a kid from the 90’s?
5. I wasn’t quite as wild about the subtitles, though.
I mean, it wasn’t like a huge thing, like, “Oh no, John Wick puts their subtitles in the middle of the screen and makes totally random words bright orange, pink, and green. AUTOMATIC F, dudes.” But it didn’t feel entirely consistent and mostly just kept driving me out of the story. I feel like it’s the kind of thing I’d have enjoyed in something else, maybe a meta, YA story. Like Detention. Or Scream on MTV.
6. Also, John Wick’s codename is Baba Yaga, or the Boogeyman. Which is interesting because I have never equated Baba Yaga to anything like the Boogeyman, and both pronunciations I’ve ever heard of Baba Yaga don’t really match up with how Michael Nyqvist pronounces it (baba yay-ga?). None of this really means anything except that we should totally have an actual Baba Yaga movie at some point, and also the image of Keanu Reeves standing in a house on chicken feet will continue to amuse me for some time.
7. Finally, I can’t talk too much about the things that worked for me or the things that really didn’t (though one super tropetastic scene seriously failed to impress), but I can say this: there are a series of muscle cars in this movie, and ain’t none of ’em prettier than John’s first car that starts this whole mess: the 1969 Mach 1 Mustang. Now, that’s the kind of car that almost makes me want to learn how to drive. Almost.
So, what happens is this: Theon and Wesley (I’m totally not going to call them by their actual character names, BTW) ride up to this gas station where John Wick’s at. Theon wants to buy John’s sweet, sweet Mustang, and John’s like, “Yeah, not for sale buddy,” cause, seriously. That’s a nice car. Wesley’s all ominously like, “We’ll be seeing you,” or whatever he actually says, and John rides off into the sunset.
Then Theon, Wesley, and some other dudes surprise John at his House of Way Too Many Fucking Windows, beat him up, steal his car, and kill his dog. (It is, specifically, Theon who kills the dog. Because Theon will always be the worst.) Theon and Wesley take the car to John Leguizamo’s Garage of Criminal Activity, and when Leguizamo recognizes it, refuses to touch the great, silver beauty and, satisfyingly, slaps Theon around a little. It’s up to Theon’s Dad and our Big Bad, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), to explain to him (and us) what a colossal fuck-up this was.
I like Viggo in this scene: he’s basically a dude caught between a rock and a hard place. Either he protects his son by trying to take out a Scary Fucking Dude, or he protects himself and lets his son get killed. Sure, Theon’s an annoying dick, but you know. It’s his son. It’s super easy to flip this story and make Viggo the good guy, which I think is great. It’s also why I was really annoyed by Viggo’s turn from Relatively Reasonable Villain to Total James Bond Villain halfway through the movie.
But we’ll get to that. First we have to talk about the Continental and how totally awesome it is.
The Continental is apparently a hotel (complete with swanky bar) that mostly (or exclusively?) serves assassins. It’s completely neutral ground, which is why John checks in: nobody’s allowed to kill him there without incurring the serious wrath of Management. This is a pretty silly idea that I just love; I would watch a whole movie about The Continental. I would watch a seven-season television show about The Continental. I’m not exactly sure what would happen in it, but I’d watch the hell out of it, I’m sure of that. (And Lance Reddick, in particular, is kind of awesome here. He would definitely have to be in that television show.)
Of course, one of the assassins — Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) — defies Management anyway. I was very relieved when she showed up because, until her entrance, this movie had a very boys club feel to it. I mean, it still is super boys club (the Big Bad, the Big Bad’s Henchmen, the Big Bad’s Son, the Big Bad’s Son’s BFF, the Hotel Concierge, the Hotel Management, The Chop Shop Mechanic, etc, etc., etc.), but at least Ms. Perkins has something to do other than, you know, be tragic and dead. (I was going to say refrigerated, but technically it’s the dog who’s refrigerated, isn’t it? Of course, the dog wouldn’t mean anything if the wife wasn’t dead too, so, to hell with it. They’re both stuffed in the same refrigerator, next to the pickles, mustard, and mayo.)
We’ll come back to Ms. Perkins in a moment, but first let’s discuss all the people who should die in this movie well before they actually do.
1. Theon Greyjoy
So, John Wick finds out that Theon’s hanging out at this super fancy nightclub with, like, a pool and shit. (I’m assuming pools aren’t a standard feature in regular nightclubs, although admittedly I don’t get out much, so who knows? I usually just go for a margarita at Chevy’s, but then, no one has ever accused me of being classy, either.) John kills Wesley (sorry, dude) and some of the other henchmen before pointing his gun at Theon, hesitating like a full ten seconds before shooting someone else. Naturally, this allows Theon to get away.
John’s clearly not having a crisis of conscience here (IMDb trivia has his kill count at 77, and he probably kills at least 20 people in this scene alone), so I can only assume one of two things: either he feels that the other dude needs to be killed more (which, he totally doesn’t; he’s pinned down and not even remotely a threat) or he doesn’t shoot Theon because he wants the kid’s death to be more painful than that. Which is the kind of standard mistake that befalls all characters who never read Hamlet or, presumably, watched any kind of movie before EVER — but it’s even more annoying here because when Wick finally does kill Theon, there’s no torture or drawn-out death after all; Wick just shoots him, almost off-handedly, while Theon’s in the middle of a sentence. And I’m like, dude, you could have done that forty minutes ago and saved us all some fucking time.
Normally, I’d be inclined to just roll my eyes and ignore it, except that people keep not dying for totally stupid reasons. Case in point:
2. Ms. Perkins
So, Ms. Perkins tries to kill John while he’s sleeping, and she’d be successful, too, if John didn’t have his own guardian angel (of death): Willem Dafoe. Dafoe is John’s assassin mentor/friend, and Viggo hires him to kill John. Instead, Dafoe helps John out (a couple of times, even); in this case, he shoots the pillow next to John’s head to wake him up. (Why he doesn’t just shoot Ms. Perkins, I don’t know, but that’s actually not what I’m complaining about here.)
So John and Ms. Perkins fight and, eventually, John gets the upper hand. Only instead of immediately killing her like he’s done with every other person who’s gotten in his way, John decides to tie her up and give her to this Amiable Assassin Dude (Clarke Peters) for safekeeping.
This is bullshit.
Now, I didn’t really want Ms. Perkins to die. Frankly, I was kind of voting for her against John Wick, mostly because I like Bobbi on Agents of SHIELD and I was kind of digging her dark hair. But obviously, I knew she wasn’t going to win because I didn’t figure John Wick would have such a bold story-telling approach as to kill off the titular action hero halfway through the movie. And that’s fine, honestly, but it still annoys me that John doesn’t kill her, cause, dude, that guy is killing people left and right in this movie. These are people he could just as easily be knocking unconscious and shoving out of the way, but he doesn’t . . . except for the assassin who’s trying to gun him down? Yeah, I don’t think so.
My best guess is this: John Wick doesn’t kill Ms. Perkins because they have some kind of history, though, clearly, it’s not that close of a history. In fairness to the movie, they do show John choosing not kill a few people he was friendly with back in the day. In fairness to me, however, all those people were given a choice to go eat a sandwich or something and immediately vamoosed, rather than stand up to John and get horribly murdered. If they had chosen differently, yeah. There’s no way they’d still be breathing.
So I can’t help but feel that the real reason John Wick doesn’t kill our lady assassin is because, of course, she’s a lady assassin, which is just annoying. Of course, there are action heroes who kill female bad guys, but it doesn’t seem to happen a whole lot and it feels like it has to take place a certain way. (Falling, for some reason, seems to be acceptable.) Like, John Wick shoots guys in the face in this movie. John Wick was never going to shoot Ms. Perkins in the face. It bugs me, and I didn’t even want Ms. Perkins to die.
Ms. Perkins does die later at the hands of Management, and I did like that — I think it’s important to see how they deal with rule-breakers, otherwise the Continental just doesn’t really work. But it annoys me that John chooses not to kill her because (a) it makes no sense for the character, and (b), did we really need her to kill Freamon, anyway? We’ve already killed John’s wife, dog, and (spoilers) his mentor/friend/angel of death. Freamon just feels like overkill, at this point.
Still, none of that annoys me as much as the last person who should totes be dead:
3. John Wick
So, at one point, our Big Bad Viggo captures John Wick. Wick’s down on the ground, injured, on the verge of passing out, and Viggo or any of his henchmen could easily, easily kill him. Instead, they drag his unconscious ass to some place and tie him up so that (a) Viggo can needlessly monologue at him, and (b) Wick can escape and kill everyone.
Look, I know John Wick isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel here, and that’s fine, but come ON, this is just dumb. If Viggo struck me as a typical James Bond villain from the get-go, I doubt it would bother me as much, but he didn’t. Like I said before, one of my favorite things about this movie is that the villain is a pretty reasonable dude with a pretty reasonable motivation . . . or was, anyway, until he suddenly goes fucking crazy. I don’t understand: why make this huge deal about not underestimating John Wick at the beginning of the film if you’re just going to stupidly underestimate him at a critical moment by not killing him when you have the chance? It makes no sense to me, none whatsoever.
Honestly, nothing about this scene works for me. I can’t stand anything about Viggo’s whole monologue, not the dialogue, not the suddenly cartoonish delivery, nothing. The whole “we’re the same, you can’t get out of this life, blah blah blah” — it’s all so very heavy-handed and just done to death. And I’m apparently in the minority here, but Keanu’s reaction, his big “Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back,” speech doesn’t fully work for me, either. Script-wise, it totally does, but I just don’t quite buy Keanu’s growly yelling here. It’s not Don John in Much Ado About Nothing levels of awful, sure, but I can’t help but watch this scene and think of a half a dozen actors who could have pulled it off better.
Anyway, that’s about it. Viggo eventually gives up his son’s location to save his own life. (So, ultimately, not that good of a parent, then.) He then kills the hell out of Willem Dafoe because he knows Dafoe helped Wick out instead of trying to kill him in the first place, which really, is pretty fair. Wick doesn’t take it well and kills the hell out of Viggo before picking up a new pooch at the local pound. And that, as they say, is that.
Enjoyable enough. Some great, stylish action sequences (with ALL the colored filters, I mean, Jesus), fun soundtrack, and a surprisingly sad dog demise. But I’m too bored and/or annoyed by the same old tropes to pretend I’m hugely impressed with this movie.
Andy the Dog
Nothing good comes of murdering dogs. Like that even needs to be said, THEON.