Keanu Reeves falls short in “John Wick”

By: Sam Fatula | A&E Editor

If one didn’t know any better, they would walk past John Wick without as much as a brief acknowledgment. However, if the name John Wick circulates around the slums of the criminal underground, immediate fear for people’s lives follow soon after. What occurs next is the forgone conclusion of inevitable death.

The majority of the action thriller John Wick, which debuted in box offices last Friday, follows that same plot-line.

Protagonist Wick, played by The Matrix series star Keanu Reeves, doesn’t stray too far from the path of unforgiven action heroes. Similar to the likes of John McClain or Max Payne, Wick has experienced quite an unfortunate series of events in recent memory.

After trying to leave the life of a hit man, Wick tries to settle down with his newlywed wife and start anew. This aspiration quickly falls short of expectations when Wick’s wife passes away from an undisclosed disease, leaving him alone and emotionally damaged. All that Wick possesses now is his checkered past, a 1969 Ford Mustang and the puppy his wife bought him right before she died.

Even these small, tangible items that Wick identifies with the memory of his late wife are compromised soon after, as a small group of thugs led by Games of Thrones star Alfie Allen raid his home by surprise, steal his car and kill his dog. This gives Wick the motivation to return to the life of being a cold-blooded killer and track down the man that took the last memories of his wife from him.

Conceptually, the theme of John Wick does not have much substance or creativity as an innovative action film. The theme of revenge and killing rampages has been done before, and adding the theft of a nice car and killing a puppy is not enough of a twist to differentiate itself from action predecessors. The film tries to be innovative by creating an interesting relationship between authority figures like the police department and the criminal underworld, but it never readily explains how or why they work together to benefit each other.

Like all Keanu Reeves films, it can be unpredictable on what type of performance the audience can expect from him. Although Reeves gives a unique perspective on physicality versus the traditional type of over-sized, brute hitman, his personality is relatively dry and fails to fully emotionally connect with the audience.

Fortunately, the action portion of John Wick has a great deal of shooting and fight scenes that keep the 101-minute production nicely paced, with lesser moments of down time. The film has some of the better choreographed fight scenes in cinema this year, which implement unique camera shots during a shoot-em-up scene in a local nightclub. There are even some bright points in the script, adding in dry comedic elements to Reeves’ character works wonders for his natural personality.

The rest of the main cast doesn’t contribute anything relatively memorable. Willem Dafoe is underused in the film, set aside to play Wick’s former work partner who is killed by Russian mafia members for protecting Wick’s life. Allen, who plays a character with traits similar to his Game of Thrones persona, Theon Greyjoy, does not have sufficient material to work with to make more of a standout performance, even though he is one of the main antagonists in the production.

The other villain in the film, played by Michael Nyqvist, actually steals the show as Allen’s father. His rugged demeanor as mob boss, Viggo Terasov, is still capable of delivering a handful of comical lines is spot on. Without his presence, John Wick would have suffered much more in terms of quality.

John Wick, though critically acclaimed prior to its release, does not really make a name for itself in the action genre. Despite Reeves’s past success in action, his character is not someone anyone can attach to with a plot that the audience cannot excitedly grasp to. Reeves’s disappointing performance alongside a script that has been overdone numerous times in the action category. One of the only reasons that John Wick is not considered a disaster is because of the strong fight and gun scenes.