Mouthy mobster Iosef (Allen) steals a stranger’s car, beats the crap out of him and kills his dog, just for the hell of it. Unfortunately for Iosef, the stranger was retired assassin and infamous underworld boogeyman, John Wick (Reeves). And now he’s pissed.
There are, broadly speaking, two ways to go when it comes to fight sequences. The first is to bust a few moves then use lively camerawork and quick edits to make an indifferent pugilist look like The Grandmaster. The more challenging route is to choreograph an extended sequence, sit back, frame a nice wide shot and let the actor carry the can. Given that first-time directors Stahelski and Leitch are both veteran stunt co-ordinators, that fact that they opt for door number two is not surprising. The assured proficiency with which they conduct John Wick’s symphony of gunplay, however, is.
Like the best Cantonese Gun Fu, every exchange of lead in John Wick is painstakingly mapped out and executed with silky smooth precision. Reeves glides through moves with practiced ease, rolling, ducking and grappling like a bearded ninja, only throwing bullet rain instead of punches. The sequences are inventive, too, touched by a wry sense of humour (an irritated mid-kill reload is a particular highlight) to keep any hint of fight fatigue at bay.
The dust-ups are the film’s main course and the directors know it, serving them up at steady intervals with narrative amuse-bouches passed out in the lulls. And bite-sized the story most certainly is, existing solely to set Wick in motion, then keep the corpses coming. Thin though it is, the plot is not without charm and as with the action, Derek Kolstad’s script boasts a confident exuberance. The setup is enriched by a fanciful mythology where New York’s contract killers all hang out at The Continental – a hitmen-only hotel that acts as a kind of homicidal Cheers bar. Gaffer in residence is a delightfully camp Ian McShane, one of several blink-and-you’ll-miss-them pop-ups alongside Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, and Clarke Peters.
While this inhabits the same vigilante-porn subgenre as Taken 3 or The Equalizer, John Wick is in on the joke in a way that few such movies are. With this, Leitch and Stehelski (Keanu’s Matrix stunt double) have set themselves out as a duo to watch. Reeves, meanwhile, hasn’t kicked this kind of arse since he walked into that lobby with a bag full of guns back in 1999.
A giddy helping of artful violence delivered with a wink and a cheeky grin. Unsurprisingly, John Wick 2 is already in the works.