Tuesday, June 30, 2015

John Wick (2014)

John Wick is a movie that a lot of people liked. So of course I will get a lot more traffic when I say right out that this movie SUCKS!

Director: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch
Starring: Keanu Reeves, A Dog, Michael Nyquist

Co-written with Michelle and Mercedes.

Did that get your attention yet? Because I was totally exaggerating. It's a pretty okay movie that everyone pretty much loved unabashedly when it came out. But it's not without its problems, which I do want to talk about today. First of all, really, another movie about a retired hitman coming back and getting revenge for something? I don't think there are even that many retired hitmen in real life as there are movies coming out every year about this same goddamn plot.

I guess there is one different thing though – in this one, the reason the retired hitman comes back is because his dog is killed. Uh, give them points for trying? It sounds kind of like a South Park parody of a movie from the plot summary. But I guess we won't know how it plays out unless, you know, we go through and talk about it.

We start off with a very rushed and fast-forwarded telling of how main character John Wick met this woman, married her, and then she died of cancer. Nothing else; that's all the movie gives us. No further depth. Wow – really not wasting any time, are you? This movie is like the caffeine-addicted soccer mom of mafia flicks. Come on, come on, come on, get dressed, we've got to go NOW!!!!

This makes the opening of Up look positively slow and plodding by comparison.

We then fast forward through the funeral because that wouldn't have been interesting at all. Wick gets a puppy dog in the mail from his wife, who delivered it before she died. That's a very nice gesture – unless, that is, he didn't like dogs and wasn't prepared for the responsibility of taking care of one! In that case it would have just been rude of her. Is his wife's ghost prepared to have a dejected and uncared-for puppy dog on her conscience?

But of course that doesn't happen. Instead, Wick bonds with the dog, and reluctantly grows to love the cute little bugger. These scenes are some of the more effective ones in the film, as they come closest to establishing a real human connection to Wick. Which is good, because anything that makes Keanu Reeves seem even close to an actual human being is cool with me. The dog is a better actor than him, but we can look the other way and not hurt his feelings.

So I guess it's okay now. I guess nothing bad will happen and it's going to be a movie about a boring man with a dog. That's cool with me.

… oh, shit.

Yes, apparently a couple of thugs who asked to buy his car earlier in the film break into his house later and kill his dog and take the car. It's a pretty over the top scene. I dunno, I mean obviously this stuff can happen in real life – but the way it's done here is very jarring and comes off as more silly than anything, and the murder of the dog in particular always just feels kinda sensationalistic and cheap to me – like is Keanu Reeves so unsympathetic and dull as a person that you couldn't get us to like him without killing a puppy dog?

And, really, they saw him with that car at a gas station way earlier in the day, so they spend their whole day tracking him down and fucking breaking into his house that night? I guess they didn't have any other plans that day. Everything else can go on the backburner today, we've got to go take that guy's car!

"I could probably get my rich father to buy me this car brand new, but fuck it, I'm very easily distractible! Ooh, a shiny object! Let's kill everyone for no reason to get it!"

So this sends Wick into a spiral of despair, as it's revealed that he actually used to be a hitman himself, and apparently one of the deadliest, too. The young kid who killed the dog goes back to his mob boss father, Viggo, who is shocked to hear this and tells him what a mistake he made. We get a pretty lame and cliché scene where Viggo goes “I've seen him kill three men with a fucking pencil.” We don't get to see it, so I'll fill in the blanks myself and assume this was John Wick's past life:

He also says Wick is “not the boogeyman, but the man you sent to kill the fucking boogeyman.” Because I guess making entirely too long, drawn-out exposition scenes is fine, so long as you include plenty of dumbass quotes for the trailer.

We also get a cameo by John Leguizamo, who is always in good movies like Gamer and Kick Ass 2, playing some car dealer guy who sells stolen cars. He refuses to take Wick's car because he knows Wick, and asks the two kids if they killed him. They say no, but they boast proudly that they “fucked up his dog.” Yeah, fist bump, bro! We killed a puppy! Wahoo!

Captains of the douche squad.

I wonder what they would have said if there had been no dog, and if they'd just broken some of Wick's furniture instead. “No, we didn't kill the guy, BUT WE BROKE HIS LAMP AND LEFT HIS A/C ON SO HE'LL GET A HIGHER BILL! AHAHAHAHA!!!” Lame.

One of the more head-scratching parts of the film involves them sending a bunch of dudes to John Wick's house to kill him. After you got done with your whole monologue about how John Wick is the most fearsome and badass killing machine ever in the history of the world? That's like sending them into a lion's den, isn't it? I think you're the kind of person who doesn't send out any invites to a birthday party and then sends angry passive-aggressive Facebook messages while drunk on boxed wine when nobody shows up.

But seriously – you send them to kill John Wick in his own fucking house? You couldn't just wait until he went around the corner for a six pack and then knifed him in the alley when he wasn't expecting it? I guess not. Maybe you had shit to do the rest of the day. You impatient morons.

So after this it's basically just John Wick going around and knocking off his targets, and it becomes more like watching someone play a video game than actually watching a movie. Some of the fighting is pretty cool, though – especially this one scene set in a nightclub. The lighting is cool and Wick's super fast, furious fight choreography is entertaining. It's a solid action scene.

"I'm amazed I can see well enough in here to even fight the right people, let alone use my gun correctly."

I also love the scene where Wick kills a few people out there and everyone just keeps dancing. That's some dedication. We worked hard stacking boxes at Banana Republic this week and nothing will stop us from dancing! RAAAAARRRRGGGHHH!

Later on there's a scene where he gets a drink from a hot tattooed Elvira-wannabe chick at a mafia bar, and she also later comes to kill him at a hotel. I guess everyone in this world is just a hitman. It's Hitman Land – which is kind of like the classic children's game Candyland, but with more murder and less bright colors.

"Mom, she's trying to take my gun again!"

I guess it's just kind of the world the movie is building, as my friend Mercedes pointed out when we watched the film together. Which is true; this is not the normal world where the law can just intervene; it's a mafia-ruled underworld. The film does suck you into that. But I mostly thought we've seen all this stuff before and the settings and characters aren't terribly interesting. Also, the constant blue-grey monotone colors everywhere and lack of any kind of interesting dialogue just starts to put me to sleep after a while.

Though I do have to give the movie props for including a guy at the front of the hotel desk who can act like all of this is normal. They really must have propped him up on some lethal doses of Xanax to get this performance – but hey, actors, right? Anything they have to do. That's what makes 'em special.

Ohhhh yeah, the picture of cool. This guy could charm anyone.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is Viggo, I suppose, as there is a rather touching subplot about how he doesn't want to let Wick kill his scumbag of a son. We don't get a whole lot of depth on either him or his kid, but we get a few nice tidbits here and there. Though I do have to dock points again when they capture John Wick and then do the whole clich̩ scene where Viggo gives him this whole speech when he's tied up. Guys, this came out in 2014 Рthe evil villain monologue has been parodied to fucking death at this point. It's really not necessary.

"I could kill you right now and save my own life as well as my son's, but my ego is a shriveled prune that needs watering! Muwahahaha!"

I mean, okay, so they know each other and have this whole history together. Fine. It's still pretty bad dialogue overall, and really just serves purpose to hold a place until the next fight scene. The big line that sums up the movie is when John Wick says the dog was the last thing that reminded him of his wife, and they took it from him – it's an idea we already understood without him saying it, but okay. What else is there to get connected though? His name is in the title of the movie and we barely know any fucking thing about him. That's kinda lame.

Give Keanu credit though – he does actually raise his voice here. He was saving up his emotions for the last 20 years for this, so now we won't see anything like it until around 2035. Was it worth it?

Eh, no.

Eventually we get the final chase and fight scene between John Wick and Viggo, where he beats him up at a dock in the dark. It's pretty cool I guess – though I wouldn't mind if we got some other colors besides blue and black and grey once in a while.

Then he goes and Breaking Bad Season 5 style kills the son, shooting him midsentence and finally bringing down this whole reign of nonsense. Also inadvertently it points out how shitty this mafia was if it could be brought down in like a day or two by one dude who wasn't even at the top of his game really, but let's ignore that part!

This whole thing was just more of the same “immortal invincible badass” genre of action movies that have been cropping up for years now. It's really not an interesting plot. Does anybody else agree with me here? Having your good guy just be this super weapon of a man who never faces any challenge and you know he's gonna come out victorious just isn't compelling. He mows his enemies down and nobody ever even comes close to killing him. It's like a better produced slasher horror film. There was never any doubt here that John Wick was going to beat his enemies. Kinda hard to get invested when you fucking know what's going to happen.

Really, a movie like this with strictly generic tropes and cliches is all about the journey it takes you on, the world it immerses you in. The fight scenes are good enough, and obviously they were the focus of the film. The choreography is good and the fight scenes do tend to flow pretty well, keeping the momentum of the movie up. The scenery can be very moody and atmospheric, and it does try and transport you to this dark, gritty world. Sometimes, it even succeeds.

But the writing is just bog standard. That's what really killed the movie for all three of us watching it – we just needed to know more about the characters. They were really just so bland and cardboard cut-out, with very few good lines or memorable personality traits, and that's why it was difficult to sustain interest all throughout this thing, even despite the fight scenes. The way they killed that dog just to move the plot felt a bit cheap, and there was never an attempt to look any deeper into who these characters are and make us like them. Killing the dog and the wife is just cheap emotional broad strokes that anyone can write. It isn't compelling. A good action movie has action like this one, and also good characters and drama too, beyond the bare minimum of John Wick and its ilk.

Overall, not a terrible film or anything. It had a few cool moments, but we didn't like it the way everyone else did. You can say the flaws are excused by the action scenes, but come on – why not push for movies that don't have this many flaws? Let's expect better than this kind of stuff, guys.

Images copyright of their original owners; I own none of them.