“Men should be either treated generously or destroyed, because they take revenge for slight injuries-for heavy ones they cannot.” Russian mob boss Viggo clearly hasn’t brushed up on his Machiavelli lately or he would have put two to the dome of hit man extraordinaire John Wick years ago. Viggo owes his current position as crime prince of New York largely to John Wick’s audacious gun-fu skills. John Wick is so badass according to Viggo that he explains, “John wasn’t exactly the boogeyman. He’s the one you sent to kill the fucking boogeyman.”
On the back of this lethal and frankly ludicrous résumé John Wick is allowed to retire quietly into a minimalist green/grey tinged heaven alongside his angelic wife Helen. Life is sweet for John Wick. He has a spotless garage, an old muscle car and a wife who can admonish his countless sins. Tragedy isn’t far away for a man with so much blood on his hands so Helen contracts a terminal disease and dies in a dreamy montage that treads a fine line between Tarkovskian pathos and Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker lunacy.
Someone had to pay for so much murder so why not the innocent spouse? Helen is so forgiving that even from beyond the grave she can deliver a ready trained puppy that will teach John Wick to love again and hopefully stop him from dusting off the automatics. However Viggo has the obligatory psycho for a son, Iosef, who soon makes a schoolboy error by stealing John Wick’s car, killing his dog and leaving John Wick breathing. For old times sake Viggo wants to make it right but blood is thicker than water so he decides to get his retaliation in first. When Viggo asks his right hand man Avi to task a crew Avi asks, “how many?” to which Viggo replies, “how many do you have?”
Viggo has not only neglected his Machiavelli but also his motivational skills to boost his organization’s self esteem. Every opportunity he gets Viggo talks up John Wick’s legendary status whilst giving his own men no chance. His countless hordes of Russian heavies are defeated before they can even squeeze a shot off. Viggo waxes lyrical about John Wick in a series of hysterical zingers, “in a bar, I once saw him kill three men… with a pencil.” Or how about this piece of wisdom to flatten your day? “John will come for you and you will do nothing, because you can’t do nothing.”
“John Wick” as a movie shoots itself in foot time and time again by the constant stream of superlatives used by Viggo and every other character that picks up a phone or sits down in a neon nightclub. Nearly every line of dialogue is answered by, “John Wick.” Most lethal killer? “John Wick.” Best haircut? “John Wick.” Capital of France? “John Wick.” What should have been a gloriously exploitative revenge flick is hamstrung as any hint of tension or jeopardy is eradicated, as we know John Wick will blow all of his enemies away. Not since early Steven Seagal movies (or dare one say it, “The Matrix Trilogy”) has an action hero breezed past so many heavies without breaking a sweat, thus rendering all of the inventive fight set-pieces strangely dull and mechanical.
Keanu Reeves scrubs up well as John Wick, chiseled and brooding and you can see him treading the Liam Neeson path for some time to come in his own John Wickiverse. Much like “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels” John Wick inhabits a visually stylish heightened criminal reality where clichés and criminal codes are there to be restored and broken and death comes at the impossible rate of an online first-person shooter. No doubt “John Wick” will return for a sequel and proves Ivana Trump’s point when she said, “Gorgeous hair is the best revenge.” To which you can answer, “John Wick.”