Toward the end of the film, a menacing Russian mobster remarks that the veteran hit man John Wick looks very much like the John Wick of old. Keanu Reeves looks very much like the Keanu Reeves of old, as well. Elegantly handsome and athletically lean, he looks fantastic at 50 and is comfortably, securely back in action-star mode. Not that he’s been gone that long–or deviated that much from his persona–but this later-stage butt-kicking does call to mind Liam Neeson’s recent resurgence in movies like “Taken,” “The Grey” and “Non-Stop.”
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John Wick (2014)
An ex-hit-man comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that killed his dog and took everything from him.
John Wick is a 2014 American neo-noir action thriller film directed by Chad Stahelski and written by Derek Kolstad. It stars Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, and Willem Dafoe. It is the first installment in the John Wick franchise. The story follows former assassin John Wick and his attempt to hunt down the men who broke into his home, stole his vintage car and killed his puppy, which was a last gift to him from his recently deceased wife.
Chad Stahelski and David Leitch directed the film together, though only Stahelski was credited. Kolstad had completed the screenplay in 2012 and further developed it for Thunder Road Pictures. The film was produced by Basil Iwanyk of Thunder Road Pictures, Leitch, Eva Longoria, and Michael Witherill. It marks Stahelski and Leitch’s directorial debut as a team after multiple separate credits as second-unit directors and stunt coordinators. They previously worked with Reeves as stunt doubles on The Matrix trilogy.
Stahelski and Leitch’s approach to fight scenes drew upon their admiration for anime and martial arts films. The film used fight choreographers and gun fu techniques from Hong Kong action cinema. The film also pays homage to works such as John Woo’s The Killer, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Cercle Rouge and Le Samouraï, John Boorman’s Point Blank, and Spaghetti Western films.
The film was met with positive reviews, with critics labeling it as one of Reeves’ best performances and one of the best action films of 2014. It grossed $86 million worldwide against a production budget of $20–30 million. A sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2, was released in 2017, and was met with comparable critical and commercial success.
John Wick (2014) Trailer
John Wick (2014) Reviews
Soon after the death of his wife (Bridget Moynahan)–the woman whose love inspired him to retire from his life as an expert assassin–Wick receives an unwelcome visit to his minimalist, modern mansion in the middle of the night. Russian bad guys have come to steal his prized 1969 Mustang–and they kill his dog in the process. The latter act is horrifying in itself; what’s even worse is that the adorable beagle puppy, Daisy, was a posthumous gift to John from his dying wife, who knew he’d need someone else to love.
(Moynahan’s character, by the way, is barely even a person. She’s an image on a smartphone video clip–a body lying in a hospital bed, suffering from an unspecified disease. She’s an idea. But her loss provides Wick with a melancholy that lingers over his demeanor and every decision he makes.)
Wick wastes no time unearthing his stashed arsenal and seeking revenge. It turns out that the group’s reckless, young leader, Iosef (Alfie Allen), is the son of a former associate of Wick’s: mob boss Viggo Tarasov (a sophisticated but scary Michael Nyqvist), who is fully aware of Wick’s killing capacity.
Also in the mix is Willem Dafoe as an expert sniper who may or may not be on Wick’s side. Once the premise is established in the script from Derek Kolstad, it’s scene after scene of Wick taking out entire rooms full of people who are foolish enough to stand in his way. This is not exactly a complicated genre from a narrative perspective.
All those years of experience and exposure give their film a level of confidence you don’t ordinarily see in first-time directors. They’re smart enough to let the intricate choreography speak for itself. They let the fight scenes play out without relying on a lot of nauseating shaky-cam or Cuisinart edits, which sadly have become the aesthetic standard of late.
But beyond the exquisite brutality they put on display, they’ve also got an eye for artistry, with cinematographer Jonathan Sela helping convey an ominous sense of underworld suspense. Early scenes are so crisply desaturated, they look black and white, from the cloudy, rainy skies over Wick’s wife’s funeral to his head-to-toe wardrobe to his sleek, slate-gray Mustang.
As Wick begins to re-immerse himself in the criminal world he’d escaped, other scenes pop in their vibrancy–the deep green of a secret, members-only cocktail bar, or the rich red of a Russian bad guy’s shirt under an impeccably tailored suit.
While the body count grows numbing and repetitive, “John Wick” actually is more compelling in the aesthetically heightened, specifically detailed world it depicts. It’s the New York City of the here and now, but Wick, his fellow assassins and other sundry nefarious sorts occupy their own parallel version of it, with its own peculiar rules which almost seem quaint.
They have their own currency: gold coins reminiscent of pirates’ doubloons, which can be used for goods and services or just as thanks for a favor. And they frequent an upscale, downtown hotel and bar called The Continental (Lance Reddick from “The Wire” is the unflappably polite manager), a sort of safe zone where protocol dictates that peace prevails, and where killing is cause for dismissal. The courtliness of it all provides an amusing and welcome contrast to the non-stop carnage.
You can check out any time you’d like, it seems, but you can never leave.
John Wick (2014) Credits
John Wick (2014)
Keanu Reeves as John Wick
Michael Nyqvist as Viggo Tarasov
Alfie Allen as Iosef Tarasov
Willem Dafoe as Marcus
Dean Winters as Avi
Adrianne Palicki as Ms. Perkins
Bridget Moynahan as Helen
John Leguizamo as Aureilo
Ian McShane as Winston
Lance Reddick as Charon
- David Leitch
- Chad Stahelski
- Derek Kolstad
- Jonathan Sela
John Wick (2014) Plot
After losing his wife Helen to a terminal illness, John Wick receives a beagle puppy named Daisy that Helen had arranged to send before she died, to help him cope with his grief. Despite John’s stoic demeanor, he bonds with the puppy and they spend the day driving around in his vintage 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1. At a gas station, he encounters a trio of Russian gangsters whose leader Iosef insists on buying his car, which John refuses to sell or be cowed by Iosef’s attempts at intimidation.
That evening, the gangsters break into John’s home, knock him unconscious, kill Daisy, and steal his car. Iosef takes the Mustang to a chop shop to have the VIN changed. Aurelio, the shop’s owner, recognizing the car and knowing who it was stolen from, punches Iosef and ejects him from the facility. John visits Aurelio, who identifies Iosef as the son of Viggo Tarasov, the head of the Russian mafia in New York City.
Aurelio relays Iosef’s activities to Viggo, who attacks and berates Iosef before explaining to him that John Wick was formerly in Viggo’s employ as an enforcer nicknamed “Baba Yaga.” When John wanted to retire and marry Helen, Viggo gave him an “impossible task,” implied to involve multiple high-level assassinations in a short period of time. To Viggo’s surprise, John succeeded, and his efforts were key in establishing the Tarasov syndicate.
After warning Iosef of his impending doom, Viggo tries to talk John out of seeking retribution, but John refuses to talk. Viggo sends a team of hitmen to John’s house, but John kills all of them and enlists an underworld cleaning service to dispose of the bodies and evidence. Unsurprised, Viggo places a $2 million bounty on John’s head and personally offers the contract to John’s mentor, Marcus, who accepts.
John seeks assistance from the New York Continental Hotel, which caters exclusively to the criminal underworld and permits no assassinations (termed “business” in their language) on its premises. Viggo doubles the bounty for those willing to break this rule to kill John.
Winston, the Continental’s manager, informs John that Viggo has Iosef under guard at his Red Circle nightclub. John enters the Red Circle and kills a horde of Viggo’s men to reach Iosef, who narrowly escapes after Viggo’s lieutenant Kirill thwarts his attempt and incapacitates John. John retreats to the Continental to have his injuries treated. Ms. Perkins, an assassin and acquaintance, sneaks into John’s room to kill him.
Marcus alerts John with a warning shot, allowing him to subdue Perkins, who reveals the location of Viggo’s front. He knocks her unconscious and leaves her with Harry, a fellow assassin, to await punishment, but she later frees herself and kills Harry. John travels to a church in Little Russia, which serves as Viggo’s front and destroys his cache of money and blackmail material. When Viggo and his henchmen arrive, John ambushes them, but is subdued and captured.
Ignoring John’s demands to surrender Iosef, Viggo taunts John for thinking that he would be able to leave his old life behind. Before John can be killed, Marcus intervenes again, allowing John to free himself, strangle Kirill to death, and accost Viggo, who reveals Iosef’s location. John then travels to Iosef’s Brooklyn safe house and kills him and his bodyguards. Perkins learns that John and Marcus have been in contact and informs Viggo, who has Marcus beaten and tortured briefly before killing him in his home.
Viggo calls John to report this, planning to have Perkins ambush him. While waiting for John, Perkins is summoned to a meeting with Winston, who has her executed for breaking the Continental’s rules. Winston calls John to inform him that Viggo is planning to escape by helicopter. John races to New York Harbor, where he kills Viggo’s remaining henchmen before battling Viggo on the dock.
Viggo brandishes a knife, and John allows himself to be stabbed before disarming and wounding Viggo, leaving him to die. John breaks into an animal clinic to treat his wounds and releases a pit bull puppy scheduled to be euthanized. John and the dog walk home along the boardwalk where he had his final date with Helen.
John Wick (2014) Box office
John Wick earned $14.4 million from 2,589 locations on its opening weekend, compared to the $7–8 million most analysts projected the film would make. By the end of its theatrical run, John Wick grossed $43 million in North America and $45.7 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $88.8 million, against a production budget of $20–30 million.
The film had a wide release in the United States and Canada in selected theaters on October 24. The film earned $5.45 million on its opening day, including $875,000 from Thursday night previews, which was the second-highest opening of that weekend, at an average of $5,465 per theater. The film grossed $2.5 million from 347 IMAX locations that weekend, which represented 17.7 percent of the film’s overall gross for its opening weekend. The audience was 60% male and 77% were older than 25.
Outside North America, the film took $1.4 million during its international opening weekend. The film’s highest-grossing debuts were in France, Australia, Thailand, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates. On its second week, it added $6.7 million from 33 territories. The film went number one in France ($1.2 million) from 300 screens, number three in Australia ($961,000) from 177 screens, and number ten in the Middle East ($1 million) from a total of 80 screens.
John Wick (2014) Critical Response
John Wick earned a mostly positive reception upon release, attaining praise for the action sequences, direction, visual style, pacing and the performances of the cast, especially Keanu Reeves as John Wick.
The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 86% based on 217 reviews, and an average rating of 6.90/10. Its critical consensus reads, “Stylish, thrilling, and giddily kinetic, John Wick serves as a satisfying return to action for Keanu Reeves – and what looks like it could be the first of a franchise.” Metacritic, assigned the film a weighted average score of 68 out of 100, based on reviews from 40 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”. CinemaScore reported that audiences gave the film a “B” grade, on an A+ to F scale.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone stated, “John Wick is the kind of fired-up, ferocious B-movie fun some of us can’t get enough of” and noted the “juicy performances” from Dafoe, Leguizamo, and McShane. Richard Corliss of Time magazine wrote, “Action movies are about movement, and John Wick pursues that goal with remorseless verve.”
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club gave the film a “B+” rating, stating, “An underworld fantasy that grafts crisp action on to Rian Johnson-esque world-building, producing one of the more fully realized shoot-’em-up flicks in recent memory.” He continued by praising Kolstad’s script which “distinguishes itself by carefully defining the boundaries of its universe”. Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly gave the film an “A−” rating and called Kolstad’s screenplay, “a marvelously rich and stylish feat of pulpy world-building.”
Justin Lowe of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “After a marked absence from the genre, Reeves resoundingly returns with an effortless, kinetic style that positions the film extremely well for any potential follow-ups.” Peter Debruge of Variety spoke highly of the film, “Back in action-hero mode, Keanu Reeves joins forces with his Matrix stunt double to deliver a slick and satisfying revenge thriller” and noted “what a thrill well-choreographed action can be when we’re actually able to make out what’s happening”.
Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice said that, “Reeves is wonderful here, a marvel of physicality and stern determination – he moves with the grace of an old-school swashbuckler.” Bilge Ebiri of Vulture commented, “It’s a beautiful coffee-table action movie.”
Jeannette Catsoulis wrote, in her review for The New York Times, “Harboring few ambitions beyond knock-your-socks-off action sequences, this crafty revenge thriller delivers with so much style – and even some wit – that the lack of substance takes longer than it should to become problematic.” Catsoulis praised Dafoe and Leguizamo for “bringing real subtlety to an all-too-brief scene” and Nyqvist as “marvellous”, as well as Stahelski’s direction and Sela’s cinematography.
Forrest Wickman of Slate noted, “John Wick offers a slow burn, sizzling in a manner true to its hero’s surname.” Jordan Hoffman of The Guardian scored the film four out of five stars, writing, “A slick, propulsive and ridiculous crime picture that strides like an automatic machine gun.”
Peter Bradshaw, also reviewing for The Guardian, gave the film 2 out of 5 stars and stated “Reeves’s semi-deliberate zonked deadpan style only really works in juxtaposition with funny dialogue – and this is a pretty humourless and violent film, which grinds on and on with more and more gleaming black SUVs getting trashed.” Ealasaid Haas of San Jose Mercury News described John Wick as a “disappointingly standard revenge movie.” John Semley of The Globe and Mail called the title “the new name in crummy action cinema,” giving it one-half out of 4 stars.[
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