Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The First 15 Minutes Are Bad For John, The Other 85 Are Bad For Everyone Else

I read about John Wick at the same time I read about Man of Tai Chi, and since I enjoyed the latter, I tried the former.

The movie spends 15 minutes at the start introducing us to John, who is burying his wife as the film opens after a struggle with some illness. His wife had arranged to buy a puppy for him, so he would have someone to care for after she was gone. Unfortunately, the very next day, his totally sweet Mustang catches the eye of some snotty Russian punk, and when John refuses to sell his car, the punk and his buddies break into John's home, beat him up, steal his car, and kill his puppy.

That's the first 15 minutes of the movie.

As it turns out, the Russian is the son of some big crime boss. Which don't mean shit, because John was an extraordinarily good contract killer who used to work for that boss, until he met a woman and wanted out, and performed remarkable feats of murder to earn that right. And now he wants revenge.

That's basically it for the plot. John wants to kill the kid, Viggo wants his son to live, but knows it's a longshot, because he knows who he's dealing with. He puts a contract on John, but at the end of the day, all he can really hope for is that if he keeps throwing bodies at John, someone will get lucky sooner or later. That is how a lot of the action sequences go. John's doing well, but eventually there are just too many people shooting at him, or trying to hit him with cars. But John's dangerous because there's no other target to strike at, no one Viggo can use as leverage to draw him out. At the same time, John's creating an adversary in the same mold.

If there's nothing particularly new about the story, that's fine, because it makes up for it in style. The fight scenes and gun battles are brutal, and thankfully shot in a way that's makes it easy to see what's going on. The camera mostly maintain a distance where you can get a good view of the immediate action. When I watched Man of Tai Chi, one of the problems I had was that while Keanu isn't a bad martial artist, he didn't compare to all the guys that had been involved in the fights up to then, so he was kind of a lackluster final boss. Here, the fights are considerably messier and less straightforward. Guns, knives, broken champagne bottles, bed sheets, all the stuff gets brought into the fights or discarded throughout. Sometimes one person is just throwing another into a glass case, or over a railing. The fights aren't set up to show what a master of hand-to-hand combat anyone is. More that these people are good at committing violence, but it isn't always going to look pretty.

I especially liked the sequence in the club. The use of the red and blue lighting, the music, how long it all goes as John chases his target from the lowest levels to the highest. It's well executed, and after hearing everyone go on at length about how terrifying John Wick is, it's a pretty decent demonstration of what they're talking about (although the bit where a cop investigates a noise complaint, and he clearly knows John and what he did, and once he sees the bodies, very carefully takes his hand away from his gun, that sent a signal too), but still making it look like there's a chance he could fail.

There is a question people keep bringing up to John throughout the movie, as to whether he is back or not, meaning back to being a hired killer. And when John insists this isn't business, they usually ask whether he thinks he can really just dip his toe back in and then walk away. It's presented somewhat as a question of whether his coming back will stir up old enemies that were content to leave him be, but it's mostly about whether he can just bring out the mindset or whatever it is that makes him the guy who can kill three men in a bar with a pencil, and pack it back up whenever he pleases. The film seems to argue yes, yes he can, because he remembers what his wife wanted, but he'd also killed all the people he set out to kill, which probably makes it easier to go back to his life of no one messing with him, since the people who did died.

I loved this movie. It seems like the people involved knew what they wanted to do, populate this city with cool, classy-acting characters and good action set pieces, and they did it, and it was fantastic. So glad I watched this movie.

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