A mafia boss with a distinct European accent goes, “He’s committed. He’s focused….”. Who is this person , well endowed- given the stock of buffed of men in silk suits decorating the peripheries of his tastefully lit cabin -singing litanies about? He’s responding to his second in command’s suggestion to eliminate the reason for their shift in location. The reason being a person. Not just another person, but the eponymous hero-John Wick. The bombastic prologue segues in a dark alley from where a sinewy silhouette walks towards. Enter, Keanu Reeves. We were expecting a hero to service the legend that was so elaborately woven around. What we instead get is the sight of a man trudging his way into the frame, like Dravid after third session at crease.
Let me first make one thing clear, I’m not as dismissive of Keanu Reeves like I was of Hank’s atrocious hairdo as Robert Langdon. He’s a fine looking guy. And like Hanks he doesn’t have a distinct persona that would let him have a fourth wall breaking conversation from the vintage of a larger than life role. I never complained about him in the Matrix franchise. That ecosystem warranted a neutral looking bland person and it got one. But the Die Hard, Commando, Taken template of films are essentially testosterone spiking trips, as avant garde as the posturing may seem. John Wick’s core is set in this space. Just that there’s sincerity instead of swag, modesty instead of attitude. It’s as tedious as it would’ve been, had Arjun played Raghavan in Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu.
When Bruce Willis moused through the nooks and corners of Nakotomi Tower to single handedly bring the villain’s empire down , it was sheer delirium. An epidemic of wolf whistling ensued. And Mc Clane gladly acknowledged with a,”Yippee ki–yay, motherfucker!”. And like that pop culture found an another parlance for posterity.
We’re constantly being reminded that this lethal person’s god’s handpicked population control technique, ahh…”the boogeyman” as the people around hype him to be. But not in one of the infinite stunt sequence do you feel this palpable danger these people were talking about, if anything he looks endangered. It’s that strange space we find ourselves in, were the one killing seems to be in danger more imminently than the ones getting killed. Vulnerability is a good thing- if it were an under dog account -it brings plausibility. But not when you’re fashioning a legend of sorts. You don’t want to shine on the fault lines.
All this critique isn’t to take anything from the set pieces, that are invigoratingly staged. They’re choreographed with a staggering vision; with an unctuous imagination. Like the stretch when two gunmen nonchalantly sprinkle bullets as they weave through a busy crowd, the claustrophobic combat in the train that ensues or the dexterous shootout in a dark tunnel But all of that translates to such uninspired action on scene, that it feels like a school annual day gig, with Reeves going through the motions with a post coital face, keeping track beneath his breath, of every kick and punch delivered. He’s neither a skilled martial artist nor a luminous star to overlook the fact of not being one.
A man’s assaulted pup’s killed by a bunch of teenagers, one of who is a son of a Russian mafia lord. But little do they know that the pup ain’t just another pup. It’s the last gift from his late wife. And the man’s no ordinary person. He’s John Wick, one of the deadliest assassins on the face of earth. He’s part of a brotherhood that lets him shop guns like shoes.He goes on to single-handedly reduces the mob empire to a debri of corpses and brick. End of first film.
Rinse and repeat-Sequel!
It does make for one hell of a read and it should’ve stayed that way. That way it could’ve teased our imagination about who could play John Wick.Some movies are better left in the pages till the right guy comes through. A star, who can elevate the material beyond the pages. That’s the thing about star wattage, it makes a hero out of a mercenary when played right. And the lack of it, makes the mercenary,well…..Keanu Reeves.