I’ve always wondered about movies that have the character’s name as the title. Not only is the entire movie going to be about them, but there’s the implication that this character is going to be really awesome and interesting. I feel it’s a lot of pressure to put on Forrest Gump or Harry Potter or Mr. GI Joe.

Well, I’m happy to report that John Wick lives up to it’s name. The titular John is played by Keanu Reeves. And while I know a lot of Keanu haters say he can’t act, I think that’s missing the point. I like to think of Keanu Reeve’s face as a sledgehammer. Probably not great for tapping in finishing nails into a birdhouse but when it comes to punching holes in sheetrock, please hand me that face of his. I remember hearing once that the Warchoskis wanted him as lead for the Matrix because they’d just read Understanding comics and felt his blank facial features and general lack of expression would make him super easy for people to identify with. And it worked!

Who is John Wick? Aparently he’s some dude who drives around in donuts at an abandoned airstrip for a living. The story begins when John’s dead wife sends him a cute puppy in the mail. How? Maybe there’s some puppy delivery app she accessed from her hospital bed. I don’t know. It’s not that important to the story. What is important is some Russian mobsters break into his house, kill the puppy and steal his car. There’s a lot of build up as the entire crime underworld starts losing their shit. Lots of people yelling at this mobster, “What did you do!!??” “Do you know who John Wick is?” “He once killed 10 guys with a paper clip!”. These scenes are intercut with Keanu assembling his machine guns, strapping on his Kevlar vest, sharpening his bowie knife. It’s a really old trope by now, but when done well one of my favorites.

What follows is one of the most insanely violent massacres ever filmed as John Wick proceeds to find and execute the mobsters who killed his dog and everyone standing in his way. This includes walking into a church and shooting a priest in the knees, jabbing a knife in some dude’s chin, wrapping a pillowcase around a woman’s face before punching it 20 times, doing donuts in his car around a dude while shooting at him from 360 degrees out of the driver’s seat window, and bending one guy’s arm backwards with one hand while shooting multiple guys in the face with the other, then shooting the first guy in the face. By the way, did I mention a friend of mine didn’t want to see this movie because they heard there’s a scene where a puppy gets killed?

The amazing action and stuntwork is of course the main reason to see this movie. It was a real throwback to the Hong Kong style of martial arts and gun play mixed in with the needless violence and high body count of an 80’s action movie. Apparently the movie was directed by Keanu Reeve’s stuntman on the matrix and it shows. We actually get to see John Wick firing a gun and someone’s head exploding without an edit in between. Best of all, contrary to the modern style of action movie, we get to see the whole actor’s body and what they’re doing in long continuous takes.

Just before the climax, Keanu Reeves gives a monologue to the mob boss about how much he loved his puppy. But because of the combination of the ridiculousness of this set up and also Keanu Reeve’s inability to emote, the crowd I was watching this with found it pretty funny. This is a weird comparison, but the movie reminded me a lot of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure in that the plot it really just a humorously simple skeleton to hang the amazing set pieces. It’s like this director read “Save The Cat” and took it very literally.

The movie ends happily when John Wick breaks into a pound and gets a new puppy. Although I felt if he’d just done that from the get go, hundreds of murders could have been prevented. Hopefully he’s got all the killing out of his system. If not, I hope he goes to a used car lot and a bar next.

I remember talking with Dylan Williams once about film noir. His theory was that those movies were essentially made for veterans suffering from PTSD. Furthermore, Rambo, Commando, and the slew of 80’s hyperviolent action movies were made for Vietnam vets. I’m not sure I buy it, but I guess I can see how watching Arnold chasing Predator around the jungle might be cathartic. If that theory is true, I wonder if John Wick marks one of the first in a new crop of movies made for Iraq War veterans. If so, I’m looking forward to more although I’m not sure what they could do for a sequel. Maybe his mobsters kill his hamster or goldfish?