Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What I Watched: John Wick

When was the last time some random movie from the bargain bin surprised you?

That was the case with John Wick, which somehow was announced, released in theaters, released on DVD, and then marked down to the bargain bin without me hearing anything about it.

There isn't much to say about the content of the movie; it's your typical neo-noir revenge fest filled with guns and fists. You probably know already if you like that or not.

But what surprised me about the movie was the visual style. I was convinced that this had to be a cinematic adaptation of a comic or graphic novel, as so many scenes and establishing shots looked like something out of a comic. Of course all of the screencaps online are precisely not good examples of what I mean. My screen grabs from a streaming copy aren't the highest res, but hopefully they get the point across.

It's hard to say what I like, particularly, about each one, except that the blocking, mise en scene, set design, and so on, all feel very deliberate in a way that you don't often see in mindless revenge-driven action flicks. Especially the beginning of the movie, where we see Wick in mourning the day of his wife's funeral. It's a lot quieter than the rest of the movie (obviously).

Stills don't quite do these scenes justice, either—part of the beauty is in the movement—but it's better than nothing. It's stylistic without being melodramatic.

These are all shots from just the first five minutes or so. As the action ramps up, the visual focus naturally shifts from this sort of stuff to the fighting. In another mood I might have been disappointed about that, but I was along for the ride. It didn't hurt that the fight choreography was really well done, of course.

There's also a surprising amount of world-building for something in such a typically surface-level genre. The underworld that Wick returns to is rich with history, rules, settings, and characters. Not only do we meet other assassins trying to take out Wick, but we meet the neighborhood underworld mechanic (John Leguizamo!), cops who know Wick from his past life, and the local "cleaners." We travel to a hotel for hitmen (manned by the world's most unflappable concierge and governed by a very strict set of rules), surreal and seedy night clubs, and even a cathedral operating as a front for the Russian mob. The whole thing is a wonderful example of Hemingway's iceberg missive: Wick gives us just the tip of what is obviously a rich, multifaceted underworld.

Of course, it's not the world's deepest movie. At the end of the day it's just a popcorn revenge flick, but it's stylish, well-paced, and just immensely satisfying. I'll just warn any animal lovers out there that the beginning is a bit rough, but it makes the rest of the movie worth it.

What bargain bin movie has surprised you recently?


  1. Loved this movie! I watched it earlier this year (also without hearing anything about it beforehand). I'm not a Keanu Reeves fan so I didn't expect to enjoy it :P Did you hear about John Wick 2?! I wish they gave it a cooler name, though.

    1. Keanu is someone I don't like or dislike watching on screen, but I like that he's successful because he seems like a legitimately decent guy. Even if he peaked in Bill & Ted. ;)

      John Wick 2: John Wicker
      John Wick 2: The Wick and the Dead

      The greatest movie sequel title disappointment of all time for me was Boondock Saints 2. All Saints Day is okay, I guess, but I thought Boondock Martyrs would have been a kickass name!