‘John Wick’ Review: Keanu Reeves Is Partying Like It’s 1999
Keanu Reeves seriously does not get the credit he deserves. Over the years it seems like he's just been accruing knowledge from project to project, figuring out what works for him and what doesn't, and now he's distilled and perfected something that's almost hard to define. Last year he brought the crazy, crowd-pleasing martial arts flick 'Man of Tai Chi' to the Fantastic Fest film festival, and this year he returns with 'John Wick.' It's a ridiculous action thriller in which Reeves plays a former hitman-type out for revenge because some obnoxious Russian gangster's son steals his cool muscle car and kills the puppy his dead wife sent him as a present -- yeah, really.
That concept alone sounds absurd (and it is, in the very best ways), but when you put Keanu Reeves in the lead role, there's something you instantly buy about it. Reeves has quietly established himself over the last several years as a very specific sort of action star -- the kind of star who is still partying like it's the mid-to-late '90s, and that's totally more than okay. It's actually pretty amazing, and he's great at playing characters who get mixed up in ridiculous, unbelievable situations (see also 'Speed,' 'The Devil's Advocate,' 'The Matrix' ... pretty much his entire career). However, he has moved away from being the "whoa" guy who gets his mind blown on a regular basis and into more assertive and confident roles.
'John Wick' is filled with stuff you probably don't know that you want to see: Willem Dafoe juicing some vegetables, for instance; Keanu Reeves' insistence on driving every single car like he's in a 'Bad Boys' car chase; and then there's Reeves combining his martial arts experience with some intense, concentrated gun fights in an insanely gaudy dance club. He also cuddles with a super cute puppy. Tom Hardy, too, got a puppy in 'The Drop.' If one more tough dude gets a puppy in a movie, we've got a great new trend.
It's been difficult to define exactly what it is about Reeves that's so fun to watch or what makes him so damn likable, but 'John Wick' really helps to cement what Reeves is up to. The guy never left the '90s. The music in 'John Wick' sounds like it came from a soundtrack in 1999, Marilyn Manson included. The cinematography is stuck in 'The Matrix,' obligatory rain scene and all. And while the mechanics of the action sequences feel advanced and innovative thanks to Reeves and stuntmen turned directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, there are still moments that are so very early '90s -- there's even a 'Point Break' moment where Reeves is laid out, shooting his gun in the air.
You could easily draw comparisons between Reeves and Nic Cage, who also makes films with some ridiculous concepts and is rather skilled at delivering silly lines. But if you were to place Reeves on a scale, he'd fall somewhere between Tom Cruise and Nic Cage -- he's far more restrained, both in acting style and in the amount of projects he chooses, than Cage. Reeves delivers about one film per year, ensuring we never suffer from fatigue. Cage, on the other hand, has a tendency to over-saturate and indulge in the "Full Cage" meme; he becomes something of a gimmick, only occasionally reminding us that he's a legitimate actor about once every few years (see 'Joe').
Reeves has the self-awareness and charm of Cruise, and the ability to deliver some incredibly silly lines with casual confidence -- it's a rare talent, and it affords him the ability to say things like, "You owe me a life" in 'Man of Tai Chi' or "Table for 12 for Wick. Yes, that John Wick" in 'John Wick.' It's humorous in a very specific, sort of vintage way. The way you might laugh at a one-liner in an '80s or early '90s action flick.
Say what you will and have your feelings about '90s nostalgia, but Reeves is clearly tuned into something. He's always been a very singular and specific presence, but he's been quietly solidifying this very wonderful action career on his own terms, making films with stunt guys and martial artists he loves and wants to work with. Hey, Reeves is just doing his own thing, man.