John Wick: The Best Action Film in Years (Blu-ray)

The Film:

After “The Matrix” Trilogy concluded in 2003, Keanu Reeves followed up its massive success with mostly sub-par films such as “Constantine,” “47 Ronin,” and a remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” making it seem as though his best days were behind him. However, he has not given up his attempts to jump-start his formerly outstanding action-based career, leading him to take yet another stab at the genre with “John Wick.”

As the film opens, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has just suffered the devastating loss of his wife. As a final gift to him, she leaves him a puppy so that he will have something to give his love and affection to. Just a couple of days later, his house is broken into by a group of Russian mobsters, resulting in the death of the puppy and the theft of his car. We quickly learn that the seemingly-quiet John Wick is actually a former hitman, and that he’s not about to let this incident go unanswered. The leader of the group that took what little joy he had left in his life, Iosef (Alfie Allen), happens to be the son of a mob boss, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), who knows very well what John is capable of. What follows is an epic revenge spree that will not be sated until all who had a hand in John’s suffering have paid the price.

Simply put, “John Wick” is the most flat-out entertaining revenge film since “Kill Bill.” What’s particularly remarkable is that there’s not really that much to the story besides a former hitman taking vengeance on mobsters who killed his dog and stole his car, but that’s not to say that there’s no substance to it. Unlike many action films, it actually takes the time to fill us in on the main character, giving us enough to where we sympathize with the loss of his wife, how it’s affected him, and allowing us to see how the murder of her last gift to him could be the final breaking point. With the character formed and developed, it gives one the feeling that we’re not just sitting through a shoot-em-up with no purpose, but rather one that will ultimately bring about closure when all is said and done.

It certainly helps that the action scenes, which mainly consist of Reeves fighting and shooting a vast number of people, are insanely exciting and entertaining. Much of it is so over the top, that you can’t help but let out a good chuckle every once in a while, and that’s on top of a number of rather comical moments sprinkled in via dialogue and priceless reactions. All of this is encapsulated in a film that runs just over 90 minutes, meaning that it does what many actions films have failed to do in the last few years, that being that is doesn’t overstay its welcome with an inexplicably-bloated runtime (I’m looking at you, “The Equalizer”). Because of this, it doesn’t get the chance to become monotonous or boring, instead taking up just enough time to deliver a thoroughly-satisfying and action-packed experience.

At one point during the film, Reeves delivers a piece of dialogue about people asking him whether he’s back or not. With “John Wick,” it would appear that the answer is perfectly clear: Keanu Reeves is back in a big way, giving us a film that is easily his best since his “Matrix” days. With a great cast that also includes Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, and Alfie Allen, this is one hell of a thrillride that grabs you from just a few minutes in and doesn’t let go until the very end. Other action writers/directors should take note: this is how to do it right.

Video/Audio:

“John Wick” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. This is a very dark film, making it particularly surprising that the picture remains perfectly sharp and clear as the titular hitman goes from one seedy location to another. The Dolby TrueHD Atmos Mix is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the pulse-pumping score is loud and clear for the action scenes, but on the other, there are many instances where it makes it hard to hear the dialogue, similar to a scene early on where it’s the rain making it hard to hear. It doesn’t become too intrusive, but a slightly better job could have been done in the mixing. Overall, besides the slight audio issue, the film has been given excellent treatment, allowing for a great experience.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary with the Directors

  • Don’t F*#% with John Wick

  • Calling in the Cavalry

  • Destiny of a Collective

  • Assassin’s Code

  • Red Circle

  • NYC Noir

As far as extras go, this is an excellent assortment of behind the scenes looks at the making of the film. The commentary from the directors is particularly interesting, giving us informative tidbits such as how their original directors’ cut was about 140 minutes and how they were smart enough to cut it down. The rest deal with topics such as the multitude of stunts, the stunt choreographers, the ensemble, the production design, and shooting locations. If you’re looking to learn a lot more about the film, they’re most definitely worth checking out.

Conclusion:

With a well-developed main character, outstanding action sequences, and a good dose of laughs along the way, “John Wick” easily ranks as one of the best and most entertaining action films of the last several years. This is one of the hardest genres to get right, with many filmmakers usually succumbing to monotonous action scenes, bloated runtimes, and characters that you couldn’t care less about, but writer Derek Kolstad and directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch have managed to avoid all of these pitfalls to deliver a great thrillride that is sure to please all audiences.

Score: 4/5

Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.