John Wick (2014, dir. Chad Stahelski, David Leitch)

john wick

I remember seeing the trailer for John Wick a couple years ago and thinking “You can’t be serious. Because they killed his dog?” Now that I’ve seen the film, I sit here thinking…well, I’m not sure. The film tells the story of retired assassin John Wick, played by Keanu Reeves. His wife died suddenly and not long after he receives a dog that was her last gift to him. The dog is brutally killed by Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), the son of a Russian crime boss, and this pulls Wick back into the game he thought he had left behind. Throw in supporting roles from a bevy of character actors: Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Lance Reddick, and David Patrick Kelly (Warriors! Come out and play-ayyy!).

This film felt like a comic book. That is it felt like I picked up the collection of “John Wick Returns”, a mini-series wherein a popular crime comics character was brought back after an absence of a few years. The way we were introduced to the world and its inhabitants without tons of exposition to explain themselves, made me feel like this was a world I could go back and read about in other titles. Of all the places and characters the world was peppered with, I enjoyed the Continental, a hotel that caters exclusively to assassins and paid killers, the most. I also loved the sense of history John had with everyone. We have no idea what the details are to these connections, but it felt like there would be dozens of stories to tell. Marcus (Willem Dafoe), John’s mentor, held a lot history in his interactions with John and, like any good comic book universe, I am sure the equivalent of “John Wick Begins” detailing his training under Marcus would be amazing.

I would never say I was a huge action movie fan so I was not the target audience of this film. Not being an expert on the craft and technique behind movie fights, I thought everything felt realistic. Nothing John did was too incredibly unreal. If you’re used to more hyper-stylized fighting you might think this was a more toned down version, but it looks like the way someone like John Wick would really fight. It’s funny now that I think about it; the action which you would expect to be the exaggerated element is played fairly real while it’s the world building that goes over the top.

There’s definitely some nods to classic action directors: The shooting out of the glass walls made me think of John Woo. Wick is your archetypal silent, stoic killer along the lines of a lot of French noir crime films.The acting is fine. I didn’t see any performances that blew me away, everyone sort of knew who they were playing and did that. I always love seeing David Patrick Kelly in anything and I did really enjoy the mannerisms he brought to his “clean up crew” character.

There’s a sequel on the horizon and I’m interested to see what they do. This film really plays like “the final John Wick” story and the stakes used to pull him back into action are about as intense as they get. Something taking place before this would work but I would like to see this older, broken Wick continue however they decide it might work. This isn’t going to be one of my favorites of the year, but it is an enjoyable film that kept my attention the whole run time. If you enjoy films with sense of a deep, developed world then I definitely think John Wick will deliver.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014, dir. Matthew Vaughn)

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014, dir. Matthew Vaughn)

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Kingsman-The-Secret-Service-review

Kingsman is a reinvention of the James Bond concept, based on a comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. The story’s focus is on Eggsy, a young British man whose life has not turned out as he would have liked. Primarily his mother is brutalized by a brute in the estates. Eggsy ends up in trouble with the law but calls in a favor from a mysterious man who visited the family after the unexplained death of Eggsy’s father. It turns out his dad was part of a secret society of gentlemen who fight against global threats. Eggsy is enrolled in the program and must see if he can pass an increasingly deadly series of tests. Meanwhile, Galahad, the man who is now mentoring Eggsy, discovers a plot to wipe out humanity and must race against the clock to stop it.

I’ve had fairly positive feelings about the work of director Matthew Vaughn. I am a big fan of X-Men: First Class, it is without a doubt the best X-Men film we’ve had to date. I enjoyed his debut feature Layer Cake and Stardust was alright. I am not a fan of Kick-Ass which brings us to Mark Millar. Mark Millar is a comic book writer I’ve had very mixed feelings about. His Kick-Ass comics, and most of his more recent titles, have been way too mean-spirited for my personal tastes. His Marvel works has ranged from wonderful (Old Man Logan) to mixed (Fantastic Four) to outright terrible (Marvel 1985). There’s just a little too much irony in everything he writes, but occasionally he will come out with something that subverts my ideas. Kingsman seems in line with most of what Millar writes, but I think Vaughn’s work with the material is what elevates it.

I enjoyed the film quite a bit, despite sometimes messy plotting. Eventually the plot become so convoluted and silly you have to just sit back and enjoy the pretty and crazy things on the screen. The film is not scared to go super violent and within the first 10 minutes we have someone sliced down the middle. If you had always wanted James Bond to be heavier on the blood and guts then you have it made. The action sequences are enjoyable, though one over the top moment in the middle of the film goes on for just a few too many beats that it goes from laughing out loud in shock to really wanting things to finish already.

Kingsman is happy to compare itself to James Bond and goes very meta with the comparison. Galahad the big bad villain even have a tete a tete where they talk about their childhood dreams to go grow up and be differing roles in a Bond film. A death in the film even brings up the trope of a death trap that gives the good guy time to escape. The film walks the line between a classic Bond picture and a spoof a la Austin Powers and manages to come out fairly balanced. It never falls into outright farce but it knows it is a dumb fun movie and revels in that.

Kingsman isn’t going to change your life, but it will fill a void for classic Bond that the current Bond films seem to have forgotten, especially Spectre. While Spectre was Bond with the absence of any levity or humor, Kingsman is the adventures of a foul mouthed James Bond Jr. It fulfills the promise of those pictures with the English spy with the license to kill, a good two hours of spy gadgets, crazy villains, and fun action. With a sequel in the works, I’m interested to see if this franchise falls into the same formula as Bond, or carves out its own unique and cheeky niche.