John Wick is fairly unique in that it’s a simple story that’s both fast-paced and easy to follow. That’s hard to find in an era of filmmaking that likes to focus a lot of energy on plot, which isn’t always a good thing. Batman vs Superman, for example, took an AGE to hit cinema screens and is possibly the worst and most blasphemous film ever made, which seems bonkers seeing as the trailers made it out to be the film that would end the bitter rivalry between the DCEU and the MCU for good.
In retrospect, though, I think we can all agree that it wasn’t the actors’ fault, rather the writers’. The plot was over-complicated to the point where even the actors looked like they wanted to cry with boredom. They should have just put Keanu Reeves in there with a semi-automatic weapon. That would have spiced things up a bit.
The only benefit I can see from these poorly-written films is that the action is usually good and goes to show how talented the actors are in more physical scenes. And if the Oscar for Best Actor focused more on the action-side of films rather than characterisation all the time, Keanu Reeves would have won an Oscar years ago and would continue to do so with every new instalment of the John Wick series.
Although his delivery of serious lines is often considered comical, his determination to make those action sequences as perfect as they are is outstanding.
I can’t even say I was ever really that big of a Keanu fan until the first John Wick film came out and my good friend JR begged me to go see it with him. I was sceptical as hell; JR has odd tastes, often hailing the worst-reviewed films as misunderstood masterpieces. When I heard Keanu was the lead, I kept thinking about the Matrix and *controversially opinion here* how much of a headache those films had given me.
‘Is it sci-fi?’ I asked.
‘Nah,’ he told me, ‘it’s about an assassin who goes on a mad one when his dog dies.’
Swayed? Not exactly, but I went along anyway.
Twenty minutes in, nothing happened. Keanu Reeves and a beagle puppy drove an old car around an airport hanger. The lines were as wooden as Treebeard, and just as I was about to leave, JR grabbed me by my arm and told me to hold on because the good stuff was coming.
To this day, I am so thankful he stopped me from walking out. What ensued was the maddest sequence of pure mouth-watering action I had ever seen in my life. Keanu had suddenly become god-like in his appearance, wiping out an entire team of Russian henchmen with just himself and whatever he could get his hands on. For the entirety of the film, he moved like a cat, eventually going to places no feline in the world had the flexibility to go in his quest for brutal retribution – all because Theon Greyjoy killed his dog and stole his motor!
When the film finished it was all any of us could really talk about for weeks. Now, the series has become something of a tradition in our friendship group – whenever the new one comes out, my friend Maccers drives back to Wales from Bristol just so we can all see it together. The third – John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – has got to be my favourite so far, even if the narrative got a little muddled towards the end. But again, this has nothing to do with Keanu. Those films could have no story or dialogue at all and they’d still be Oscar-worthy just because of their leading man and the magic he’s able to conjure on screen.
Because being a great actor doesn’t mean you need to play Hamlet at the National Theatre, as many would have you believe. There’s a reason why people love actors like Keanu and flock to cinemas on opening night to see their films… As well as the sequels, and the threequels.
It’s called commitment. Commitment to making the role as convincing to the audience as possible, transporting them from their own worlds into another, at least for a couple of hours anyway. When Keanu roasts a nightclub full of Russian bouncers or fends off a horde of knife-wielding Triads all on his own, you believe he’s a crazy assassin called John Wick. It’s escapism at its most glorious. And gory.
Isn’t that what cinema’s about – making people forget about their normal day-to-day lives and entertaining them?
Given that Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar a few years ago, I wouldn’t rule out Keanu getting there some day either. If part of the criteria for Best Actor seems to include fattening up or slimming down for a role, I don’t see why training to make a vicious brawl look like an elegant waltz shouldn’t be in there too.
John Wick is one of the great, modern day action trilogies. It’s about time Keanu won the highest recognition Hollywood has to offer.
Images via Summit Entertainment/Sony