Guest writer Sam Levine doesn’t like action films. What the hell is he doing on Action A Go Go then? Well, he really likes John Wick, Keanu Reeves’ critically acclaimed revenge fantasy currently out on blu-ray. Since we like to play Devil’s Advocate (see what I did there?) we figured Sam’s “unique” perspective could be worthy of debate. Especially since he is a non-fan of the action genre commenting on an action movie. His John Wick critique follows and the comments section awaits. -Troy
The following article originally appeared at ahotdogwithmustard.tumblr.com
John Wick Review By Sam Levine
Generally, I don’t like action movies. For starters, the hero’s motivations are never clear, or even believable. Either they are nobly putting their life in grave danger to save mankind (or possibly a little girl), or they are on a revenge mission. In regards to the latter, the killing spree is usually in retaliation for the murder of the hero’s whole family, or at least some members of it. The more family members that die, the more people that need to be killed. While this logic may seem sound, the problem is that the audience doesn’t usually get to know the deceased family. As a result, we have no reason to identify with the hero’s murderous rage.
This is where John Wick succeeds wildly where others of the genre so often fail. The first ten minutes of John Wick are the action movie equivalent to Disney’s, Up. We first meet John as a man mourning the recent passing of his wife. When I say recently, I mean the funeral was that morning. Because his wife died from cancer, John really has nobody to kill for it. Already, the film is turning away from standard action movie conventions. The next day, John receives a package in the mail, sent from his wife right before she died. It contains a puppy and a letter. The letter pleads for John to keep his heart open to the possibility of love, and to start with this puppy.
Here is where the film really garners sympathy from the audience. This puppy isn’t just cute, it might be the cutest animal in a film, ever. For the next five minutes, we watch as John hopelessly falls in love with the dog, and we think, for a brief moment, this man might turn out alright. That moment is fleeting because as soon as he befriends the lovable scamp, John runs into some Russian mobsters who steal his car and murder his dog.
Within ten minutes, the film has introduced the character as a sad man who has lost his wife to cancer, is given the worlds’ cutest puppy by his deceased wife, and then watches the puppy brutally killed by some Russian gangsters. After these first ten minutes, John’s killing spree seems not only reasonable, but entirely justified. Listen up future action films, John Wick has officially set the bar for murderous rampage motivation.
Another reason I don’t like action films is that the protagonist never seems to be in any real danger. I never truly believe the character will die. In contrast, the first scene of John Wick shows John stumbling to his car on a rainy night and bleeding profusely from his gut. The director makes a smart decision to showcase the protagonist’s vulnerability from the start.
The last reason I don’t like action films is that they are often edited in such a way, with so many quick cuts, that it’s nearly impossible to get any idea of the scope of what is occurring. Once again, John Wick recognizes this trend and reverses it. John Wick stays on wide shots. This allows the viewer to watch John move through space and to recognize how surrounded he is. Does John murder so many people that it is impossible to count them all? Sure, but at least we can see him do it in one continuous motion. In general, one of my main gripes in film is that directors don’t stay on wide, establishing shots long enough. These are often the most beautiful images in a film. John Wick allows us to bask in wide shots for much longer than most films do. As a result, the action often feels balletic, rather than chaotic, giving the film a degree of, dare I say, art?
John Wick seemed to know everything I don’t like about the genre, and completely do the opposite. As a result, if you are an action film fan, then I highly recommend this one.
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Sam Levine is a Maryland native and 30-years-old. A movie lover since childhood “with the taste of 50-year-old man,” Sam holds nobody else’s opinions on film in any esteem. You can troll him at his movie review Tumblr titled ahotdogwithmustard.tumblr.com.