Katie 🐙’s review published on Letterboxd:
Perfect. This whole franchise is flawless. And it so good to go back and watch this film after seeing the others, as you pick up on so much more - all that nuance and complexity in the worldbuilding, and progression of John’s character and his backstory and surroundings. For me, these films are some of the best ever made - they embody what I think cinema should make you feel. I get so much awe and joy and excitement out of them.
This is a fantastic way to start a franchise. The introduction to John is fantastically handled. He is such an everyman character, and that continues even when he returns to his guise as an impenetrable assassin. There is so much intricacy there to such a stoic character on the face of it. Keanu Reeves plays that hint of vulnerability and grief and anger so well. The slow build-up to his darker and violent side is brilliant, with the remarks from Aurelio and Viggo and the fear they have of him. The scene where you first see him unleashed - the home invasion segment - is the point where I fell in love with this franchise. I suddenly realised that it was not just another silly action film (a genre I adore so much, don’t get me wrong). It is expertly choreographed and stunningly shot. The amount of training Keanu must have gone through is insane, and really shows.
The choreography is one of the cores of this film, and is one thing that separates it from other action movies I’ve seen. It is like watching a ballet or something. I am in such awe of how clean and precise and beautiful the whole thing is. It is so refreshing to see it shot in a way where you can really see all the skill and intricacy of the movements too, rather than crazy fast editing and shaky cams. Such a brilliant blending of different styles of fighting. The cinematography really elevates it as well. These films do not get the credit for how incredible they are filmed. The striking colour palettes, the use of neon, the framing, the tight shots and the wide ones, in both the quieter scenes and the action ones... My god, this franchise looks beautiful. It takes my breath away.
Every time I watch it, I also think of how great the plot is. It is very simple but has such interesting and controlled use of its themes, never going into too much cliche but really utilising the full potential of its revenge arc, in particular. The worldbuilding is above and beyond, also. I think in this first film it’s still finding its feet, but you can see the groundwork being laid, especially watching it back after the other movies. The second film really kicks it off into this classical-style, incredibly complex world, but this one starts it off, with the codes and conventions of the Continental, the hidden hierarchies of the assassin underworld, even the smaller details of the clean-up squads and the coins as payment. I think these films are such an incredible example of a modern myth. John Wick has hints back to more traditional action heroes, but also has huge links to Homeric-style legendary heroes. The second film especially ramps it up into a Greek myth-esque action-tragedy, imbued with so many references in its art and names and themes. But there is also a refreshing amount of vulnerability and relatability, in ways, to John. He isn’t overly macho, he has emotion behind that stoic nature, and I think that is also why he appeals to such a broad audience. I truly hope (and you can already see it happening) that he becomes an iconic action character.
There are some amazing scenes in particular in this too, ones that really embody the things I love about this movie. I’ve already mentioned the home invasion scene, but the club scene may be one of my favourite scenes of all time. The timing and pace of it are brilliant, and the way that the music blends is especially genius. The use of Kaleida’s Think gives me chills. There are two points where that song really frames the action so brilliantly - the first one is the part where John has his hand over one of the guards’ mouths, staring down at him in domination, and the lyrics go “I am your light, your light, your light...” as that blue neon shines on him. And then when he is watching Iosef across the bathhouse while killing another goon, and there is a fantastic piece of editing with the “I’ll never *beat* break your heart” line. I have an inexplicable amount of love for that scene. Followed by the part where he is striding across the club in slow-mo in his suit while Iosef runs away, frantic, in his towel, and then there is this insane amount of stylish choreography. I could talk about the genius of these movies all day haha.
So, yeah... I am in love with this whole franchise. I think it’s fantastic in every way and not just such a stunning piece of action cinema, but of cinema overall. Maybe I’m being hyperbolic, but honestly, I adore these movies and they make me so happy.