John Wick

John Wick ★★★½

or: Hard to Be a God. Wick's past is treated as legend, inspiring a mountain superlatives, albeit broad ones that only allude to his history. He is unquantified, a universally acknowledged manifestation of fate itself; everyone in this film knows that they are already dead. But though characters discuss him as an unstoppable force, removed from humanity or mercy, Reeves plays him as a man haunted by the past, wracked with grief over the loss of who is likely the only person he has ever loved. Keanu's on-screen persona, one of broad conviction and a chameleon-like ability to blend with his environment, is ripe for the film's paradoxical glimpse at the action hero, both demythologizing and reaffirming the unstoppable brutality of the figure. His cipherous face reveals a man not afraid to feel, but afraid he doesn't have the capacity to feel, doomed to be a deliverer of bullets and nothing more. When he is grieving, his past drags him back in and he relents to the darkness, lashing out with relentless energy and haunting accuracy. A man imprisoned in the realm of myth, praying that the film he stars in isn't an action movie and surrendering himself to the bloodthirst when it becomes the only pathway to catharsis.

Then again, the film doesn't fully deliver on that promise, losing focus on Wick as a genre trope in arrested development, succumbing to some stupid character inconsistencies (Viggo's decisions make zero sense after a certain point) and an increasing sense of futility. Each gunshot feels less significant as it goes on, every murder registering a little bit less than the last, until the final battle drags for ten minutes and I'm wondering why any of it matters. The dissonance is likely purposeful, but the film doesn't own its pointlessness, always shooting the action as flashy entertainment instead of a prison. Still, it's too demonstrably cool to not be fun. It's especially impressive in its world-building, using specific props (gold coins) and gestures (a mildly astonished nod in a club; gotta stop using that word though) that allude to a shared history, creating distinct enough lines for the viewer to color between on their own. The increasing display of wacky laws and mannerisms gradually reveal a fairy tale world with its own dynasties, cultures, and figureheads, and the film anchors us to one of the storybook tropes, humanizing him while acknowledging his tendency for atrocity. Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

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