Do you remember that movie called John McClane? Or even that juggernaut blockbuster called Neo?
Sure you know the characters, but weren’t they “Die Hard” and “The Matrix”?
It seems that, the way Hollywood markets its action films nowadays has become simpler, requiring less from everyone involved (including the end buyer). Now it is just the name of the Lead, and the Lead “leads” you to the star. So John Reacher is Tom Cruise, Lucy is Scarlett Johansson and John Wick is Keanu Reeves.
It seems to be simple arithmetic, after all these are actioners that follow not only the rules of the genre but also premises and storylines (and even surprising twists) that have been repeated a thousand times, targeting audiences seeking just that. It reminds me of that line in Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo” where a ticket buyer is insulted when the character of a movie he is watching, runs out of the screen and stalls the whole movie. “I want what happened in the movie last week to happen this week; otherwise, what’s life all about anyway?”
The simplistic naming game gives a hint about its content: a 2-hour kill-em-all revenge entertainment, well dressed and lit (in the tradition of that well received, but invariably empty film by Nicolas Winding Refn called “Drive”), with some winks and jokes to lighten things up and relying mainly on action sequences, a very bad bad guy and a believable good guy. It didn’t work for Cruise his last time out, but it did for Johansson and now for Keanu, who, by the way, didn’t have much luck with 47 Ronin (I guess calling the film “Kai” wasn’t very attractive either). But they actually tried the formula with him in Constantine, which was based on a comic book (an almost sure formula for success) and it paid off. So they’re doing it again. Let’s just see how the audience responds.
Now, the film looks good thanks to the perfect symbiosis of Jonathan Sela’s ominous cinematography, Keanu Reeve’s strong presence and the pure pyrotechnics of greatly choreographed actions sequences. Who cares about the “This is my last, last, LAST, job” idea? After all, the film is directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, who are veteran stuntmen. This is like hiring famous Yuen Wo Ping to create the martial arts scenes of a lousy film. You know they’ll be breathtaking, even if the film itself will easily mix in your memory with others you’ve seen before.
That’s what you’ll get with this John Wick: beautifully packed entertainment in just one name. So you won’t waste your money or your time. But then again, I really thought I hadn’t wasted it with 47 Ronin, even if general criticism and poor audience response proved me wrong.