Die Hard, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Speed, Kill Bill, Lethal Weapon. These films are just a few of the many great action films of our time, films that have managed to stand the test of time and can still be viewed today. While all of those films are excellent in their own right, I am here to talk about another action film franchise. One that managed to turn a low-budget action film, into an entire franchise no one saw coming. I am talking about John Wick, the greatest action film of the modern-day. However, keep in mind this is entirely an opinion and while I have a large deal of respect for other action flicks, I am here to tell you why this one is the greatest.
Well, the story is pretty simple actually. A very dangerous man who used to do very bad things to people has retired and has sought out a normal life with a woman he falls in love with. When she abruptly dies, he is left with nothing else but a puppy she has sent to him, in the hopes he will continue to his life in peace. One day a spoiled young punk takes an interest in John’s car and makes an offer to purchase it. John refuses and the man decides to follow him home to take it for himself, in the process the man also murders kills the dog his wife left him. Taking the final memory of his wife, John seeks revenge on the man and his known associates.
The story is so simple, it is easy to get engaged in. The film gives its viewer a simple and clean premise to follow, while also making you sympathize with John. His motivations make sense, they don’t require anything elaborate to be explained, nor does it ask you to look for any underlying message. It is simply a revenge film but done in good taste. Even after the success of the first film, the second installment still held an easy narrative. As John if forced to fulfill the call of a marker by Santino D’Antonio, assigned to execute D’Antonio’s sister so he may take her place as royalty. John is doubled crossed and a hit is put on his head by the underground society of assassins. By the end of the film, John claims his revenge on D’Antonio on Continental grounds and paves the way for the third installment. The third film continues with John on the run from assassins across the globe attempting to claim the bounty. John then must uncover a way to save his own life or lose his life to one of the many killers on his trail.
With such a great setup, the third film picks up Mr. Wick as he trudges through any and every assassin in the world. With limited resources and major wounds, he has to find a way to speak with the head of the Continental in order to survive. Once again, we are given a story that favors action over a story but gives audiences just enough to get behind and care about John Wick’s epic journey.
Many give Tom Cruise for doing his own stunts in the Mission Impossible films, which is great. But often don’t realize Keanu Reeves is doing about 90% of his own stunts as well. If you don’t believe me, watch his face closely during stunt scenes and see that it is really him. If you still don’t believe me, then that’s just how good Reeves is at his own stunts. He consistently has practiced to the point he looks as good as a stunt performer. But that’s what elevates the quality of the film, instead of a stunt actor going in and performing an incredible feat, we get to watch Keanu Reeves embody the character and perform some of the most death-defying stunts on screen.
The Fight Choreography
Following up with Keanu Reeves doing his own stunts, he is also doing the majority of his fight scenes. One thing we often see in American action films is quick cuts and never the actor’s face. John Wick director and fight choreographer make sure the audience is watching Mr. Reeves perform every fight scene he is in. Rather than just cutting away anytime a scene gets too complicated. In the John Wick films, we are blessed with wide angles and excellent choreography that sells the action and puts us in the action. We end up buying into the character and just what he is capable of. Even guest actors such as Common and Halle Berry go through intense training to perform their scenes alongside Reeves. Something that perhaps American audiences didn’t even realize when watching the movies.
Director Chad Stahelski manages to provide audiences with a forgotten art, the art of natural stunts, simple storytelling, and wide angles. With the John Wick films, we get to witness Reeves bring to life a character audiences haven’t cared about since Neo in The Matrix. Bringing back some of the old Asian ways of filmmaking, taking a couple of pages from Jackie Chan himself, the crew behind the John Wick franchise has managed to provide some of the best American-made action films to date. And with the anticipation of the upcoming fourth installment, we anticipate what else they are capable of in the next film.