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John Wick (2014)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/3/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/27/2015; Update 2/6/2017
Around my house, I have a bad habit of proclaiming films as being "THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE!" (Yes, the all-caps was necessary.) This proclamation typically occurs after something completely ridiculous or over the top has happened in the movie, and rarely is it meant to be serious. Yet, the one movie which I feel legitimately earns this title is the 1991 Hong Kong film Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. This absurdly insane movie contains more "did that really happen?" moments than any other and it's not easily forgotten. But, the thing which really makes Riki-Oh stand out to me is the fact that, for once, it's the hero who is indestructible, and he kicks butt for the duration of the film. The makers of John Wick may not have seen Riki-Oh, but they've got the same idea, as we are presented with a different kind of action hero.
As John Wick opens, the titular character (Keanu Reeves), a seemingly mild-mannered man, is grieving over the death of his wife, Helen (Bridget Moynahan). On the way to the funeral, he stops for gas and a thug named Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) offers to buy John's car, but John kindly refuses the offer. Following the funeral, John receives a package. It is a puppy which Helen had arranged for John to have prior to her death, so that he wouldn't be lonely. That night, Iosef and his goons break into John's house and steal his car. They will soon learn that John Wick is a man who is greatly feared in the criminal underworld and Iosef's greed has unwittingly triggered a bloody war.
That synopsis may seem a bit vague, but, trust me, that's the best way to approach this film. The less that you know, the better. You'll soon grasp the symbolism of the title -- Just like the wick of a candle, we only see a little bit of John at first, but once things heat up, his true self is revealed. Suffice it to say that he is a man with which you do not want to trifle. Discovering who John is turns out to be just as important as what he's about to do.
Once the initial set up occurs, which occupies the first 15-minutes or so of the movie, John Wick becomes a straight-ahead action movie. Stuntmen Chad Stahelski and David Leitch go behind the camera to helm this movie and their years of action experience has allowed them to craft some fine scenes of gunplay and fighting. It's hard to complain about the amount of action in the film, as we watch John Wick tear through many manner of thugs and destroy several locations. In fact, while the action setpieces are certainly impressive, I would have to say that two of them go on a bit too long and become somewhat tedious. The action is broken up by some quieter scenes which introduce us to hidden realm of crime in John's world. In some ways, John Wick is a sort of fantasy tale, as we have a mythical, powerful hero who visits places that seem to exist outside of our world. This world has its own rules -- which are governed by gold coins -- and this helps to separate the movie from other action films.
As noted above, John Wick also fully embraces the idea of a hero who is actually capable and powerful. How many times have we had to sit through movies where evil was all-powerful and the hero was constantly in peril, having to scrape and claw to survive. Not here. John Wick is not scared and he's always in control, as he confidently mows down everything in his path. It's so nice to see a hero that doesn't have to wait until the finale to be admired. Of course, this does create an issue with the narrative, as it robs the film of most of its suspense. We feel very confident that John is going to survive each scene, so we don't worry about him.
I wasn't bowled over by John Wick in the same way that some other critics were -- I get the feeling that they'd never seen anything like it -- but I must say that it is a solid action film which is rarely dull. I always liked Keanu Reeves -- he's just so different from every other actor -- and while some of his line readings are a bit flat here, he's very good as John. Think of him as Neo with a sense of contained rage instead of the God complex. The movie is not groundbreaking in any way, but it's like a plate of comfort food. It's familiar, but if done right, it can be very satisfying.
John Wick passed up the Ford GT40 like a crazy man on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing on overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, especially when red or green becomes the dominate palette and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is excellent and we can see that Keanu is actually beginning to age. The amount of depth is impressive as well. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. However, I noticed a number of dropouts in the first half of the film. I can't remember ever hearing this many dropouts before, especially in a studio movie, and I've played Atmos tracks in the past with no problem. That aside, we are treated to some impressive audio effects here, as the bullets fly by us, coming from the front speaker and moving to the rear, or trying across the room in the front channels. We also get booming subwoofer which adds a little extra something to the action sequences.
The John Wick Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Chad Stahelski and Producer David Leitch. "Don't F*#% With John Wick" (15 minutes) takes us behind-the-scenes to see Reeves training for his role and the choreography of the fight scenes. We also get to see stunt-driving training as well. The piece then goes on-set to see the fight scenes being shot. "Calling in the Cavalry" (12 minutes) profiles Stahelski and Leitch, examining how they became involved in the project and how they approached their first time helming a feature film. The stunt choreography and fight coordinating company run by Stahelski and Leitch is profiled in "Destiny of a Collective" (6 minutes), where we get to see some videos of their team at work. "The Assassin's Code" (5 minutes) looks at various assassins in the film and the rules of the underworld which John Wick enters on this journey of revenge. "The Red Circle" (6 minutes) takes us inside of the nightclub to examine the long action scene which occurs there, including how it was staged. "N.Y.C. Noir" (6 minutes) looks at how stylized the film was and how the look of the movie was meant to reflect a heightened reality. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
On February 7, 2017 Lionsgate released John Wick on 4K UHD. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc features a 2160p HD transfer. The image is sharp and clear, showing no discernible grain and no defects from the source materials. The green The Matrix-esque lighting used in the film looks good here and despite the fact that this is a dark movie, the picture is never overly dark. The image shows off a nice crispness and the level of detail is notable. In previous reviews for 4K UHD releases, I've written that the real power of this medium is evident with brighter movies, so the quality of this release is only slightly better than that of the original Blu-ray Disc release. The overall sharpness of the picture is evident, but I'm not sure if that makes it worth the upgrade. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos (7.1) audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. I don't know if this is the same track as that found on the Blu-ray Disc, but it's certainly similar. That is, it really comes to life during the action sequences, showing off exciting surround and subwoofer effects. The stereo effects highlight sounds coming from off-screen and are highly detailed. There is a lot of gunfire in the film and we feel every one on this track.
The extras found on the 4K UHD set are the same as those which were included in the Blu-ray Disc release.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long