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Thursday, 13 October 2016

John Wick vs Jack Reacher...

John Wick (2014): An ultraviolent revenge thriller with Keanu Reeves bringing Neo-levels of cool to the titular hitman.

A random encounter with an entitled Russian thug Iosef (Game Of Thrones' Alfie Allen) leads to the theft of Wick's car and the death of his new puppy, the last gift from his recently deceased wife.

Unfortunately for Iosef (but not for us), Wick is a legendary retired hitman, feared throughout the underworld as The Boogeyman.

Armed with guns (lots of guns), knives, explosives, fists, feet, and whatever else is lying around, Wick carves a bloody path through the Russian mob to exact revenge.

Wick is, essentially, an underworld version of The Punisher, and I, for one, am rooting for a showdown between John Wick and Frank Castle... or even a team-up.

The film boasts a fantastic supporting cast, including Willem Dafoe as a fellow hitman; Deadwood's Ian McShane as the owner of an exclusive hotel for gangsters and Fringe's Lance Reddick as his concierge; John Leguizamo as the operator of a high-end chop shop; Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Dean Winters as the Russian mob boss's consigliere; and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Adrianne Palicki as an assassin after the price on Wick's head.

With Chad Stahelski and David Leitch directing from Derek Kolstad's script, John Wick doesn't hang around. The backstory and inciting incident are all delivered with brevity in the first quarter of an hour, and then Wick's revenge mission kicks in.

There's a hyper-real, larger than life, mythological quality to the events and settings, with New York City being way more Gotham City that we're used to outside of Batman tales. The comic book feel is complemented by the interesting colour palettes and clever use of subtitles.

It's also worth noting that the death of Wick's dog is handled very considerately. It's not graphic (unlike pretty much every other piece of violence in the movie), but is no less shocking and heartbreaking - especially to any fellow puppy-parents. I totally understood his motivation for wanting to wipe every last piece of scum off the face of the Earth!

This was my Blu-Ray choice movie of the week. Slick and stylish, John Wick is pulp adventure of the finest calibre, with mind-boggling fight scenes (The Red Circle nightclub sequence in particular stands out) and thrilling stunts carrying us along a simple, linear storyline with great aplomb.

Even with the dog killing, I can see myself watching this again.

And there's a sequel coming soon...


Jack Reacher (2012): This one I got to enjoy on Netflix, and I'm glad I didn't pay hard cash for it, as I did for John Wick,  because this pales in comparison.

A military-trained sniper goes on a shooting spree, and is quickly captured, but the only defence he'll offer up is a demand to see the enigmatic Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise).

Reacher is ex-military police, now a drifter living totally off the grid, who steps up and agrees to work with defence lawyer Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), because he sees a conspiracy at work here.

The film unfolds like a methodical John Grisham thriller intercut with regimented moments of cinematic violence.

Reacher's investigative skills are as impressive as his martial ones, but some of his one-liners are so corny as to drag the film towards parody.

This is also accentuated by the bizarre way every woman in the movie seems contractually obliged to look at Cruise as though he is the most attractive man on Earth and they must breed with him now. Perhaps this is a Scientology thing.

Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who has worked with Cruise on a couple of the more recent Mission: Impossible flicks, there are definitely moments - such as the two large thugs trying to clobber Jack in a small bathroom - when you have to wonder if it is meant to be a black comedy.

But it also feels like scriptwriting by the numbers. There's the shooting in the first act, then Jack gets a brilliant fistfight near the start of the second act and a magnificent car chase towards the end (and there's no denying the way he eludes the police at the end of this sequence is particularly cool), and then there's the big showdown with the bad guys in the final act (which, sadly, is less impressive).

That said, Werner Herzog (yes, the iconic director) is brilliantly menacing as the main villain, a fingerless man known only as The Zec (or The Prisoner), because of his long-stay in a Siberian gulag, and certainly could have given Diamondback - from Luke Cage - some coaching on how to be a convincing Big Bad.

The Zec's number two is Suicide Squad's Captain Boomerang himself, the always great Jai Courtney, who acts as The Zec's "hands" (and muscle).

Now I've seen Jack Reacher, I don't feel there's a need for me to see it again. It was okay for what it was, but - as a fan of Cruise's Mission: Impossible movies - certainly not as special as I'd hoped it would be.

However, there's a sequel...

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