When John Wick accepted the little dog that was delivered to his front door, he was still pretty numb. His wife’s funeral was just hours behind him, her death from a ravaging disease still bitter in his mouth.
One look at the card that came with the carrier, though, helped wake John up a bit. It was from Helen. Leave it to her to be thinking of him, even at the end of her own life. She knew he’d need something to love when she was gone. “Her name is Daisy,” the card read. And John almost smiled.
Over the next few days, Helen’s wisdom was proved out. Daisy was a cute little bundle of paws and fur that John came to rely on. She helped him find … focus, courage, purpose. The pain was still there, but he had started to breathe again.
Thereafter, John and Daisy went everywhere together. When he walked, she was at his side. When he ate, she shared the meal. When he drove, she was in the passenger seat. And so, she was there when John gassed up his classic Boss 429 Mustang. She was woofing when the punk son of a Russian mobster offered to buy the car outright. And she was licking John’s hand when he turned the guy down cold and drove away.
Of course, Daisy was also there when the punk and his boys broke into John’s house later that night. And she barked anxiously when those intruders caught John by surprise and beat him senseless. And after the heartless thugs turned and put a bullet in her, Daisy dragged her bleeding body to lie near her wounded master. That’s where she died.
When John came to, his car was gone and his dog was dead. The car was a sad loss. The dog was a vicious gut-punch—a devastating blow that ripped something important right out of him.
John buried Daisy, gathered his supplies and then took a call from one Viggo Tarasov—the Russian boss who had just discovered that his son had paid John a nasty visit. It was only fair for John to listen to Viggo, his former employer, before making it clear that he was coming for the boy.
John Wick, you see, is a man with a past. Not so long ago he was an incredibly skilled contract killer, feared by many. He had put it all behind him after finding love. But now John has nothing left to love and a dog to avenge.
A montage of quick scenes seems to demonstrate that John’s life had been changed—at least temporarily—by his love for his wife. And a fellow hit man named Marcus puts his life on the line—and ultimately loses it—for his friend.
John has a large cross and a set of praying hands tattooed on his back—though there’s no evidence they hold spiritual meaning for the man. One of Viggo’s illicit money vaults is kept in the basement of a Catholic church. In fact, it appears that the entire church is nothing but a front: John walks in the front door and immediately shoots the “priest” and several Russian “parishioners.”
Viggo says he believes that God caused Helen’s death in order to create a clash between he and John. “We are cursed, you and I,” he tells John. On the other hand, while at Helen’s funeral, Marcus tells John, “There’s no rhyme or reason to this life.”
A singer in a club wears a tight one-piece bodysuit, and several other women wear cleavage-baring tops. A busty bartender leans over to give John and the camera an easy view. A number of bikini girls in and around a club’s indoor pool cuddle with the male patrons. The camera closely ogles one girl’s mostly exposed backside as she walks into the water.
Getting the sense yet that there’s a lot of revenge-filled death-dealing in this movie? Once John gets going, scores and scores of thickly accented miscreants meet their end in gushes of gore and brain matter.
The very first “crowd of killers vs. John” scene features our antihero tumbling and twirling through his darkened home as he shoots point-blank blasts into faces; breaks arms, legs and necks over hard surfaces; and obliterates his assailants with savage efficiency. We see that same kind of brutality repeated in the church, a club full of booze-swilling partiers, a close-quarters men’s room, an abandoned warehouse, and just about every place else you can imagine mob guys gathering.
Red slime splashes walls and floors as chins are impaled, jugulars are slashed and bullets smash through foreheads. Crotches are kicked, legs are shot, facial bones are smashed and eyeballs are obliterated. One of John’s attackers is a woman, who’s thrown through a window and has her face cruelly pounded after it’s wrapped in a sheet.
One particularly large gash in John’s side—opened by a broken bottle—needs to be stitched up before it’s ripped wide again. John purposely allows himself to be stabbed in order to wrest away a blade from an attacker. That gaping wound is splashed with hydrogen peroxide and pieced together with a staple gun. John is also tied up and tortured.
When John sets out on his quest for revenge, he first checks into the Continental Hotel—an old hit man “safe ground” of his that has strict rules against (and heavy penalties for) any killings conducted on the premises. John follows the rules closely. Another individual, however, accepts a contract on John and sets about attacking John and killing another tenant. That killer ends up reaping the management’s bloody wrath in the form of a late-night firing squad. Viggo punches his foolish son so hard the young man vomits.
Over 30 f-words and 10 s-words (in English and subtitled Russian) are joined by one or two uses each of “a–,” “h—” and “b–ch.” God’s name is combined with “d–n” twice. We hear one or two uses of “c–ks–ker.”
Amid the Russian ranks, it appears it’s very common to drink heavily (champagne and hard liquor) and smoke like a chimney. Viggo, in particular, smokes and drinks frequently. We also see him puff on a joint.
After patching him up, a doctor gives John a bottle of drugs, telling him, “Your stitches will tear, you’ll bleed. But you’ll have full functionality.” So John pops those pills before a big gun battle.
After a gun battle in John’s house, a policeman comes to the front door and asks him if he’s “working again.” John assures him he’s just “sorting out some stuff.” Eyeing a corpse on the floor, the cop says, “I’ll leave you be.”
Daisy’s defecating in John’s front yard is played as a joke.
The moral here is, “You kill a mob man’s dog, you’d best be packing.”
No, scratch that. There are no good lessons here. This hyper-violent pulp-action pic is really nothing more than a lot of moviemaking glitz layered over the well-worn tale of a retired killer who reaches for his guns once again.
This version is set in a fairly well polished noir-like make-believe world. It’s a place where hit men have their own hotels—establishments that come complete with a killer’s code of conduct and terry cloth robes. It’s a place where cleverly choreographed shoot-’em-in-the-eye-while-doing-a-perfect-double-backflip footwork is the be-all and end-all.
Never mind, then, that Film Freak Central says “the film sweats cool.” ‘Cause there’s no cinematic pot of gold at the end of this brain-splattered, seven-shades-of-blood-red rainbow. Sometimes a gory, foul-mouthed, Russian-thug-blasting revenge pic is, well, just a gory, foul-mouthed, Russian-thug-blasting revenge pic.
Though I liked the dog.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.