Over the years, as action cinema has grudgingly begun to acknowledge the limitations of physical reality – reigning in a few of its wilder leaps of logic in the process – one distinctly implausible brand of hero has nonetheless endured.
He (or, in more progressive incarnations, she) is the boundlessly proficient lone killing machine, capable of dispatching 400 henchmen across a single, fantastically long corridor with a range of apparently disparate skills suited to all weathers, terrains and time constraints.
The trope’s latest iteration arrives in the form of John Wick, the gruff, buff one-time assassin played by Keanu Reeves in the film of the same name. Such an insipid moniker is perfectly suited to the bare apartment in which Wick lives out his retirement, though it gives no hint of his ability to disarm an adversary and stab him in the heart in the time it would take you or I to tie our shoelaces.
Following the death of his wife (Bridget Moynahan in a thankless, wordless afterthought of a role) Wick predictably returns to his former vocation, relocating to New York in order to exterminate an entire Russian crime syndicate with an ease that unburdens the film of such pesky concerns as jeopardy and dramatic tension.
A braver script might have tackled the apparent indifference with which our hero unleashes such brutality, sacrificing a little heroism in exchange for emotional complexity, but screenwriter Derek Kolstad instead attempts to justify each and every merciless killing with repeated insistences that Wick has been sorely wronged. His cruelty, we’re constantly told, is motivated by a grave injustice wrought upon him by a junior member of the syndicate who callously killed the puppy given to Wick by his late wife.
In John’s eyes, such an offence is cause enough for a sustained and murderous retaliation, which is either the mark of a cold-blooded psychopath, or the criminal’s underworld’s foremost defender of animal rights.
Also out this week
Pitch Perfect 2 Alternately joyous and cringe-inducing comedy sequel.
Big Game Finnish actioner with Samuel L Jackson as the Potus.
The New Girlfriend Twisty relationship thriller from François Ozon.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010