John Wick (2015)
I didn't bother to watch this until I learned a sequel's scheduled to drop in February, 2017. And the main reason I didn't bother was that I don't look at Keanu Reeves and think "actor." Don't get me wrong; I grew up in the Age of Keanu. He was young and he was pretty, and I was a huge fan. He's not young and pretty anymore (though he's looking really great lately).
Off-screen, Reeves is very charismatic and fun to watch (ironic, right?). And now that he's older and been through the hellish training camps of The Matrix films, he's developed a certain enigmatic maturity which has me intrigued all over again.
It's like he's Keanu 2.0.
On paper, John Wick appears tired and uninspired. Someone pisses off a retired hitman who goes on a killing spree to get his revenge. We've seen that before. Except, with John Wick, it's so much more.
The writers didn't just give us a gloomy revenge flick; they created a whole universe which had me asking all kinds of questions and genuinely looking forward to the sequel.
John Wick introduces its viewers to a society of assassins, with its strict code, its own language, its own currency, and in a manner of speaking, its own "temple". There's an establishment known as the Continental Hotel, where a man named Charon stands as concierge, tending the needs of his visitors. The rules are strict and to the point: assassins cannot conduct business on Continental grounds, as management does not take too kindly to it.
And thus, watching the film is like witnessing the decline of an ancient civilization; some of the beneficiaries (namely the next generation) are starting to acting brand new. You have Iosef, a male young'un who breaks into John's home, beats him up, kills his preciously adorable dog, and steals his vintage car. Iosef doesn't realize who he's messing with until his father Viggo later sets him straight, explaining that John is a former associate of their crime family. And contrary to lore, he is not the Bogeyman; he's the one you send to kill the Bogeyman. So right there, we have the metaphor of young folks not knowing their history and not recognizing or respecting their elders.
There's also Perkins, a female young'un and assassin who goes to stay at the Continental the same time as John. She doesn't care about the rules and appears to think they don't apply to her, most likely because she's never actually seen them enforced. So right there, we have the youthful error of assuming that because one doesn't see a rule being enforced, that rule must not exist.
But then there's also Viggo, a titan at the head of a powerful Russian family. Though Viggo is technically old school, knowing the ways and rules of the code, his son has put him in a a bit of a quandary. Viggo knows John will not go gently into the good night, so his options are to either hand over his son (thereby losing face), or unwisely attempt to protect him (incurring the wrath of a legendary hitman). Viggo chooses the latter, and in so doing seals his own doom because to protect his son (or rather, slow John Wick down), he has to break a lot of rules. Any idiot can tell you that breaking an assassin's code of honor is pretty much suicide.
Viggo puts a $2 million bounty on John's head, but doubles it for Perkins since she's willing (to try) to kill John on Continental grounds. He tries to hire Marcus, an old-school freelancer, to ice John. Marcus doesn't want to kill John and instead helps him, for which Viggo later tortures and kills him. Viggo's doomed attempts to save Iosef result in quite the body count, until he finally concedes defeat and points John on the direction of his son. Of course, by then it's too late. We see the quieter forces within the "community" move to restore order and cleanse their world of Viggo's folly.
The film ends with John stitching himself up after the big fight and adopting a new dog, leaving us wondering where the hell the writers going to go next.