John Wick UHD Blu-ray Review

This Wick is on fire

“Get a crew.”

“How many?”

“How many do you have?”

Smart movie audiences know whatever the number is, it will never be enough. John Wick is that sort of that guy – an effortless hitman capable of sickly satisfying gunplay, each kill executed through a ballet of brutality.

Wick (Keanu Reeves) is not super human. He’s not a super hero. Instead, Wick is a skilled assassin, a remorseless killer who is to be so feared as to be a central figure in every character’s life. All of John Wick’s world is bound to his reputation.

People often speak in code or metaphors in these movies. John Wick is no different. Dinner reservations have nothing to do with dinner and the doctor is always in. Actually, the latter is literal (if casually spoken). Other times, they need to speak nothing at all. To be as cool as the characters in this movie is to answer the phone silently while staring off camera since whoever is on the other end only makes such a call if absolutely needed.

John Wick is a revenge thriller, but a special one. Wick himself is partly acting on his trained instinct for retribution. He has a reputation to uphold five years after his last kill. But, he is also blitzing through a core group of entertaining if tired Russian villains for breaking the sanctity of cinema’s rules: They killed the dog, and not even a dog, but a puppy. You never kill the puppy. Burn down a poor orphanage if you have to, just ensure the puppy makes a triumphant leap from the flames before hand.

There’s more, including a stolen car, an assault, and a dead wife. However, John Wick is all about the puppy.

They killed the dog, and not even a dog, but a puppy. You never kill the puppy.

The killing mayhem which ensues, capping a body count near an unbelievable 120, is not without need. John Wick is slickly written, treating shootouts in churches or clubs as character building exercises. Pieces come together intelligently with a brooding pace, hiding Wick’s substantial backstory and history while using the enthralling noir spectacle to murderer en masse sans emotion. His years of practice are worn on his face and shown in his exacting delivery. Lesser films would use flashbacks.

All of this is cut together beautifully, Oscar worthy were John Wick anything other than a hyper kinetic action picture with a routine narrative and noir-induced color coma. The set-up is devoid of original plot integration. Were it not for the potential audaciousness of Wick’s rampages and some intersecting moments of character, a style-less John Wick would have likely starred Liam Neeson while being tossed to theaters under the expectation of easy profit. Instead, Keanu Reeves proves utterly compelling and first time director/former stunt coordinator Chad Stahleski (with uncredited co-direction from David Leitch) pull together to form John Wick into an unexpected near masterpiece of this often simple genre.

Video (Blu-ray)

Most of John Wick’s problems are inserted by post production, meaning this artificially color timed feature is soaked in teal with rare blasts of orange. It’s not so much mood as it is suffocating the sense of style. A majority of John Wick is distressingly monochrome. Things such as flesh tones are as rare to this world as live puppies.

This means punchy cinematography will need to show off. For the most part it does. In close, fidelity is sharp and well managed. Facial definition is clean although mid-range shots do reveal their digital sourcing. Many feel flat and glassy with a loss of high frequency information. Image density feels lacking.

Encoding by Lionsgate is fine. When needed, bitrates begin to soar. The rain soaked finale jumps from an average hovering around 25Mbps to upwards of 35. You’ll find no noise, compression, or other such anomaly here with an exception set aside for some brief banding within headlights.

Given how dour John Wick is, black levels are crucial. Their consistency is certainly appreciated. The same post production color work which drains primaries does little to mar shadow depth. There is no attempt to seat John Wick in a pool of gray for an additional false sense of mood. While low on contrast (pure white is often buried by teal), black levels hold their integrity.

Video (UHD)

While a definite showcase for HDR’s depth abilities, the dim color palette afforded to John Wick isn’t a sensation which pops to life with saturation. Nothing is done to the film’s digitally tinted style, bouncing between teals and oranges as before.

The boost comes in terms of black levels, which douse the screen in delectable shadows and image density. Outside of an instance involving Ian McShane (while in the party room; some artifacting becomes visible for a few seconds), the level of fidelity of extracted from the deepest parts of John Wick readily bests the standard Blu-ray – no crush unless the cinematography demands it.

In terms of resolution, stunning New York exteriors showcase incredible sharpness. Those shots are among the few unaffected by the aggressive coloring, letting contrast sing. Facial definition at distance is more pronounced, and the stellar finale holds together as the rain starts dropping. A small bit of noise seeps into the image (particularly notable during the vehicle explosions), but it’s otherwise clear digital imagery.

Audio (Blu-ray/UHD)

Wick extracts his vengeance in Dolby Atmos for those home theaters equipped as such while the rest receive a stunning TrueHD 7.1 mix. A strong, wide soundstage is an instant pleaser. This seedy world is enveloping, with careful side-to-side motion and thrilling use of the rears. Better yet, this type of audio design sells Wick as a precision killer: His shots never ricochet in the surrounds – every one is precisely on point.

Action carries through multiple spaces, allowing for variety in how each scene is sonically set. A church gives off a startling long echo, a club carries thick music to drop gunfire down a touch, and a home invasion is notably louder to represent the tighter sound space. LFE is handled by muscle cars, thunderstorms, or epic sniper rifle rounds. The low-end is rarely lost.

Side note: A rental version exists with a minuscule Dolby Digital track. Be warned if buying second hand.

Extras

Directors Chad Stahleski and David Leitch settle in comfortably for their first ever commentary, running through their work with ease. It’s mostly fun and technical. Featurettes are less interesting, beginning with Don’t *&%# with John Wick, the lengthiest of the group at 15-minutes and the best as it looks at the careful fight choreography.

Destiny of a Collective looks at Stahleski and Leitch’s professional career as a pair. Calling in the Calvary is an okay making-of, moving from pitch to direction. The Assassin’s Code dives into the life of hitmen, Red Circle focuses on the boldest of the action scenes, with NYC Noir spends time peering into style decisions.

 

Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.