It seems like thanks to the success of the John Wick series, any movie that features one lone, unknown killing machine that left a world of violence behind only to be brought back into action due to some unlucky criminals will be called a knock-off, despite how that trope being much older than one would believe (The Godfather: Part III essentially being the prime example). With that in mind, it would be easy to call Sisu a John Wick knock-off. The film has a lot of similarities to the adventures of Mr. Wick, right down to having a canine companion, but that would be a disservice to what Sisu attempts to do and what it accomplishes. Both are incredibly violent action movies, but while the John Wick movies have an almost artful elegance and highly structured fight choreography, Sisu is raw and dirty. It’s visceral and virtually every kill will leave you cheering or howling at the violence on display.
Needless to say, I had an absolute blast watching Sisu and I personally find it a better, more confident, and more successful action movie than John Wick Chapter 4.
Director: Jalmari Helander
Release Date: April 28, 2023 (Theatrical)
Set in Finland during the waning years of World War II, Sisu is the story of a gold prospector (Jorma Tommila) who discovers a massive gold deposit while mining in the middle of the destroyed Finnish countryside. On his way to cash his findings, he encounters a platoon of Nazis, led by an SS officer named Bruno (Aksel Hennie). Bruno and his squad take interest in his gold and attempt to murder him and steal it for themselves, figuring that it’s their only ticket out now that they’re losing the war. Unfortunately, as they learn quickly, this is no mere gold prospector. He’s a ruthless killing machine that kills anyone and anything that gets in his way. German high command inform the platoon that this man was known as “The Immortal” and killed over 300 Russian soldiers in the Winter War alone. They just picked a fight with him and stole some of his gold… and he wants it back.
So let’s just talk about the action right out of the gate; it’s wonderful. From chucking mines to slitting throats to an absolutely bonkers climax, there was no kill in Sisu that doesn’t fully commit to delivering a bloody spectacle. At times it almost borders on farcical how over-the-top the kills are, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re brilliantly bloody. A key difference between the violence here and the violence in most other action films is that it doesn’t try to sanitize it. This is active warfare and while it may have the spectacle of an action movie, both our heroes and villains use any and everything available to them to make the opponent suffer. It’s never pretty, but that rawness just makes every action scene all the more mesmerizing.
There’s also an efficiency to the proceedings as well with the movie never overstaying its welcome. The film runs just north of 90 minutes and is broken down into 6 chapters and an epilogue, each centered around a major setpiece. When a chapter is labeled “The Minefield,” you know exactly what the conflict is going to be for our hero as he attempts to evade the Nazis. The sequence of events is pretty straightforward, as is the overall plot, but the simplicity of Sisu is probably its biggest strength. It doesn’t need to establish its world or make you like its protagonist or learn to hate its villains. It’s an action movie about killing as many Nazis as possible. What more do you need?
There’s a confidence that permeates throughout the film since it knows why you’re there to see it and just focuses on delivering as strong of an experience as possible. In fact, Sisu even had a commercial where it just blatantly spoiled the end of the movie by confirming that the commando’s dog, who is with him when he discovers the gold, does in fact live in the end. Sure, one could interpret that as just being kind to those of us who like dogs and don’t want to watch them get hurt and the dog’s survival doesn’t have any relationship to the commando’s survival, but it’s still pretty ballsy to just state that in your marketing. Sisu knows that even if you know the end of the film, you’ll still see it.
Admittedly, the film really only has its action to support it. If you are someone who doesn’t care for violence and is looking for any other type of film, Sisu is not for you. Visually, the film spends most of its runtime showing us devastated and barren battlefields bathed in the color grey. Hardly any dialogue is spoken throughout the film, and what dialogue is spoken all reiterates the notion that this commando is a monster that cannot be stopped. Seeing the Nazis learn about the monster they’ve unleashed once is funny. Hearing that same exchange again multiple times becomes tedious. If the fight scenes were not as good as they are, then this film would be a relatively dull experience, but thankfully that isn’t the case. The film is a one-trick pony, but its trick is damned amazing.
Sisu is brutal as hell and fun as hell. If you’re someone who enjoys a good action movie, Sisu will leave you amazed at the violence that’s on display. It says a lot about the film when I have to stop and ask myself if the slaughter of Sisu is better than the copious amounts of gore and blood that’s present in Evil Dead Rise. Both films know how to entertain via bloodshed, but Sisu is able to turn its chaos into a cathartic joy. It’s a blast to watch our hero kill Nazis and if the film was any longer, it would probably wear out its welcome, much like how I felt with John Wick: Chapter 4. I don’t know what it is about 2023 frontloading the year with some stellar action flicks, but Sisu may just be the best of the bunch so far.