An especially cute floppy-eared beagle is killed during the first 20 minutes of this action throwback, and, for all the body blows still to come, nothing hurts so much. Maybe that’s as it should be: no one in this movie is as innocent as that pooch, certainly not its owner.
John Wick (Keanu Reeves, channelling the euphoric whoa! of yore) is a recent widower and retired assassin whose final gift from his cancer-stricken wife is snuffed out with a sad little yelp during a brutal home invasion by Russian thugs. Wick recovers in record time, then out come the guns and mysterious gold coins, as ‘Game of Thrones’ star Alfie Allen, with a Russkie accent, finds himself pursued by a ruthless killing machine that every other character seems wise enough to fear.
Let’s not go overboard. ‘John Wick’ is manna for action fans thanks to its cleanly designed shoot-em-up sequences – ones you can actually follow– and brutal takedowns.
But the revenge plotting is deeply dopey and we shouldn’t have to choose one or the other.
The film’s co-directors, veteran stunt experts, have designed the movie with an eye for impact, and there’s an elegant sparseness here that’s thrilling. Reeves takes residence in some kind of swanky boutique hotel that caters to criminals – it’s the only bit of wit in Derek Kolstad’s generic script. ‘John Wick’ works as escapism. Just don’t go in expecting poetry.