An especially cute floppy-eared beagle is killed within the first 20 minutes of this action throwback and, for all the body blows still to come, nothing hurts us as 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, channeling the euphoric whoa of yore) is a recent widower and secret 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, the rifles, the mysterious gold coins, as Game of Thrones' hapless Alfie Allen (forever destined to be a picked-upon target) finds himself pursued by a ruthless, legendary killing machine that every other character seems wise enough to fear.
Let's not go overboard: John Wick feels like action manna for its cleanly designed gun-fu 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 codirectors, veteran stunt experts, have designed the movie within 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 will do for an escape watch with a rabid crowd; don't go in expecting poetry.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
Cast and crew