You… you’re still here? Did you not want to watch Keanu Reeves beat the living shit out of an endless queue of bad guys, racking up a body count in a revenge fantasy action flick that makes Taken look like Frozen?
Oh, that. You’ve seen one of the more laughable trailers (i.e., “They killed the dog my dead wife gave me...”) and thought it sounded like some sort of joke you’d rather not spend $10 to be the butt of. Like you, my friend, those ads left me with zero desire to see John Wick; I assumed this would be yet another "meh" addition to Keanu's résumé. But, interestingly enough, as silly as the premise seems in chopped and condensed 90-second preview format, when said dog actually does get the boot, it’s a lump-in-your-throat-making punch to the puppy-loving heart, and you’ll be in nodding in eager agreement with the ensuing bone-breaking rampage that follows Wick burying his furry friend.
Growing up on a diet of violent video games, I’ve witnessed some pretty horrific, hilarious and horrific/hilarious scenes of staged savagery, but John Wick still finds ways to shock. It’s not that it's especially gory (though, there are a couple gross bits of brain-splatter and blood that will remind you this is definitely R-rated material) but because it feels so raw. Combatants struggle to strangle and stab as they wrestle in battles that rarely end in a clean neck twist. And even when they do, Wick makes sure the deed is done with a bullet between the eyes. The real reason it all works so well is that the close-quarters combat that makes up the bulk of the action is kept in the frame so clearly. Forget the fast cuts of hard-to-follow hand-to-hand showdowns in the Bourne movies and imagine instead a 100-minute film filled with fight scenes like the gorgeous, stationary shot of that choreographed dance between silhouetted Bond and an assassin in Skyfall — then crank up the brutality.
Directed by a pair of stuntmen Keanu met while doing the Matrix movies, John Wick is largely an excuse to move from one skirmish-filled set piece to the next, and it thankfully wastes little time on backstory, dialog or anything that will require much acting from Keanu. This laser-sight focus on action delivers a one-two barrage of badass moment after badass moment, with a few laugh-out-loud bits sprinkled in to break the teeth-gritting tension and let you catch your breath. It’s a series of adrenaline rushes reminiscent of the “it’s about to go down” giddiness Keanu conjured in his glory days in moment's like Neo’s “We need guns. Lots of guns.”
The shots are dark and skew blue with massive amounts of machismo packed into each frame. When he’s not busting skulls, Keanu looks like he’s stepped out of a cologne ad — in a monotone three-piece suit behind the wheel of a classic muscle car in a fog of man so thick you could choke on it. At any given moment, it seems there’s a stubbled man swirling around a fancy tumbler filled with one dark spirit or another. On the other side of the manliness coin is the unfortunate source of Wick’s rage, a weasel-eyed Russian gangster played by the expertly hatable Alfie Allen, Games of Thrones’ poor prick-less Theon/Reek (and real-life brother of Lily Allen), a mobster's bratty kid who screwed with the wrong dude's dog.
John Wick isn't for everyone. People uncomfortable with theatrical violence should definitely steer clear. But if action is what you seek, John Wick delivers a ballet of brutality bound to make it either a cult classic after it bleeds out in theaters or be the first sign of an impending Keanu renaissance (Keanu-ssance?).