John Wick (2014) — Never kill a hitman’s puppy

“You stole my car, and you killed my dog!”

Justin’s rating: Excuse me, Keanu, but could you kill a little faster there? I have places to go today.

Justin’s review: In the past decade, there definitely seems to be a spate of action movies starring men past what we would typically think of as their prime. We had Liam Neeson roaring through Taken in his late 50s, Sylvester Stallone stepping back into Rocky’s ring at 59, and Harrison Ford swinging through Crystal Skull when he was 64. I’m kind of heartened by seeing Men of An Age getting a second chance like this, although it does seem doubly unfair to the very few female action stars who get used up and tossed aside by the time they hit 40.

In any case, decades after Point Break and well after his Matrix days, Keanu Reeves stunned all of us in 2014 with his turn as lightning-fast assassin John Wick. But the story kind of molded itself well around his age, I thought, in that his character is already retired from that line of work and even had a wife before she passed away. Grieving, he finds solace in a puppy that she had arranged to send to him after her death. Puppies are good. Puppies are invincible because there’s this unwritten code of Hollywood that killing one is beyond the pale.

Well, in John Wick, the puppy gets puppinated by the easily offended son of some crime lord. And our boy John thinks that’s not an OK thing, so he does what comes naturally, which is to shoot enough people to completely fill up a decent-sized cemetery.

So what we have here is a pretty standard boilerplate revenge movie that far exceeds any expectations thanks to the likable charm of Reeves and the well-choreographed gun fu fight scenes. Incredibly good action scenes, I might add, where the camera stays put so that you can see all of the stunts from start to finish.

But what also takes it to the next level is that as John starts his methodical and comprehensive takedown of the crime syndicate, we’re introduced to this elaborately detailed world of contract assassins that he’s part of. Well, used to be part of and is now coming back to on a very limited basis. We’re talking Terminator-like quantities of firepower, people tossing around gold coins like quarters, secret sanctuaries, clean-up crews, and some quite unbreakable rules.

It also helps that this is one very well-acted and filmed movie. I loved, for instance, that the crime boss finds out early on what his son did to John and communicates so much with a single “oh” and a haunted facial expression that he knows exactly what storm is coming his way.

What struck me as significant in this second viewing is that before John Wick even kills person one in this movie, the filmmakers have established him as a legend in the underworld, a feared foe, and a well-liked guy — and then they spend the next hour-plus backing that up.

Nothing about John Wick is believable or plausible, but it is a wild ride from start to finish that’s a little smarter, a little funnier, and a little better than anyone anticipated.

Didja notice?

  • It always, always rains at these outdoor movie funerals. Otherwise they wouldn’t have a use for their umbrellas.
  • I’ll admit it, that’s one incredibly adorable doggy.
  • Like most of us, John Wick goes joy riding down airport runways to practice speed driving. Wait, you DON’T do this? You’re totally missing out.
  • This movie makes me want to buy a muscle car
  • I’m not pro-corpse, but I do like how tidy they’re cleaned up

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