john wick posterI swear that the very existence of John Wick is Keanu Reeves slyly trolling an audience that has for years criticized him with “whoa” memes by drafting a film designed solely to make the audience yell “whoa” several times in return. The stunts, action, and competent camera work displayed in Wick is excellent and a welcome throwback to a time before CG excess overran genre action films with ludicrous plasticity and fantastical feats of gravity defying derring-do unbecoming of a Mighty Mouse short.

Reeves plays John Wick, a legendary ex-hitman, known as the “Boogeyman,” grieving the recent loss of his wife (Bridget Moynahan). When the arrogant son (Games of Thrones’ Alfie Allen) of a powerful boss (Michael Nyqvist) inadvertently targets Wick by stealing his precious car and murdering his puppy, a final gift from his wife, Wick goes on a rampage, tearing down everyone that stands in his way and proving that he isn’t just a boogeyman – he’s a killer of boogeymen…

John Wick
…or the killer of puppy killers.

On paper, Wick‘s plot seems rather humdrum and cliche but what follows is a refreshingly old-style action film with real stunts, nary an artificial special effect in sight, and a confident approach that doesn’t need to rely on over-stylized camera tricks and hyperkinetic jump cuts to falsely enhance intensity.

Say what you will about Reeves, but any arguable limitation in range is made up for in sheer authenticity and dedication. There’s hardly an action beat in the film where you figure he’s sitting back in a chair while the stuntmen take over. On the contrary, Reeves is front and center throughout John Wick, imbuing the film with a sincere credibility that is a rarity outside of an 80’s Jackie Chan film, perfectly tapping in to the genuine thrills that have been lost to the recent PG-13 crowd.

You won’t find cars here flying through rooftops like they’re motor vehicle cousins of Tinker Bell; rather, the action is far more down-to-earth yet far from sedate. One highlight in particular, a nightclub showdown, is as intense and jaw-dropping an action scene as you will find in the decade so far, striking the perfect tone of unrelenting mayhem without falling victim to a dragged out barrage of shaky-cam madness and obvious wire work.

Although Wick features an impressive all-star cast, they all fall backseat to Reeves’ merciless campaign, serving mostly to world-build, add further impetus, and provide some decent comic relief. Michael Nyqvist, however, is a particular stand-out as the well-rounded, foul-mouthed villain, a distinct step up from his underutilized potential in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

Despite a few odd narrative flashbacks and flash-forwards – particularly an unnecessary book-ending device – John Wick is a welcome surprise. If there was one word I could use to sum it up, it would naturally have to be this:

Whoa indeed.

John Wick (2014)

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