When Keanu Reeves fires bullets through skulls in John Wick, something he does with great frequency, it is a thing of beauty. He moves with the precision of a surgeon, the grace of a ballerina, and the viciousness of a guy who just really likes shooting people in the head. It’s like Equilibrium’s Gun Kata nonsense except you don’t have to feel a little goofy liking it.
Let’s say John Wick were just a movie where Keanu Reeves looks really cool while shooting people in the head but nothing else succeeds. That would probably still work for me because I’m just the kind of idiot who greatly enjoys stuff like that at the cost of everything else. But John Wick doesn’t have that limitation. Its performances, pacing, plot, and (especially) world building all point to a movie of high enough caliber that it should be enjoyed by all people who enjoy watching other people get shot in the head.
It takes a while for John Wick to reveal itself as the total ass-kicking behemoth it ends up being. As far as we know, poor John Wick is just a fancy guy who loses his wife to illness. Then he receives a dog from her, a planned gift from beyond the grave, that brings him back to life a little bit. Then some assholes kill that dog and steal his car. One of them is the son of a big mob boss. When he learns what his child did, he offers us one of the most satisfying “oh”s in movie history. He knows, and by his reaction we know, shit is about to get fucked up. Because John Wick is a well known fan of and expert at shooting people in the head. Like, a lot of people can shoot other people in the head, but Wick makes it look like he’s been doing it since before puberty.
Once John Wick starts shooting people in the head, he reenters an endlessly surprising and pulpy world of assassins. They have their own hotel, their own rules, they even have their own weird currency. The film reveals this stuff to us quietly, giving the audience just enough to fill in the blanks themselves. It lends even the non-head shooting scenes a fun sense of discovery and originality.
John Wick is king of this world, and his reputation as a primal head-shooter, established long before the film begins, makes him extremely terrifying both to his enemies and allies. This kind of thing is always a good tactic for giving a main action character a lot of substance in a short amount of time. John Wick does this as well as if not better than any action film I can currently recall.
There are plenty of other great elements I could bring up with this movie, but they’re not really necessary to discuss. The primary thing everyone needs to know is that it’s an amazing action film that spends a nice amount of time winding up its main character so it can unleash him as a whirlwind of destruction for pretty much the next two acts. Keanu Reeves gives one of his most physically precise action performances ever. His emotional performance is top notch as well. There’s one bit in particular where he really just loses his shit, and you kind of want to stand up and cheer.
Actually, you’ll probably want to do that a lot. I certainly did. Even knowing ahead of time that the movie was supposed to be really great, it still blew my brains all over the wall.