John Wick

John Wick ★★★★

If movies were cheeseburgers (bear with me here) the way you'd order John Wick would be to go into a half-empty diner with a few hungover people sitting around giving you your personal space, and tell the waitress to double the ownage and hold the bullshit. Because that's exactly what John Wick is.

More specifically, John Wick is about Keanu playing the titular taciturn ex-underworld legend and recent widower who just wants to be left the fuck alone so he can shuffle around his gorgeous house with the adorable puppy his wife arranged to have delivered so he wouldn't be lonely. Alas, this is not to be: a chance encounter with a bratty Russian mob kid (Alfie "Theon Greyjoy" Allen) who wants Keanu's awesome muscle car -- and it is an awesome muscle car -- and makes the fatal mistake of breaking into Keanu's house with a couple dudes, beating the shit out of Keanu, and icing the puppy before making off with the car.

Of course, this is the point when Keanu unleashes ownage. But where lesser action pictures just start piling on contradictions and straight-up dumbassery with little consideration for anything than the color timing on the explosions, John Wick unfolds with elegant clarity, with precise attention to detail and confident, colorful world-building, drawing aesthetic influence in equal measure from action/crime movies and comic books; the lean, direct "send one of ours to the hospital, we send one of yours to the morgue" ethos of ownage cinema and the cheerful disregard for naturalistic reality that makes comics comics. And, in an alternate definition of the word, one of John Wick's greatest strengths is that, although not a comedy or even an action/comedy per se, it's a very funny movie. (It may, indeed, have the funniest one-syllable line reading of all time, that also provides about four pages worth of character exposition.)

That kind of efficiency and precision of design prevails throughout, particularly in how perfectly the movie is built around Keanu's strengths. He gets to quietly exist while the other actors brunch on scenery, and his particular skill set as an action star (not the fastest, not the flashiest, but gets the job done stylishly) is served by both the nature of his character -- older than he once was, but still fully capable of making a very messy example out of anyone dumb enough to step to him -- and the absolutely terrific action direction, by debut directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, both veteran stunt dudes. And, in the tradition hallowed by the legendary Hal Needham, the action sequences are chock full of cool ideas that look like they've been holding them in reserve for years, to wit "Man, when they let me direct one of these fuckin things, I'm gonna do THIS thing, and THIS thing, and if they give me a big enough effects budget to make it less life-threatening, I'm gonna do THIS." (This is why stunt people and practical FX people are the best: their *entire fucking jobs* revolve around ownage, with no other concerns whatsoever of even remotely equal weight.)

John Wick is like a Swiss watch that'll blow up your car, headshot fifteen of your dudes in a nightclub, earn the respect of Ian McShane (in a sublime performance as the fifth business), and thoroughly satisfy connoisseurs of the violent things in life. Long live Keanu, burner of realms.