Sometimes the best kind of movie is the one that seemingly comes out of nowhere to surprise you. That’s exactly what happened to me with John Wick. I went in with fairly low expectations, expecting it to be a middle-of-the-road action movie. I’m also not a huge fan of Keanu Reeves, so I really wasn’t expecting to get much out of this one. But the film completely snuck up on me and blew away my expectations. John Wick isn’t just good, it’s great. The action is sure to be some of the best you’ve seen in a while and Reeves is legitimately awesome in the title role. It almost feels like the filmmakers knew that people wouldn’t expect it to be good, so they did everything in their power to prove them wrong. When the end credits started rolling, I felt like I had been punched in the gut by the quality of the film.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is still grieving the death of his wife when he receives a package in the mail. The package turns out to be a small puppy, sent to him by his wife before she passed. With the package is a note, in which she explains that the dog is to help John grieve and eventually give him something new to love. However, he’s not able to love the dog for long because it’s killed by an intruder (Alfie Allen), who also steals John’s car. The intruder turns out to be a member of a crime organization, with his father (Michael Nyqvist) at the helm. But when his father learns that his son has attacked John Wick, he knows that his son has made a huge mistake. Turns out John used to be a key member of their organization and was regarded as one of the best hitmen around before he decided to retire. Now, John has decided to come out of retirement to get revenge on everybody who’s done him wrong. He’s got nothing left to lose.

Don’t let the deceptively slow opening fool you; once the action kicks in, there’s no escape from it. Each action sequence feels unique and they never begin to feel repetitive. From a raid on John’s home, to an extended shootout and chase through a nightclub/spa, to a final battle on a city’s pier, all the action makes sense and feels on point. Directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski avoid the intense shaky camerawork that plagues many modern action flicks and choose to shoot the scenes in the smoothest and most controlled way possible. Not only does this allow the audience to easily understand what is happening throughout the chaos, it also shows that these first time directors have a lot of skill between them. Because these scenes are well directed and edited, Leitch and Stahelski are able to work in some very funny dry humor amidst the action. A moment when John shoots an adversary and stops to casually reload his weapon before finishing the job is downplayed, humorous and exhilarating.

But perhaps what’s most surprising about the film is Keanu Reeves. In recent years, Reeves has developed the reputation of a bad actor. He hasn’t had a huge hit since The Matrix and most of his performances are pretty one-note. Thankfully, he stepped up his game this time around; as John Wick, Reeves is the ultimate badass, a man with an extreme set of skills who won’t let anything get in the way of his mission. It’s definitely one of his best performances and I was honestly surprised at how much I liked him in this film. John Wick may not have many dimensions to him, but he’s always an interesting character. He’s outnumbered in practically every situation that he’s put in, but he’s built up as such an unstoppable force that it makes sense that he would be able to take on dozens of henchmen at once.

The titular character doesn’t feel like he’s trying to be Jason Bourne or James Bond; he’s his own action star and this film proves it. The plot is refreshingly simple and never overcomplicates things, allowing the action and style to take center stage. The criminal organization on display here is also very interesting; their set of rules, their method of currency and the crew that they use to clean up messes feel unique to the film and are something that I haven’t seen before. The blue palate cinematography by Jonathan Sela and the score by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard also help to distinguish the film from other modern action movies. John Wick is probably not aspiring to be high art; but as an action movie, it can’t be stopped.

John Wick receives 3.5/4

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