Don't go messing with a man's dog -- especially when the man in question is a hyper-lethal ex-assassin trying to enjoy a quiet retirement. Such is the moral of "John Wick," the new revenge thriller starring Keanu Reeves and directed by Chad Stahelski, a veteran stuntman making his directing debut.
Movie critics are hailing the film as a propulsive entertainment and a return to form for Reeves as an action star, even if it breaks more bones than new ground.
In a review for The Times, Robert Abele wrote, "As weaponized mayhem of the most disreputably electrifying kind, the sleek and eccentric revenge tale 'John Wick' jabs far above its weight class thanks to the panther physicality of 50-year-old headliner Keanu Reeves and a tightly pitched mix of humor and expertly choreographed hyper-violence. ... It's a B movie made with A-student love for the relentless thrill of bodies in brutal motion."
The San Francisco Chronicle's Michael Ordona said, "There are some performers you just enjoy watching kick butt," and yes, Reeves is among them. The actor's action skills "are on glorious display in 'John Wick,' an expertly made revenge drama in which he goes all headshot on lots and lots of bad guys, and it's awesome."
Also earning Ordona's praise are Stahelski and editor Elisabet Ronaldsdóttir (for eschewing rapid-fire cutting), cinematographer Jonathan Sela (for his "rich and color soaked" images) and writer Derek Kolstad (for his pithy script).
The Village Voice's Stephanie Zacharek agreed that "Reeves is wonderful here, a marvel of physicality and stern determination -- he moves with the grace of an old-school swashbuckler. That's partly because Reeves is just plain awesome and partly because 'John Wick' was made by people who understand action."
Zacharek added that "'John Wick' features the most beautifully choreographed action sequences I've seen in an American movie in years," and the violence "is so gorgeously staged that it brings back blissful memories of the John Woo Hong Kong extravaganzas of the 1990s. All that, and Keanu too."
Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty echoed Zacharek, writing that Reeves' "latest rock-'em, sock-'em mission of mayhem ... is not only a return to badass form for the actor, it's also one of the most excitingly visceral action flicks I've seen in ages."
Nashawaty continued: "'John Wick' could have easily been another disposable Hollywood knuckle-dragger. But you get the sense that the filmmakers -- and their revitalized leading man -- were aiming for something a little daffier, smarter, and more elusive."
The New York Times' Jeannette Catsoulis wrote, "Harboring few ambitions beyond knock-your-socks-off action sequences, this crafty revenge thriller delivers with so much style -- and even some wit -- that the lack of substance takes longer than it should to become problematic. Until then, we're content to tag along."
The film's execution -- pun intended? -- is "near flawless," Catsoulis said. In the end, "John's quest may be one-note, but that note could not be more perfectly pitched."
Alas, not every critic has been charmed by Reeves' quest for vengeance. Among them is USA Today's Claudia Puig, who said, "About 90 minutes into the non-stop bloodbath that is 'John Wick,' a Russian mobster begs the vengeful title character 'No more guns! No more bullets!' It's a plea that any sentient being watching the film might have made about an hour earlier."