Strangely excited to watch this movie.
John Wick, played with quiet, slow-burning grace by Keanu Reeves in what’s being billed as a comeback for the 50-year-old actor, is both. At the beginning of the film he seems like any Wall Street banker or startup whiz who has cashed out early to enjoy life with his wife, Helen (Bridget Moynahan, seen only in flashbacks and blurry iPhone clips). That’s until Helen dies of a serious but unspecified illness, leaving Wick all alone in his sleek, monochrome mansion as a living, breathing, sobbing manifestation of Sad Keanu.
In one of the most emotionally manipulative plot devices ever seen on film, the doorbell rings, and he takes delivery of a puppy, a canis ex machina, ordered by Helen before she died to give Wick something to love. The bond is instantaneous: The adorable dog and the handsome man eat cereal together, and snuggle up in bed, and drive around in a killer 1969 Mustang—sometimes breaking into what looks like an airport to do doughnuts and handbrake turns in front of gas tankers—and for a fleeting moment it seems like the movie might have the makings of an existential buddy comedy. Only a thug, Iosef (Alfie Allen), who’s eyed Wick’s car in a gas station, breaks into his house with a handful of friends late at night, beats up Wick, steals the car, and kills the puppy.
This is 2014 in immature, animal-worshiping, Cute Emergency-retweeting America. You come at a puppy, you best not miss its owner, whose mystique as one of the most ruthless killers ever to wear Kevlar is quickly established in the following exchange between the owner of a chop shop (John Leguizamo) and Iosef’s father, Russian crime lord Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist):
Viggo: I heard you struck my son. May I ask why?
Aureilo: Because he stole John Wick’s car and killed his dog.
Iosef doesn’t just kill John Wick’s dog, as Wick expresses in possibly the fiercest monologue Reeves has ever delivered: He kills his hope, and in doing so, unleashes the full fury of a now footloose and fancy-free angel of death. John Wick kills, by my count, 78 people in the movie’s 93 minutes, and he doesn’t just kill them, he toys with them first like a cat with a mouse, delivering a stray bullet in the shoulder or a kick to the kneecap before offing his targets with two shots to the head, assassination-style. The movie’s tagline is “Don’t Set Him Off,” but it really should be “This Idiot Killed My Puppy and Now Everyone Must Die.”