There have been so many awful revenge thrillers lately that we've almost forgotten that it's possible to make a good one, and this is a rare example of striking the right balance of exhilarating action and dark emotion. Yes, there's a high body count, but this isn't a mow-them-down romp: there's a real sense of pain at all of the senseless bloodshed caused by one idiot's inability to conceive that his actions might have repercussions.
The film also gives Keanu Reeves yet another chance to cleverly reinvent himself on-screen as John Wick, a still-feared former mob hitman who left his job to have a happy life with his wife (Bridget Moynahan). But her untimely illness and death have left him a broken man. His only glimmer of hope is her deathbed gift of an adorable puppy to keep him company. Then even this is taken from him, when cocky Russian thug Iosef (Alfie Allen) steals his vintage Mustang and kills the puppy. In need of closure, John resurrects his past, which is a problem because his ex-boss Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) is Iosef's dad, and he knows that John is unstoppable. So Viggo reluctantly offers a massive bounty on John's head, taken up by John's former fellow assassin pals (Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki). But it's doubtful that anyone can stop the legendary John Wick from bringing down the entire Russian mafia.
Intriguingly, everyone in the film knows this legend except the dim-witted moron Iosef, who blithely keeps on carousing while everyone around him prepares for Armageddon. Writer Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski set the story in a fantastical criminal underworld that uses solid gold coins as currency in shimmering underground nightclubs, lavish spas and a mob hotel in which "business" is strictly prohibited. All of this is fiendishly inventive, with a striking visual atmosphere and an even stronger moody tone. At the centre, Reeves gives John a jagged sense of humour as he braces himself wearily for the inevitable carnage, all while trying to control his much deeper emotional pain.
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Barney (Stallone) and his team of ageing mercenaries are coerced by Church (Willis) into heading into hostile territory to retrieve a top secret electronic gadget. Most shocking is the fact that Church insists that a woman, Maggie (Yu), joins them. And when things go wrong, Barney leads the gang on a grisly revenge mission against a nasty villain (Van Damme) who's callously putting humanity in peril. Along the way they're joined by Church and Trench (Schwarzenegger), and get help from lone-wolf Booker (Norris).
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