john wick reviewLast month, we attended Fantastic Fest, a film festival held in Austin, Texas, that is, to use a scientific term, totallybonkers. It's a place where new and incredibly weird genre movies play and are instantly eaten up (or harshly rejected) by geeky audiences. It's the kind of film festival that celebrates movies that contain (among other things) fountains of blood, animal cruelty, and full-frontal nudity. And it's where "John Wick" premiered.

And even though "John Wick" is a fairly mainstream affair by Fantastic Fest standards (it's American, features a movie star, and doesn't have a single weird Japanese ghost), it was one of the movies that everybody was talking about. (They had to squeeze in additional screenings to accommodate feverishly nerdy demand.) So, get ready America, "John Wick" is coming for you.

Keanu Reeves plays the titular character, a former assassin whose wife has recently succumbed to cancer and who now focuses all of his attention on the puppy she left behind for him. When a bunch of deranged goons breaks into his house and do something dastardly to the dog, John Wick returns to his life of murdering lots and lots of people.

But does the movie deliver the goods or is it lacking in ammo? Read our "John Wick" review to find out!

1. 'John Wick' Is Seriously Awesome
First of all, you should know that "John Wick" is awesome, in a big way. The Fantastic Fest screening wasn't just a case of "ooh, we're at a film festival and having so much fun," because that does happen. (There's a kind of halo effect. I'm looking into the exact physiological basis of all of this. Booze probably has something to do with it.) The movie screened for us at around 8 a.m. (seriously) and surrounded by a small smattering of fellow critics and three bean-and-cheese tacos picked up from a nearby Taco Cabana, it was still more fun than six Super Bowls. Quite frankly, seeing this thing with a packed audience over opening weekend is probably going to be the highlight of your month.

2. Keanu Rocks
At this point, it's safe to call Keanu Reeves an action movie legend. Between "Point Break," "The Matrix" movies and his wonderful, woefully underrated directorial debut "The Man of Tai Chi," he's got the chops. And in "John Wick" he's never been better. His age (he's 50!) has given him some heft and nuance and he moves in an awesomely balletic way. He dances around the bullets and kills people with aplomb. He's also super charming and dangerous and intense. Quite frankly, if a federal law was passed down that Keanu Reeves had to appear in every single movie ever made, we'd back that law with all that we've got.

3. It Takes Place in a Crazy Stylized Realm
One of the more surprising aspects of "John Wick" is the fact that it's super weird and takes place in a fancifully mythological realm where criminal activity is paid for in gold coins that look like doubloons from a sunken pirate ship, people come and clean up bodies if you dial the right phone number, and criminals stay in an underworld hotel exclusively for those living outside the law. There's more "world building" and stylization than most of the superhero movies that you see these days, and unlike those movies, you actually want to see the further adventures of the characters in "John Wick."

4. There's a Marilyn Manson Song on the Soundtrack
When was the last time you thought about Marilyn Manson? Oh, really, that long? Well you know who has thought about Marilyn Manson? John Wick. So maybe you should too.

5. The Action Is Spectacular
The directors of "John Wick" are David Leitch and Chat Stahelski, two guys with an extensive background in stunt work and who are making their feature debut with this film. Quite frankly, their earlier career experience shows itself in every frame of "John Wick." Not that it's that the action sequences are exclusively spectacular; most of the movie is totally on-point (even the scenes where two human beings are talking to one another). But the movie really comes alive during the action sequences, which are vibrant and unique and shot in the way that action movies used to be filmed, with wide-angle lenses and fluid camerawork. It's the exact opposite of most of the action movies you see these days, with shaky camerawork and quick cutting. Like everything else about "John Wick," the action sequences pop and sizzle.

6. It's Insanely Violent
Also, unlike most action movies made these days, "John Wick" is rated R. So that means that there is lots and lots of blood. That's pretty cool. And it's not as ugly or unpleasant as the violence in similarly R-rated action movies that have recently come out "The Equalizer" and "Fury." There's something cathartic and fun about the violence in "John Wick." And that's pretty great.

7. Don't Worry, the Puppy Moment Is Relatively Brief
If you're worried about the fact that I mentioned something devious happening to a puppy in the introduction to this review... Don't... It's relatively brief and over in the first part of the movie. It also mostly takes place off-camera. So it is over before it begins. And the John Wick-is-a-killing-machine business gets underway. Yay!

8. Michael Nyqvist Is a Much Better Villain This Time Around
"Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol" is one of my favorite movies ever. But if there's a weak link in the movie it's Michael Nyqvist, who played the movie's ideologue bad guy hellbent on nuclear annihilation as an instigator for world peace. What a snooze! But in "John Wick" he plays an evil Russian gangster and he's totally colorful and over-the-top. It's great. Why he couldn't bring that kind of heat to "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol" is something that I'll probably ponder until the day I die.

9. Willem Dafoe Is Fun
Willem Dafoe is having a ball in "John Wick." That's pretty much it. He doesn't bother trying to be intense or brooding. It's like we're watching Dafoe take a vacation. On screen. Imagine that.

10. You'll Want to Watch a Sequel the Second It's Over
Unlike most of these big Hollywood confections, "John Wick," a film cobbled together independently and released by Lionsgate, feels more like a legitimate franchise-starter. And more than that -- it's a franchise that you'll actually want to watch. If someone had entered that ungodly early screening, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, "Sir, 'John Wick 2' will screen immediately after 'John Wick' is over," I would be over the moon. But I'd probably need more tacos.

"John Wick" hits theaters everywhere Friday, October 24.

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John Wick
Based on 39 critics

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