'John Wick': What the Critics Are Saying

Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe and John Leguizamo star in the revenge thriller from 'Matrix' stunt masters David Leitch and Chad Stahelski in their directorial debut

John Wick, out Friday, follows Keanu Reeves as a retired assassin who gets pulled back into the trade. The revenge thriller puts the star back in action with Matrix trilogy stunt masters David Leitch and Chad Stahelski in their directorial debut, also starring John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe, Alfie AllenMichael Nyqvist, Adrianne Palicki and Bridget Moynahan.

The Lionsgate release is expected to open to a muted $7 million to $8 million, though it could overperform thanks to its reviews and a berth in Imax theaters.

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Read what top critics are saying about John Wick:

The Hollywood Reporter's Justin Lowe notes that "after a marked absence from the genre, Reeves resoundingly returns with an effortless, kinetic style that positions the film extremely well for any potential follow-ups. ... He’s in excellent form throughout the film, whether battling his way through imaginatively staged fight sequences or handling an impressive array of firearms and lethal blades." Directors Stahelski and Leitch "expertly deliver one action highlight after another in a near-nonstop thrill ride. With a tendency to favor skillfully framed master shots over quick cuts from multiple angles, he immerses viewers in dynamic onscreen clashes that recall John Woo’s classic bullet ballets with an overlay of emotional intensity."

Of the rest of the cast, "Nyqvist may be the more persuasive one with the turn of a phrase," and "although Allen doesn’t get much opportunity to develop Iosef beyond a simpering, spoiled brat and Palicki’s stone-cold killer would have benefited from a more central role, those shortcomings seem incidental in a movie where caricatures are almost more important than characters." Additionally, "Derek Kolstad’s admirably lean script propels the film’s galvanizing action with only the barest narrative essentials," and "cinematographer Jonathan Sela bathes even daytime scenes in grim gray shadows and expressive blue hues that are sometimes broodingly dense even in Imax format, further enhanced by Elisabet Ronalds’ focused editing."

The New York Times' Jeannette Catsoulis says, "Brilliant in its simplicity, the setup of John Wick, like the rest of the movie, passes swiftly and efficiently. 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 as John, revealed as the ne plus ultra of former assassins, comes out of retirement and into the cross hairs." The direction "wisely capitalizes on their experience and skills" and the fight scenes "are fluidly coherent." Reeves "costumed in an indestructible three-piece suit, [is] the perfect locus for the film’s hyper-real savagery, the drain that everyone will eventually circle."

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Los Angeles Times' Robert Abele calls it "a B movie made with A-student love for the relentless thrill of bodies in brutal motion." Along with "elegant pulp-urban production design and lip-smacking, friend-or-foe character turns" from the supporting cast, Reeves "is dialed in to his own particular set of skills here. He executes the movie's delirious close-quarters combat sequences — flips, chokeholds, knifings and head shots — like a forgotten man on fire: If anyone deserves a Liam Neeson-like tough guy renaissance, it's this scruffier, more charmingly stoic version of the once-awkwardly robotic star."

The Washington Post's Stephanie Merry writes, "Action abounds, of course, and Leitch and Stahelski capture it well, opting for wider shots rather than the kinetic, confusing quick cutting that’s in fashion. ... [But] some of the hand-to-hand combat has obviously been sped up during the editing process, and the result looks distractingly fake." Altogether, "brawls that are exciting in the beginning become dull as each sequence attempts to outdo the last. But John Wick has a more interesting story and better fights than most, not to mention, if too briefly, a puppy."

USA Today's Claudia Puig gives it 1½ stars: "John Wick adds little to the revenge thriller genre, save for a few stylish shots. The first couple times we see a clever camera angle it's mildly impressive. When the same shot is repeated monotonously throughout the film it's one of many irritating aspects of this stupefyingly violent film. ... [It] serves up a noxious, clashing blend of hyper-realistic and cartoonish violence."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee