Dog lovers and fans of the beyond-understated charisma of Keanu Reeves have a tough choice when it comes to John Wick. Those who count themselves among the former should know that the Cutest Beagle EVER gets offed — off-screen, but still — in the first 20 minutes. That's not my favorite kind of plot device, even as a truly justifiable reason for a movie hero to smoke a bunch of Russian baddies. But at least director-producer team Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, in their feature debut, make that dog's death matter: His spirit haunts the movie, and it gets Reeves's former hitman Wick back in the game. If a cretin mobster killed your dog, you'd put on a dark, sexy, three-piece suit and wreak revenge too.
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: Leitch and Stahelski have been working for years as stuntmen, and John Wick features the most beautifully choreographed action sequences I've seen in an American movie in years. None of that Expendables-style muddy camera work and ADD-sous-chef editing here. The violence in John Wick -- often sick as hell, and funny too -- 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. You'll miss that beagle. But at least his character didn't die for naught.