I was pleasantly surprised by this one. On a whim I rented this on iTunes, and was treated to a good action film. No shaky camera ’cause I don’t know how to choreograph a fight scene BS; the fight scenes are beautifully done and feature a nice combination of jiujitsu and gun fu that is fluid, but looks real and plausible. The characters get hurt.

The basic premise: John Wick was a bad ass hitman, Baba Yaga or “the Bogeyman” for an up-and-coming Russian gang led by Vigo Tarasov. He met a woman, did an “impossible job” for Vigo, who let him retire. He married his love, but she apparently had cancer or some similar long-term fatal illness. He’s wrecked by the loss, but his wife sent him a last gift — a puppy for him to grieve with and survive the loss. We get all this is a beautifully done montage that on par with that first five minutes of Up! We get the backstory, we meet his friend Marcus — another hitter still in the game — and learn a lot about Wick by showing, not telling. It’s a brilliant bit of character definition, and its spare. Keanu Reeves even busts his ass in this one acting.

He runs into Vigo son, Iosef, who he doesn’t know (the one strange bit…he didn’t recognize him?) at a gas station and the creepy little gangster wants to buy his ’69 Mustang. Wick says no, Iosef takes umbrage, and later that night, he and his friends tune up Wick, steal his car, and kill his dog…that last gift from his wife.

It is, as they say, on.

Michael Nyquist, the superb actor from teh original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is Vigo, and he is the onyl “reasonable” man in the film. He’s a gangster, he’s violent, but he does attempt to head off the bloodbath, then to contain the damage. He obviously respects and fears Wick, and even resents his son for creating the situation.

What follows is the typical revenge flick except for the fantastic worldbuilding. All the criminal element he deals with are, for lack of a better term, the aristocrats of the assassin world. They pay for their hotels, services (like the “cleaner” played by David Patrick Kelley…you remember him, Arnie “let him go” in Commando.), their high-end speakeasy. There are rules — you don’t do business on the ground of “the Continental Hotel”, where the world’s elite hitmen and -women hang out. Everyone knows him; everyone wonders if “he’s back”.  There’s a nice bit of subculture created.

The movie is slick, looks great, the fight sequences are superbly done, and there’s a surprising bit of heart to the movie.

It’s not in the movies anymore, but it’s a definite buy or rent.