reibureibu’s review published on Letterboxd:
Nice to revisit where it all starts. I won't lie, in many ways the first film is rough around the edges that the sequels quickly sand off but there is a certain charm to its general self-seriousness which gets lost later on; John here feels the most his own character, a man of few words yes but the personality and motivations are undeniably felt and the action that speaks for his (lack of) words is all easily understood because the film makes sure we understand the man before we understand him as a myth.
Adding to the charm is an odd sense of 'coziness' to the film, like everyone knows each other but before the sequels ramp things up to eleven in stakes. In keeping it to this level every character feels mortal and said intimacy makes sense, it's a secret society that must conduct its business in the cover of night and so every relationship shown feels not just natural but necessary: this is a macro-organism which depends on the smooth functioning of each individual cell to survive and so loyalty mutually benefits while knight-errants endanger all. Admittedly the choreography is pretty basic and the editing isn't stellar but I similarly appreciate how there is never a single fight that overstays its welcome and every bullet feels fatal. Death is swift and everything could be over in the blink of an eye; something the sequels seem to forget.
Ultimately there is a certain "proof of concept" that hangs over the film but it's easily forgiven given how unique the concept is and how much this and the ensuing franchise (no matter what one's personal opinions are) truly revitalizes the American actioner. Seminal.