8.5 out of 10
Keanu Reeves – John Wick
Directed by Chad Stahelski
For action movie fans, the John Wick films are a dream come true. They have some of the best fight choreography since the heyday of the great Hong Kong shoot-em-ups like Hard Boiled or Full Contact elegant cinematography, and no-nonsense efficient characters and plot that propel everything forward without getting bogged down too much in details. I was in the first audience for John Wick when it premiered at Fantastic Fest in 2014, and the feeling in the air during that screening was electric. There was definitely something special happening, and if word of mouth out of that festival screening hadn’t been stellar, John Wick might have faded away and Keanu Reeves might have been delegated to straight-to-video work. Fortunately for all of us, John Wick took off, and these movies have been a pleasure to witness.
The mythology of the John Wick films, from the Continental to the mysterious origins of the crime world he inhabits, was merely an appetizer in the first film, which for all its style and elegance was still your good old fashioned revenge film. The second film expanded on that world, introducing us to the enigmatic High Table, Lawrence Fishburne’s Bowery King, and a deeper dive into the rules of this underground criminal honor society. That world now takes center stage in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, and while writers and director manage to keep everything moving at a rapid pace, one can’t help but appreciate the stripped down nature of the original, when all this worldbuilding played second stage. In this film, the meticulous house of cards keeps threatening to fall over, and any subsequent sequels (of which there will surely be) should be wary of overwhelming us with too many details.
That is a minor nitpick, especially since the action is so fun; every sequence differentiates itself from the others and while some are full of cold brutality, others are thrilling, and still others are laugh-out-loud insane. In fact, this may be the funniest film of the series so far; Keanu Reeves even lets off a joke or two (but never negating the stoic nature of the character), and everyone seems genuinely thrilled to be there and to play in this world. Lawrence Fishburne’s Bowery King seems especially gleeful taking part in all this bloodshed. Halle Berry’s Sofia and her two-German-Shepherds-and-a-pistol combo gives us some great dog attack moments; her scenes are a twisted Disney animal movie I had no idea I wanted to see. These movies keep upping the ante, and I’m pleased to see films like this, and Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and Mad Max: Fury Road use action as storytelling in a way that a lot of modern tentpole films ignore. John Wick: Chapter 3 seems to be taking the filmmaking lessons of many great Asian action films, from 1990s Hong Kong cinema to more recent films like The Raid and The Night Comes For Us, to heart. This is a bloody ballet, a beautiful massacre, and if you’re a fan of great action movies, John Wick: Chapter 3 will certainly satisfy.
When we last saw John Wick (Keanu Reeves), he was declared excommunicado by Winston (Ian McShane) the manager of the New York Continental, after Wick committed the cardinal sin of killing on the hotel grounds. Beginning a few minutes later, Wick desperately tries to find sanctuary before his $14 million bounty kicks on and every hitman, criminal lackey, and henchman in the world attempts to collect. While Wick fights for his life, The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) of the High Table, the vast criminal organization that runs the world, is seeking answers to why Wick was allowed to live after killing one of their own in the first place. If Wick is allowed to live, it upends everything that has been built in this underworld so far. Wick must die, and those who aid him must also suffer the consequences of their actions.
Keanu Reeves really is one of the great action stars of our generation. The reason for that is simple – he lets everyone have their moment. If it’s not Mark Dacascos as a star-struck assassin for the High Table, it’s action maestros like Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman from The Raid films just showing off their amazing fighting techniques for audiences to discover. You have to remember that Reeves is also an action director (see his underrated Man of Tai Chi from a few years back – Reeves has a deep admiration for martial arts cinema) and he uses that skillset in his performance, and he and director Chad Stahelski are great collaborators when it comes to impressive action choreography. The camerawork is exquisite; no jump cuts or shakycam here. We see exactly where everyone is and how each action beat plays out. The teams of stunt players involved do exemplary work, and it must be reiterated – the Oscars need to award this kind of dedication and spirit; if for nothing else, so that other filmmakers can at least try to meet the challenge laid down here.
Without spoiling, the ending of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum sets the groundwork for more of these movies; with a television series in the works, we are likely not done with the world of the Continental for some time, and that’s fine with me. While I worry that any subsequent films will get lost in the weeds of the world they’ve created, they haven’t yet. If I were to rank by personal preference John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum in the movies we’ve gotten so far, it’s better than the first film but I can’t quite place it above the second one. That’s merely personal preference though. As a whole, this series is far better than any of us expected it to be, and if it takes seeing Keanu Reeves taking out cadres of ninjas with his walker to get this story told, I’m down. For now, there are very few action series that satisfy on this level, and action fans are blessed with such an abundance of riches with these movies. Whatever happens next, I cannot wait. In the meantime, enjoy the John Wick franchise, but be warned – the first three rows will get wet.