For those who are unfamiliar, think of the John Wick franchise as Liam Neeson’s Taken, except jacked up on steroids and led by a 50-year-old who still looks and moves like a 35-year-old. The 30-odd-year-old character is an assassin by the name of John Wick (Keanu Reeves in his best role since The Matrix). Wick is a legend among his fellow assassins. They call him the Baba Yaga — The Boogeyman — and tell stories in hushed tones about the time where he killed a bunch of dudes with an effing pencil.
The John Wick franchise has done a nice job in establishing itself as one of the greatest action franchises of all time. Thus far, the movies have been balls to the wall bonkers, filled with adrenaline pumping, blood-soaked action sequences that set the bar for the action genre moving forward. I say all of that without a trickle of hyperbole. But what if I told you that the first movie is pretty much a character drama, next to the insanity that is John Wick: Chapter 3. It’s the kind of movie that pumps Red Bull and pre-workout directly into your veins as you sit there watching with your mouth agape, heart beating as fast as a double bass drum at the feet of Lars Ulrich. It’s mental, absolutely metal and a bloody great time at the movies.
Chapter 1 and 2 contain the character stuff and carry emotional weight. A quick recap: John chose to retire and marry the love of his life. His wife gets taken by an illness, but before her death, gifts him a puppy to help him cope with his grief. And he does. He spends a lot of time alone, drifting with his American Muscle and bonding with his dog. One day, a young thug and his friends break into his home, kill his dog and steal his car. They, of course, didn’t know of John Wick. Well, you can guess what happens next. John’s revenge on the thug (who happened to be the son of a mob boss) caused chaos, mayhem and a series of unfortunate events which brings us to the end of Chapter 2, where the higher-ups in the assassin community excommunicate him and place a bounty on his head.
In Chapter 3 director Chad Stahelski and his fellow screenwriters basically say: you already know the character and his motives, so now let’s get crazy… REAL CRAZY! Screenplay? What screenplay? There are hardly 20 lines of dialogue in the movie. Only action sequences. Loads and loads of action sequences. Fights in Arabian cities, fights in libraries, fights in glass chambers, fights in knife galleries, fights in horse stables, fights WHILE horseriding (at one point we see John hang off a stallion sideways and shoots a dude riding a motorcycle) and fights with Japanese Sushi Chefs who double as Samurai Ninjas.
In the final fight scene, the bad guys wear super armour (think Vibranium from the MCU), so when John shoots at them, they don’t die — they either get pushed back or fall down. It becomes sorta like a game, as John has to shoot a couple of guys down, quickly move towards another guy, shoot him down too and then shoot again under his helmet to kill him.
Later we get JOHN WICK vs MAD DOG (Indonesia’s Yayan Ruhian) from The Raid: Redemption is a knife battle. Yeah, you read that right.
But my favourite action block takes place in the middle of the movie. To the Game of Thrones fans who are frustrated with the treatment of the Direwolves in recent seasons, you’re in for a treat. There is an entire sequence where Sophia (Halle Berry’s most badass role ever), John Wick and TWO DOGS take on a continuous stream of thugs. While Sophia and John pump bullets through the chest of bad guys, the two dogs run around the vicinity ripping throats out. At one point one of the dogs leaps off Halle Berry’s back onto the roof and chews at a dude’s dick. It’s awesome! The choreography is out of this world.
I’ve always maintained that what makes a film great is not the story but the storytelling. And the storytelling here is brilliant. The action sequences have rhythm and tempo. You slowly feel the pulse of the fights increasing and intensifying, your heart rate with it until it climaxes in the most satisfying of manners. Stahelski was previously a stuntman and then second unit/stunt director before helming John Wick, his first feature film. So, the dude understands the craft of action-choreography. What’s mind-blowing is how he continuously ups his game from film to film to film.
But it isn’t just the choreography that makes these action sequences standout. It’s the photography too. The way the camera sways and glides gracefully in and around the choreography. For a brutal and ultra-violent film, it is also uniquely elegant and fluid. Just like its predecessors, John Wick: Chapter 3 is both slick and sleek, shot against neon colours and in the rain, simply because the director thought it would be bloody cool. And you know what? He’s right!
I also love the film because it’s surprisingly tongue-in-cheek. The main character is like a blizzard; a force of nature, quick, ruthless and unstoppable. He cannot be killed. You know for a fact that he will not die. The film addresses that in a funny yet very cool way. There is a scene where Ian McShane’s character is asked if John has a good chance of surviving, to which he replies something along the lines of: “14 million dollars bounty on his head and the whole city out to get him. I’d say the odds are about even.”
But what separates the John Wick franchise from your Equalizers and Takens is the world building. On top of crafting glorious action sequences, Chad Stahelski (David Leitch was part of the first movie too) and chief screenwriter Derek Kolstad have created a lived-in, fantastical yet grounded world that is utterly interesting. It’s a world that looks and sounds like ours, but one where secret international assassins roam the streets and lodge at luxury hotels where the grounds are sacred — no business (i.e killings) can be conducted in the Continental.
There are rules to follow, rules set by the High Table (think of them as the royalties of the assassin world). Transactions are made using gold coins that look like pirate doubloons. Chapter 3 expands the world even further. We meet a Russian mob boss, a stern but kind woman who has ties to John Wick’s origins. We also learn about tickets and blood pacts. And if you’d like to meet the king, you have to walk to the “end of the world”. The world building adds a layer of intrigue to what otherwise would’ve been a fairly straightforward action bonanza.
Lastly, I have to give a shoutout to the supporting cast (Ian McShane, Halle Berry, Lawrence Fishburne, Jerome Flynn [Bronn from Game of Thrones] and Yayan Ruhian). John Wick: Chapter 3 is a movie that wouldn’t have worked as effectively had a bunch of unknown been cast. On a screenplay level, there aren’t many, if any three-dimensional supporting characters. The dialogues are simple too. Every now and again, The action would stop so that characters can say stuff like “no you won’t” or “I am of service” before it gets back to the ass whooping and bones breaking. The cool and familiar faces who carry with them a ton of charisma add legitimacy to the absolute nonsense (compliment) on display.
John Wick: Chapter 3 is some of the most fun I’ve had in the theatres so far this year. It’s high octane, heart thumping and batsh*t crazy. Is it as good as the first movie? Not quite. Chapter 1 caught the world by surprise. We had no idea what we were getting into. What we got was a glorious action picture that is emotionally weighted and also filled with wonder and discovery. However, the emotional aspect of it has since dwindled to the point where we’re not necessarily rooting for John Wick on a personal level anymore, but for director Chad Stahelski to cook up the next unbelievably crazy action sequence. Stahelski never disappoints.