Director: Chad Stahelski
Screenplay : Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams
Keanu Reeves: John Wick
Ian McShane: Winston
Lance Reddick: Charon
Laurance Fishburne: Bowery King
Asia Kate Dillon: The Adjudicator
Mark Dacascos: Zero
Anjelica Huston: The Director
Said Taghmaoui: The Elder
John Wick is a classic American hero, but he’s not easily categorized. His background is apparently Russian, and he embodies elements of the uniquely American anti-hero, as well as the classical epic hero. He lives by a code of honor imposed on him, but obeys a higher code of honor, as we’ll surely see in Chapter 4. Oh yes, gentle readers, Chapter 3 decisively sets up the sequel.
The movie is simplicity itself. Wick, at the end of Chapter 2, killed an evil member of “The High Table,” the sort of the executive board of a world-wide network of assassins, sort of an Illuminati/Tri-Lateral Commission/Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion/ (Add your favorite all-powerful behind the scenes rulers of all here ___________________). Wick was declared “incommunicado,” and a contract was let on him, so every killer in the world is trying to kill him. He, of course, kills them all because he’s John Wick, the guy the Boogeyman is afraid of.
That’s the entire plot. The rest is pretty much all action sequences, which is the point.
I originally thought Keanu Reeves an odd choice for this character, but he quickly grows on you. In preparation, Reeves sought actual, competent firearms training—see it here–and it shows. Indeed, he does some very stupid things in that regard, but that’s a matter of plot rather than a lack of tactical sense and ability. He clearly knows how to shoot, unlike many Hollywood types simulating ability. Reeves handles weapons with correct form, substantial skill, and cool efficiency, which one would expect of the world’s deadliest assassin.
Character development? Virtually none. Again, that’s not the point. As with all revenge movies, the protagonist must be pushed beyond human—in this case, superhuman—endurance before he unleashes Hell on his tormentors. That’s where Chapter 4 will come in, and hopefully, Wick will not make the same mistakes—written into the plot—that nearly got him killed in the past.
Production values are easily up to contemporary standards. One of the best parts of this series is the Director doesn’t fall for the “edgy” technique of filming action scenes in unfocused closeups, and almost entirely in the dark, so all one gets is a loudly grunted soundtrack with impressions of movement and violence. The John Wick scenes are all filmed so every bit of violence—which is again, the point—is clear, done without speeding up the action, and very visible indeed. The action is much less Tarantino/Peckinpah slow motion blood flinging, and much more realistic to the smallest detail.
The acting is formulaic, but for this series, that’s what’s required. This is guilty pleasure cinema. No one is going to walk out pondering existential issues or finding inroads to world peace.
Reeves’ John Wick is a tortured man, still smarting over the loss of the love of his life, the woman for whom he gave up the life of the assassin. He is capable of great violence, yet also mercy. He doesn’t kill for the mere sake of killing, thus his humanity and heroism.
We are occasionally introduced to people from Wick’s past, such as Halle Berry’s Sophia, who, in an extended action sequence, also demonstrates skill with weapons. It is in such sequences we also see inherent silliness. She and Wick kill about 60 people in minutes, all armed, and all trying to kill them, approaching from every angle. Sophia and Wick never miss, but the bad guys do. Sophia and Wick also have eyes in the backs and sides of their heads, and just happen to be looking—or sensing—in exactly the right direction to engage every threat, wherever it is, just in time. Reality, of course, is very different, but watching Sophia and Wick dispatch so many cutthroats is fun, and done so well, the pulse increases, and muscles involuntarily contract.
In life, alliances change, and so it is here. Laurance Fishburn’s King of the Bowery—who is a friend/enemy of Wick’s–is betrayed by the High Table, and it is he who ultimately rescues Wick and sets up Chapter 4. His acting something of a caricature, but again, perfectly done for the needs of the movie.
Ian McShane’s Winston is a friend of Wick’s, who allies with, and then apparently betrays Wick in the end. His character is a worldly-wise survivor, which McShane well portrays. I say apparently, because that relationship will be sorted out in Chapter 4 as well.
Lance Reddick’s Charon is an interesting character. Also worldly wise, he plays the desk manager of The Continental Hotel in NYC, a sort of sanctuary for assassins, where no killing may occur. Wick killed the bad guy at The Continental at the end of Chapter 2. In this movie, Charon goes beyond his previously narrow role and engages in quite a bit of shooting on Wick’s side, though his ultimate loyalties remain murky.
Anjelica Huston’s role is well acted, but decidedly secondary, someone form Wick’s past. She helps him get to Casablanca. This too is an oddity. Someone with Wick’s experience skills and resources must rely on others for such things. He knows the people he’s working for have the loyalty and ethics of rattlesnakes, yet he apparently has done nothing to prepare for their inevitable betrayal. It’s a wonder he’s survived this long.
Said Taghmaoui—you’ll recognize him gentle readers—is apparently a member of the High Table. Wick begs him for mercy, but at a high cost. He’s on Wick’s “to do” list, and so is Asia Kate Dillon, who plays an arrogant, not at all nice “Adjudicator,” instrumental in trying to kill Wick. Audiences will enjoy seeing her get her just desserts, which is also the point.
This brings us to martial artist Mark Dacascos. You’ll recognize him, though you’ll have to imagine him with hair; he’s bald in this movie. As all epics require single combat, his character Zero—odd name for an Asian—is the final antagonist to Wick’s protagonist. Their final battle, in a steel and glass set owing partly to Enter the Dragon—there was a set that was a much more obvious homage in Chapter 2—is, dare I say it?—epic. Wick, of course, wins.
It is the quality of the action sequences that makes these movies. It is also the restraint of the director. For the most part, he adheres to the laws of physics. People hit with buckshot don’t fly 30 feet through the air. But the plots are full of logical inconsistencies.
Wick occasionally kills from great distance, but almost always works up close where it’s maximally dangerous. He willingly, and without need, charges into odds anyone with his experience would know will get him killed, but is unexpectedly saved at the last minute. The real best assassin in the world would not rely on fate. He suffers life-threatening wounds, but after a few stitches, ignores them and suffers no loss of mobility.
What’s most interesting, and annoying, is he wears nothing but black suits. This limits the weapons he carries, and most of all, the amount of ammunition he can carry, yet he shoots as though his handguns are connected to a never-ending belt feed. He frequently shoots himself dry, requiring he take handguns from the innumerable baddies he kills, yet even when he has the time, he virtually never pauses to find spare magazines, so he’s constantly shooting himself dry, grabbing another gun, shooting himself dry, etc.
In this movie, he loads up with the largest number of magazines ever, including several AR-15 mags, but because he is limited to what he can carry on a dress belt, he quickly shoots them dry. Knowing all of this, why doesn’t he just get more appropriate tactical clothing, including carriers appropriate for the amount of ammunition he always needs? High threat level body armor wouldn’t be a bad idea either. I know what some will say: “his suit coat is bullet resistant.” Right, but only to handgun ammunition levels, and it leaves a substantial portion of his chest unprotected. Sigh. I know: it’s in the script. It’s necessary to set up the action sequences and to put Wick in danger, which build suspense, which… I know all that. Still, with the care that has gone into the character’s abilities, such lapses are annoying, and unnecessary. However, they’re making a lot of money on these movies, and I, with my tactical purity and adherence to reality, am not, so there is that.
Wherever he goes, Wick leaves piles of bodies. In this movie, he’s involved in a wild motorcycle chase, even a horseback chase, but there are apparently no police in the Wick universe, except to occasionally stop by to say hello.
Reeves, an apparent adherent of the Mt. Rushmore school of acting, had made the character his own. If what I’m reading about him is accurate, he’s a decent, reasonably humble sort of fellow who lives in the real world. Good to see in Hollywood, where the opposite is all too often the case.
This is a movie that is not mandatorily viewed on the big screen, but we routinely spend money to see far less entertaining fare. That’s what the Wick movies are: entertaining. They are not good art, but they will age well. John Wick Chapter 3 is surely worth owning on DVD. The action sequences are so well done, and there are so many, it will be fun to watch them again and again for the nuances and techniques that appear so seamless on first viewing.
At 54, Keanu Reeves has created a compelling hero. We need a bit of heroism now and then.