The John Wick movies follow a well-travelled path of many sequels, what was fresh is now familiar, and yet there is still some delight to be found in returning to this world. Even as you realize you’re not eager to go back again.
The evergreen Keanu Reeves is back as the titular assassin John Wick and he’s all out of the bubblegum he was chewing in Speed, so now he’s just kicking butt. In the original film, there was the first act’s slow burn observation of Wick retired and grieving his wife. If the sequels have lacked this mystery and heart, Reeves has continued to give it his all and we even get a little bit more of his backstory in this. The rest of the cast can’t be faulted either for throwing themselves into it, Halle Berry surprises with her fight scenes having trained for months, and gives her character, an old acquaintance of John’s, the appropriate amount of sass. Mark Dacascos is particularly good playing different moods as a villain, and Asia Kate Dillon is suitably boo hiss inducing as the catspaw of the High Table. Meanwhile, veterans like Anjelica Huston, Laurence Fishburne and Ian McShane enjoy hamming it up knowing they’re in that kind of movie.
While it is obvious stunt doubles are in play, Reeves continues to throw himself into a lot of the fight choreography and the framing and cutting of the violence remains a real thrill. Sure there is a big finale that starts out with henchmen in body armour and helmets, weapons raised moving tactically through a darkly lit stronghold of our heroes as classical music plays. Sure you could play a drinking game over the number of times someone is thrown through plate glass. Sure you could try and keep count of how many rounds are fired by the same weapon before it needs a reload for a bit of a giggle, after all, it’s that kind of movie.
However particular effort has been made to keep the action interesting with different scenarios and locations. There is a macabre delight in some of the killer moves too; sometimes the inventive and cheeky choreography induces winces, howls of laughter and outright applause. Three stand out sequences, for example, involve a lot of knives, a couple of horses and a library book. The filmmakers also go out of their way to create iconic imagery with John Wick in several New York locations, riding on a horse and having a face off with Ninjas on motorcycles.
These films have a particular look to them, noirish but with good use of colour and bright lights. The writers have consistently pursued building a mythology in this world too but it mostly only informs the look. Basically what it comes down to is there is a whole underworld that deals in gold, wears nice clothes, likes to pepper their words with Latin, carries all kinds of guns, and everything about their world has a retro feel to it. At one point Wick got into an iconic New York City Checker cab, the last of which got retired in 1999 and that just seemed right – it’s that kind of movie.
While John Wick is forced to make some choices here and is tested as a character, the slow bits feel more and more like table setting with the action scenes the highlight. With a smart sense of humour added by the creative team there is more than enough to recommend John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum but unless more can be brought to the table next time – maybe it’s time to try another restaurant.