Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Asia Kate Dillon, Mark Dacascos
Movies based around hitmen and/or assassins are ten-a-penny. What could possibly be brought to this kind of action genre that we haven’t seen before? Perhaps this is a question director/stuntman Stahelski and story writer Derek Kolstad asked themselves before diving into John Wick’s world with the first instalment in 2014. Casting Reeves as the titular character was the right choice – he has the experience for leading-man action and stunt work, but it’s nothing new for Reeves. Perhaps the fresh take comes from Stahelski and Kolstad themselves, with Stahelski a trained stunt performer-turned-director and John Wick being Kolstad’s first mainstream screenplay of this kind. It’s something that certainly felt fresh through John Wick (which Stahelski co-directed with David Leitch) and John Wick: Chapter 2, with Stahelski’s eye as a stuntman proving to be the best weapon in his directorial arsenal and Kolstad’s character development for John being his, but does this continue through to Chapter 3, or has it gone down that familiar route of giving the audience more of the same intense action but letting story and/or character development fall by the wayside?
WARNING: The below synopsis contains spoilers from the end of John Wick: Chapter 2.
Chapter 3 picks up exactly where Chapter 2 left off: John Wick (Reeves), the world’s best and most dangerous assassin, has been declared excommunicado from the Continental Hotel after he broke hotel rules by shedding blood on hotel grounds, meaning he no longer has access to services the hotel provides, including sanctuary from any personal harm. He also now has a bounty of $14 million on his head, due to his victim having been a member of the High Table, a body consisting of high-level criminals that appear to make the rules. Now on the run and fighting almost every person he meets, John seeks to fulfil a blood contract from Sofia (Berry), a fellow assassin who owes him a debt. John needs help from the one person who is above the High Table in order to stay alive, and only Sofia can help him find this person.
What has really helped to make the John Wick franchise so successful thus far is perhaps the level of experience from Stahelski’s stunt background and Reeves’ own experience in action movies (his popularity as an actor also couldn’t have hurt). Although Stahelski co-directed John Wick, he was on his own for Chapter 2, and proved he could absolutely hold the movie together and create something visually thrilling. Reeves performs around 90% of the stunts himself (according to him, which is believable with the amount of times you can clearly see his face), which in all honesty is probably about 50% of the first movie, 70% of the second and 90% of the third. Stahelski’s collaboration with cinematographer Dan Laustsen on the second movie (and the third) made all the difference for the long, unedited (or so they expertly appear) fighting sequences, something that has been repeated in Chapter 3. And it is great to be able to say that everything that made the first two movies successful has been integral in making Chapter 3 another fantastic action movie.
Once again Stahelski uses long tracking shots and extended takes for the action sequences, however in Chapter 3 these sequences are way more intense. The fighting scenes are longer, but the choreography is constantly churning out moves that flow like a dance – the film features ballet scenes and the fights make the ballet look like a Britney Spears dance lesson – and the result is lengthy and thrilling scenes of graphic violence, the type of scenes you’d normally see from an intense Korean film, such as I Saw the Devil or The Villainess. The stunt work is also much more over-the-top than ever before, and if this was any other action film (except maybe a Jason Statham movie) it would have been too much, but for John Wick, specifically a Reeves movie, it works, and Reeves is the biggest reason it works. His ‘action man’ background and commitment to making a believable character convinces the audience that this is all possible, that one man really could be just that good of an assassin that he could kill hundreds, maybe thousands of people without reaching for death’s door. Just a few puncture wounds here and there, nothing fatal. Kolstad’s character development not only of John (his commitment to the memory of his wife and trying to go on living is never-ending) but also the characters of Winston (McShane) and the Bowery King (Fishburne) helps to pull us deeper into the underworld they live in, as well as the universe that revolves around the High Table and the Continental; we discover more rules and regulations and the faces behind certain names and titles. Together, Stahelski and Kolstad have risen John Wick higher up the scale of intensity when it comes to action and started to flesh out the characters beyond their initial reasons for being created.
As previously mentioned, Reeves is once again fantastic as the titular Wick. Despite getting on in age, the energy he brings to the role is hardly different to the energy he had as a younger actor in roles such as Jack in Speed or Neo in The Matrix (in which Stahelski was actually Reeves’ stunt double). He is perhaps a little slower, but when he has to perform for long takes where his opponents drop in and out, there is much that can be forgiven here. In some ways it could also work for the character – he doesn’t allow himself to get overwhelmed in the fights and knows exactly what he’s doing. Although he barely utters a word throughout the movie (mostly a few ‘yeah’s, ‘be seeing ya’ and Russian dialogue) everything is conveyed through his actions and his eyes. Everyone else around him, from McShane and Fishburne to Huston and Berry, provide us with everything else we need. McShane’s Winston is just as affable yet stern as he has been in the previous movies, and Fishburne’s Bowery King gets a little something extra toward the end of the movie that allows Fishburne to try another side to the King’s personality. Reddick continues to be very likable as Charon, the hotel’s concierge, Huston is understated but strong in presence with her small but plot-moving role, and Berry throws her all into the action sequences in the same way Reeves does, impressively so. Her role is perhaps not as huge as trailers may suggest, but she does a bang-up job all the same. As do all the scene-stealing doggos.
As action franchises go, John Wick is absolutely one of the best. It never disappoints, even if much of it seems utterly unbelievable. It probably does toe the line with the amount of time the stunts and fights take up, but the mesmerising choreography keeps it from tipping over. It could have done with a little more breathing space here and there, and unlike the previous movies there was less in the way of solo scenes for John where he appears to reflect. It makes sense that he had to keep moving due to being hunted down, but there’s always a dark corner to hide in for five minutes. The real concern is that if there is a Chapter 4, how could they keep up, or improve on, the level of action set in this film? There is an opening for a Chapter 4, but whether it will go ahead or be left to potential movie or television spin-offs is yet to be seen. And Reeves is not getting any younger, so if a fourth movie is in the pipeline, it had better be sooner rather than later.