Carl gets to grips with Keanu Reeves’ latest chapter from the John Wick Saga
Let’s not beat around the bush. I LOVE the John Wick films. There’s something about them that screams at me to adore the action-packed two hours of violence and mayhem. Ever since I saw the first trailer for the original film, I was hooked. The stylish combination of gunplay, fight scenes and sheer entertainment of the revenge thriller was a joy to behold. The choreography of it all was inspired, leading it to be one of the best action films of the last decade. Keanu Reeves was mesmerising as the title character, bringing a warmth to him that you would never expect. Ok, his motivation is a bit of a stretch but that doesn’t distract from us as the audience feeling Wick’s pain and longing for him to succeed in his quest for violent justice.
The first sequel, entitled Chapter 2, expanded the world that Wick treads. Picking up four days after the events of the first film, the sequel again took us on a rollercoaster ride through the world of the assassin and bringing the story onto a much larger, grander scale. Instead of being set exclusively in New York, the film takes us to Rome where Wick has to commit a killing to satisfy a blood oath to crime lord Santino D’Antonio. After committing the act, Wick is betrayed and spends the majority of the rest of the films running time trying to get his revenge all the while trying to avoid death at the hands of his marks bodyguard, Cassian (Common) and Santino’s mute personal bodyguard, Ares (Ruby Rose). It doesn’t end well for Wick or D’Antonio, leading to a cliffhanger ending that leads directly into the events of the third film, the second sequel. With the addition of Laurence Fishburne as The Bowery King, the leader of a group of vagrant assassins, we get an on-screen reunion of two of The Matrix‘s leads and that in itself is another reason to enjoy the film. While Chapter 2 is again remarkable and the expansion of the world of the assassin is inspired, I found it to be slightly inferior to the original. I loved it as I did the first film but something held the film back from surpassing the original. Still, the film is a personal favourite of mine, as the first film before it and I still put it on late at night and settle back and marvel at what I’m viewing.
John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum | Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment
Chapter 3 opens directly after the ending of Chapter 2. John Wick has been excommunicated by his friend and owner of the New York Continental Hotel, Winston (Again played marvellously by English actor Ian McShane) for the events that occurred at the end of the last film. Wick now has a $14million bounty on his head and it is an open contract. Winston has allowed Wick an hour to gain a head start from the pack of assassins who will now be hunting for his head. This grace period will come back to haunt Winston later in the film as will The Bowery King’s help that he gave Wick. Wick knows he is a marked man and is now on the run in Manhatten. He manages to make it to the New York public library where he has stashed a crucifix medallion and a ‘Marker’ medallion inside a hollowed out book. The contract on his life goes live at 6pm. Just before the contract becomes active, Wick is confronted in the Library by a fellow assassin, Ernest who decides no one will know if he kills Wick before his hour is up. After a rather engaging fight and a rather nasty way of killing someone with a book (yes, really!), Wick starts to make his getaway. After another fight, this time with a group of Chinese attackers consisting of using knives and emerging victorious (and giving us one of the most nerve twitching, nasty and gross killings seen on screen), Wick manages to contact ‘The Director’, a woman from his past who accepts the crucifix as his ‘ticket’ for safe passage to Morocco. Here we learn even more about Wick’s past, the pieces are still slowly falling into place about who Wick really is and where he has come from.
All the while an ‘Adjudicator’ from the high table has travelled to New York and meets with Winston and The Bowery King. Both are given seven days to arrange their affairs and vacate their offices. Failure to do so will result in severe consequences for them both. The Bowery King doesn’t take this too well and refuses point blank to bow down to her. The Adjudicator has recruited an assassin, Zero (Mark Dacascos) to be her enforcer. He maims The Director for helping Wick escape and does the same to The Bowery King, almost fatally wounding him. Meanwhile, Wick has travelled to Casablanca to meet up with an old friend, Sofia (Halle Berry). Sofia is the manager of the Casablanca Continental Hotel which, like the rest of the Continental hotels worldwide, is no longer open to Wick. However, Sofia is in Wick’s debt. The marker he holds is her marker with him. He asks her for help in getting to ‘The Elder’, a high-ranking member of the high table in an attempt to have his bounty waived. Sofia takes Wick as far as she can, abandoning him to his fate in the desert after Wick places his bloodied fingerprint on the marker to cancel the debt. He manages to meet with the elder and, after severing his ring finger as penance, is given a task to fulfil to cancel the bounty on his head. He has to kill his friend and mentor Winston.
Wick travels to the New York Continental. On his way there, he is attacked by Zero and his men. He manages to reach the Continental and sanctuary before Zero can kill him. He meets with Winston who tells Wick to not die as a killer but as a man who loved and was loved by his wife. Wick cannot bring himself to murder his friend, leading to the adjudicator to deconsecrate the hotel, allowing assassins to commit murder on its grounds. She notifies Zero and his men and arranges for a group of high table enforcers to enter the hotel and kill Wick and Winston. With Winston’s friend and concierge of the hotel, Charon (once again brought to life in a wonderful winning turn by Lance Reddick) as his back up, Wick goes through the hotel, taking on all who are out to kill him in a blaze of violence, gun and swordplay.
When the film was first announced, it was said that this third chapter would be the end of the John Wick saga. Is It? Now that would be telling and a massive spoiler! No matter how you look at things, there’s still a lot of places the characters and the storylines contained within the Continental’s walls can go. There are already plans for a TV spin-off show based on the Continental in the works and I can only hope that this comes to fruition. This would be a remarkable show and one that I would happily watch. Many stories can be told if the show hits our screens.
The film is a delight from start to finish. Not only does it carry on all the plotlines the first two films threaded but it expands on them even more. The screenplay by original creator Derek Kolstad alongside writers Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams draws you in and never really let’s go. Every plot device and plotline has been thought out to perfection. We are hooked from the start and feel every bit of pain that Wick goes through. We want to see him survive, to stand tall by the end credits and to come out ready for more. And the film has comedy. True belly laughs are hardly ever involved in films like this but the film delivers some that are inspired and not only raise the material even higher, they make the film that much more enjoyable.
Chad Stahelski’s directing is again top notch. As a former stunt double for Keanu Reeves during the Matrix trilogy, he knows his leading man inside and out, coaxing a performance from him that defies belief. The visual style and fast pace of the film are beyond reproach and the handling of the action sections of the film are among the best ever committed to film. The motorcycle attack is awesome, knives and swords being swung around as the bikes thunder through an underpass and bridge and Wick defending himself almost without effort. The editing is fast-paced and again cannot be faulted. We find ourselves immersed fully in what we are seeing on screen and we can actually SEE what is going on during the fast-paced staged mayhem.
The actors all look like they had a whale of a time during filming and it shows in their performances. Laurence Fishburne and Anjelica Huston as The Bowery King and The Director respectively make the most of their limited screentime but both play a vital part in moving the story and events forward. Halle Berry too, although she has slightly more screen time than Fishburne and Huston, amazes in what is, in reality, an extended cameo role. Her moves and stamina during her fight scenes are a joy to watch and I can only hope her character returns somewhere or somehow within the confines of the Continental stories to come. Mark Dacascos again makes for an engaging villain and actually shows some depth and personality in what is a thankless role. We know going in that he is the big bad of the film and that eventually will end up fighting against Wick, one on one. But Dacascos brings a heart to the role, even going as far as admitting to Wick that he is in awe of his foe and considers him an inspiration. The only problem I had with the character is with the way he is introduced. To me, it’s too much like a scene from Kill Bill Volume 1. In fact, it almost feels like it was stolen from the film. But it doesn’t detract from an inspired introduction to Zero and his crew.
Ian Mcshane and Lance Reddick are once again on top form as Winston and Charon. The interaction with each other is completely wonderful. If either of the two actors didn’t appear in the film, then it wouldn’t feel complete. The final battle is exciting and action packed but the two actors couldn’t be better suited in the positions they take during it. Charon stands by Wicks’ side, shooting anyone who threatens him and Wick. And the look on his face as he realises their attackers are wearing body armour and they need shrapnel shotgun cartridges is brilliance. Winston, however, is barricaded in an armed vault, listening to the mayhem outside while drinking a large glass of brandy! Inspired! The look of non-commital on his face is priceless. McShane and Reddick are a fantastic double act when on screen together and are one of the reasons the films are so good.
But this is Reeves show. Three films in and he slips into Wicks’ tailored suits with ease. He performs the action without effort and the journey we take with him we enjoy every step of the way. Reeves proved himself the action hero with the release of ‘Speed‘ 25 years ago. With The Matrix trilogy, he showed he had the flair for well-choreographed fight scenes, some of which have gone down in history as the best ever committed to film. And here, he even gets to deliver one of his iconic lines from the original Matrix film, giving the audience a nice little throwback. Over the past three films, he has affirmed himself as someone who CAN act and command our attention. Here again, he enthrals us as the assassin wrenched out of retirement by events he cannot control and forced to return to his murderous ways. Reeves gives his all during the films many action sequences and makes the character of Wick all that more believable. We believe he can kill anyone with simple items. In the original, he was described as someone who killed a mark with a pencil. In the sequel, we actually saw him do it. In this third instalment, he does it with a simple hardback book. And Reeves makes it look so easy and believable that we cannot help but wince. This is Reeves’ own action franchise. And we enjoy the ride he makes us take with him.
The film is, yet again, not for the squeamish. If you’re scared at the sight of blood, cringe at violent acts and in this case, have a thing about eyes, then this film is certainly not for you. It certainly earns its R Rating ( Certificate 15 here in the U.K) with its uncompromising violence and hard-hitting action. It is at times, completely nasty and uncompromising but this is the world of the assassin and so can be forgiven. It is also wildly entertaining. While not quite matching the original and believe me, this third instalment comes pretty close at times to topping it, the movie is the second best film of the trilogy. I did miss the absence of Common and Ruby Rose this time around but it doesn’t distract from the sheer enjoyment the film gives its audience. Where the franchise goes from here is anyone’s guess but I for one would welcome another go around in this world. John Wick may be the Boogieman but the film is the adult action film of the year. And I look forward to seeing it again soon.
My Rating: 8/10
John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum is playing in cinemas everywhere NOW.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Entertainment/Books and Literature Correspondent for The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!