Si vis pacem, para bellum. “If you want peace, prepare for war.”
I remember the first time I ever saw the movie The Killer and Hard Boiled. It was my first exposure to John Woo. After that, I kept seeking out not only more John Woo films like A Better Tomorrow, I was checking out all sorts of Hong Kong action movies with elaborate stunts and gun choreography.
As Hong Kong’s over the top action films started to decline (that’s a whole separate article there), it was countries like South Korea with high production values that appeared to take up the torch. And it certainly seemed like it, but in reality it would be countries like Thailand, led by instant star Tony Jaa, and Indonesia’s Raid films that would inject adrenaline into the modern martial arts action genre.
The following contains spoilers for John Wick 1 and 2
You can read my recap or watch Keanu Reeves cover the first two films in 60 seconds.
The Matrix films, starring Keanu Reeves, were clearly influenced and paid homage to the Hong Kong action films and anime. Those films were revolutionary with their mix of action and special effects. When the first John Wick (again starring Keanu Reeves) movie came along in 2014, it was not only a great action film, but it changed the way action films would look. The John Wick films was an intense visual feast of grounded fight scenes and gunfights. It became a resounding success both critically and financially. The premise was simple, John Wick is a retired assassin who was living a normal life with his wife. But unfortunately she dies, and as her final gift to him she has a beagle puppy sent to him so that he would have someone to love. In what seems random, his house is broken into and they not only steal his ’69 Mustang, but kill his dog. And that is it, hell is unleashed on the gang and the gangsters that get in his way for revenge.
So it was inevitable that there would be a John Wick Chapter 2 which continued directly after the first one. It really was like a second chapter in a book. In this sequel though, after finally getting his car back from a chop-shop, he is approached by someone who has a marker on him. It is an unbreakable bond that he is obligated to fulfill. The second film expands upon the lore and mythos of the John Wick world. But by the end, after breaking one of the cardinal rules of assassins, he is rendered “excommunicado” with an open $14 million bounty on him.
On to John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
The third installment of the John Wick franchise has the daunting task of not only living up to the amazing action and stunts of the previous work but also topping it. It succeeds in this in glorious fashion in both fighting scenes and shootouts that come at you one after another, with each sequence being more jaw-dropping than the last.
Chapter 3 opens within an hour of the ending of Chapter 2 with John Wick on the run as every assassin in Manhattan is after him and the huge $14 million bounty on his head. So from the beginning we are thrust into the action. That action is near relentless as we go from one elaborate scene to another. There is an early scene within the first 20 minutes or so where Wick must fight off a horde of other assassins. (Seriously, that is not any sort of spoiler.) Unarmed, he finds himself using whatever weapons he has available, It just happens to be some sort of antique shop or museum full of knives. But just before that is a great homage to a scene from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Right away, the close quarter fight is brutal and raw – topping any other single set piece in the previous films. Look for a cameo by Tiger Hu Chen, good friend of Keanu Reeves, stuntman and assistant choreographer on the Matrix.
Now, the plot is there to not only serve the action but to expand on the lore of the Assassin’s world. It serves its purpose well — but to talk about it too much past the bare basics would spoil the film. With the price on his head, Wick looks for a way to get it lifted. To do so he must first speak to the man above the High Table, the organization that controls the assassins. Yeah, he has to speak to upper management.
Part of that journey involves a trip to Casablanca, Morocco where he will get some help from Sophia (Halle Barry), who just happens to owe Wick a marker herself. And Halle Barry not only adds additional star quality to an already loaded cast, but joins in on the gunplay action.
In the previous films, John Wick was the lone man against many, but once Halle Barry’s Sofia comes along for the ride we realize he not only has star caliber allies but star enemies as well. In addition to the accomplished martial arts actor Tiger Hu Chen earlier is an appearance by a pair of actors from The Raid films, Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman who play a pair admiring killers in a two-on-one fight scene that involves a lot of breaking glass. But most fun to see of all is Mark Dacascos as the leader of a gang of modern shinobi that Wick faces in the final battle (Come on, you know there would be ninjas eventually). Mark Decascos has had a long career in martial arts roles including Cradle to the Grave and most notably Brotherhood of the Wolf, but some may recognize him as the current “Chairman” from Iron Chef America. His character serves as the main villain and provides a few bits of levity as well. Decascos’ prowess is very well displayed and he seems to be having the time of his life doing such intense action.
In non combat roles, Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne reprise their respective roles from the previous installments. Hollywood legend, Anjelica Huston joins in to provide some back history to John Wick. And Jerome Flynn, best known as Bronn from Game of Thrones chews up a bit of scenery in his small role as a member of the High Table.
Lawrence Fishburne and Tiger Hu Chen are not the only Matrix alum to join Keanu Reeves. Look for a cameo by Randall Duk Kim who played the keymaker in the Matrix films to reprise his roll as the underworld’s go to doctor. Director Chad Stahelski not only served as martial arts stunt coordinator for the Matrix films, he was also Keanu Reeves’ stunt double. So this is nearly a family affair.
If I can lay any criticisms on the film it would be near the end in the last set of fight scenes. John Wick really should have died several times, but I guess out of professional courtesy or respect, he’s given a chance to get back on his feet on more than one occasion. But at this point in the franchise, he’s not just a guy anymore, he’s literally a bloody superhero.
A fourth chapter in the John Wick saga has already been announced, which is no surprise since the final scene before the credits roll provides the seeds for a sequel. How they could possibly continue to top the exciting action sequences from film to film is going to be the biggest mystery.
Some action films are generic. Some are outright forgettable. The John Wick films have not only been instant classics but each has been progressively outstanding in its action. This third chapter comes with the Highest Recommendation
Ninjas on motorcycles! Hell Yeah!