When it comes to stylized, energetic and gloriously ultraviolent contemporary action flicks that aren’t bound to a comic-book mega-franchise, the Chad Stahleski-directed John Wick trilogy are without a doubt, the films that set the standard for the mid/late 2010s and continue to live up to their hype with each instalment. As with its predecessors, John Wick 3 Parabellum delivers another brutal orchestra of elegantly choreographed and over-the-top bloodshed with Keanu Reeves starring as its merciless conductor, using any and every means in the vicinity to put down his enemies, whether it be a gun, a book or even a horse. It gives me great satisfaction knowing that Reeves who was long criticized and disregarded for his ‘wooden’ performances in past performances could spring to life in these films through his energetic movement and innate determination in conducting his own stunts.
The film itself is set from where John Wick Chapter 2 left us, with John Wick and his dog on the run from the organisation he once worked for after having been declared ex communicado with a $14 million bounty placed on his head. As the number 1 target of every assassin in New York, John Wick is now marked for death and left with little choice but to kill everything in his path in order to survive, and from there, one gloriously choreographed ballet of bloodshed leads to another as John Wick takes out the bad guys with any and every means at his disposal.
What makes John Wick stand out as an action franchise among its contemporaries are the films’ loving attention and dedication to the elaborate choreography of its fight scenes. From the innovative, beautifully constructed and often outlandish set-pieces in which these fights are staged to the erratic and over-the top ways our protagonist traverses and manipulates his surroundings to put down his enemies in often the most hilariously entertaining ways imaginable. One of my personal favourite fight scenes in the film for instance, included one where John was surrounded by enemies in a stable filled with horses where he took everyone out with the horses’ kicks rather than with his gun. Another particularly dynamic fight scene featured Halle Berry, a fantastic new addition to the cast, fighting alongside John Wick takinh out all the enemies in the vicinity with the same erratic and skilful manipulation of the environment, along with the welcome addition of her two loyal German Shepherds biting people in the crotch!
The neo-noir setting, cinematography and the dynamic use of lighting are deeply ingrained in the John Wick formula and also play a critical role in enabling the films to stand out among other modern action films. The hyper-stylization of the action scenes is complimented by this equally stylized, dimly, yet strikingly neon-lit and imposing labyrinth of New York’s sordid criminal underworld. However, while occupying the depths of this seedy, urban, night-laden hell-scape, the world of John Wick is illustrated as a darkly elegant realm of decadent opulence. This is reflected through both the suave and debonair trappings of its characters including John Wick himself and the overzealous Adjudicator played by Asia Kate Dillon, as well as the high-end luxurious nightclubs and grandiose gothic-noir hotels and theatre set-pieces. John Wick Chapter 3 has no shortage of these locales, but also provides a relief from the urban labyrinthine darkness with the open desert scene, the only scene to be shot in daylight and is dominated by bright shades of gold. Here John Wick is shown finding a moment of respite from being constantly hounded by assassins. Another prominent and recurring visual motif in John Wick Chapter 3 is rainfall, which is utilized to, in the words of Dan Lausten “give a third dimension to the film” and bring out the night-lit New York setting more forcefully than its predecessors.
In the dazzlingly beautiful penultimate fight scene of the film, John Wick finds himself once again in a room of glass and mirrors. It is a moment that recalls the house of mirrors shoot out in John Wick 2 and plays a similar purpose. It is a final test of his perseverance and adaptability, being outnumbered three to one and having previously lost a finger, no doubt inhibiting his fighting capability. Here, John Wick once again finds himself trapped by his own reflection. He’s forced out of his comfort zone by this metaphorical hall of reflection and showcases genuine vulnerability and a fear of facing his own weakness, though it is expressed more physically than emotionally. This scene also harkens back to films past such as Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon and also echoes that of the glass-filled room in Skyfall. It also helps that Mark Dacascos’ character, Zero, pulls a fantastic performance during his death scene, speaking to Wick as though he looks up to him telling him that “I’ll catch up with you”, and Wick coldly replying with “no you won’t.”
Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves have once again, pulled all the stops with John Wick’s third outing, providing an action experience so brutally yet elegantly choreographed and shot that it makes other action franchises wish that they had put in a similar effort and dedication. The now-trilogy of films showcase in full display Reeves’ acting talents not in terms of his dialogue or emotional expressiveness, but rather his physical dedication and tenacity in performing his own stunts. With a fourth sequel in the works, I can safely conclude that the ever-gratifying ballet of brutality that is the life of John Wick shows no signs of stopping any time soon.