Directed By: Chad Stahelski
Release Date: May 17, 2019
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne
Every action has consequences, and in John Wick: Chapter 3, Keanu Reeves' titular assassin is on the run thanks to his decision in 2017's Chapter 2 to murder the scumbag Santino D'Antonio on Continental grounds. Having broken that cardinal rule – no "conducting business" at The Continental Hotel – that film ended with John excommunicado from the world he'd been sucked back into, with a one-hour window in which to flee before a worldwide, multimillion dollar bounty on his head became active.
Chapter 3 picks up right where Chapter 2 left off, with Wick's tiny window of a head start drawing to a close, and when it finally does, the film hits the gas and never really lets up. From the neon-filled streets of New York City to the potential sanctuary of Casablanca, Morocco to the vast emptiness of the Sahara Desert, Chapter 3 takes John across the globe and back as he fends off countless assassins eager to claim the bounty as he searches for The Elder, the highest-ranking member of the High Table, who he hopes will listen to his story and allow him to undo his excommunication.
To think that this all started as a story about a man getting vengeance against those who killed his dog is insane, because Chapter 3 really blows up the scope of Wick's world to heights no one could've imagined these films would go to back in 2014. In retrospect, the original film feels downright modest in its ambitions, and one of the strengths of this ever-growing series has been its ability to continually flesh out its world with unique characters and wrinkles in the mythology without overstepping its bounds and grinding its forward momentum to a halt for the sake of one big information dump.
The world that John Wick resides in is a truly fascinating one, and yet the films never have to hold the audience's hand to explain things, opting instead to have faith that we can figure it out so things can keep rolling along. Take, for instance, the Director (Anjelica Huston), a new face introduced here in Chapter 3, who John turns to for help early in the film. It's clear that the two have a wild history, particularly when it comes to John’s own origins, but the sequel never bogs itself down in trying to expand on it and ultimately overreach with its exposition, allowing us instead to piece together vocal inflections or throwaway comments between the two to sort out their relationship. It's that kind of stripped down storytelling that really benefits the world-building – and even the overall pacing of the narrative – of this franchise.
If I have one real complaint about Chapter 3, though, it's that this entry doesn't really provide a sense of closure as a standalone film. The original John Wick was a very clear, satisfying journey all its own: Wick sets out for revenge, he gets revenge, and life – for the time being – looks like it can get back to normal. Even in Chapter 2, despite that film's big cliffhanger ending, there's a journey John goes on that culminates in his murder of D'Antonio, bringing the film's natural arc to a close even as it sets up the series’ next one.
Here, though, the film builds and builds into a major, game-changing twist only for the film to end a few minutes later, with no real conclusion to this specific chapter before we're told to come back for Chapter 4 – recently confirmed for 2021 – to see what happens next. Granted, these films are now chapters of one longer story, sure, and when they ultimately conclude, it'll hopefully all click perfectly into place, but at the same time, every film should be able to stand on its own two legs, giving its character a journey – even if it's only one arc in a much larger narrative – with a beginning, middle, and end. Chapter 3 never has that climactic moment, such as the deaths of Iosef (Alfie Allen) and Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) in the original film or D'Antonio in the sequel, that wraps up this leg of the journey, and that's unfortunate.
That said, Chapter 3 is still an immensely entertaining film. Despite its narrative shortcomings, it's easily my favorite of the three films so far simply due to how heavily it ups the ante in terms of action, which is absolutely incredible. An intense knife fight that bleeds over into a horse stable and then onto the streets of New York – with John pursued by motorcycles as he's on horseback, of course – is simply exhilarating. Another sequence involving John, his frienemy Sofia (Halle Berry), and her two German Shepherds is entertaining simply for being so unique, with the two dogs in particular stealing the show as they join in on the action in a way I simply haven't seen to this degree in any other movie, something that provides for some of the biggest cheers in the movie.
I can't even stop there, as a scene in the third act where John can only keep heavily-armed attackers at bay by knocking them back with bullets that can’t pierce their armor until he can exploit their weak point is great, as is a fight involving two assassins who eagerly let him know how much of an honor it is to be fighting him. From beginning to end, the film is loaded with action, far more than the first two films, and it's all engaging, even if some of the scenes in the latter half of the film may go on just a few minutes too long collectively.
Throw in little details, like how John wears his watch facing the inside of his wrist or how swords actually leave scratch marks on glass, and it's clear that everyone involved really cares about the action down to the nitty-gritty. We're allowed to actually appreciate everything that goes down, as the camera lingers lovingly from a distance and doesn't rely on cheap editing tricks that mistake fast cuts for propulsion. The sheer amount of stunt work on display is admirable, and considering how it all tops everything the first two films had to offer, I genuinely can't imagine how Chapter 4 could possibly get any crazier, though I wouldn't bet against this team that they'll pull it off somehow.
Even better, the action is only bolstered by some incredible production design, from the vibrant sets Wick and his assailants do battle in to the way lighting is used, something the series has only improved on as it's rolled along. Had the action just taken place in bog-standard rooms defined by dark grey and brown color palettes, it simply wouldn't have been as impressive. Director Chad Stahelski and his team simply understand that the visuals of the environment are just as important as every punch, kick, bullet fired, knife thrown, and more in energizing the action, and it shows in every frame of the film, which is – quite simply – a visual delight from beginning to end, even outside of the action itself. A scene set in a theatre, with ballerinas dancing on a foggy stage only for three assassins to emerge from the shadows, their silhouettes amongst the dancers, will stay in my mind for a long time thanks to the film's effort to not let any moment go to waste as a visual opportunity.
And, of course, there's the cast, with Reeves being the big selling point simply for how he throws himself into this role with abandon. Since the events of all three films take place in such close proximity to one another, there's a solid attention to continuity in terms of the injuries John has sustained – even if we have to let it slide that he's essentially a bit superhuman – and Reeves imbues John with a sense that it's all taking its toll, such as when it's pointed out that it's taking longer for him to get up off the ground late in the film. Even his deadpan sense of humor is entertaining; when Sofia loses it when someone attacks one of her dogs, John delivers a simple "I get it" that's just pitch-perfect. Off-screen, it's hard not to love Reeves, and that translates pretty well to these films; we root for Wick in part because we root for Reeves and in part because it's clear he's having such a ball in this role.
He's joined by Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Lance Reddick, who all make welcome returns, while Berry, Huston, Asia Kate Dillon, and Jerome Flynn make their first appearances. The big standout from the supporting cast, though, is Mark Dacascos, who plays an assassin name Zero and steals the show every time he's on screen. Action-wise, he's great, no doubt about it, but where he really shines is when his comedic chops get put to use. Though these films refreshingly aren't loaded with one-liners, they've still managed to have some moments of great, often dark humor throughout them all, and Zero gifts this film with some truly funny material, such as when he gets to break from hunting John to let him know how big of a fan he is of his work.
And hopefully John can keep that very work up going forward, as Chapter 3 miraculously proves that this series hasn't run out of steam just yet. Despite being three films in, there's constantly some new trick being pulled out from under the film's sleeves. There's simply nothing like these movies coming out of Hollywood at this moment in terms of pure, visceral action with this much care and craft put into them, and that's why audiences have responded so well to this series, which has only continued to increase in popularity. This isn't high art, nor is it some complex rumination on the human condition told through a story of vengeance, but it's damn entertaining thanks to action that wows and performances that pop, all wrapped up in a world that is thoroughly intriguing and engaging.
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