Director: Chad Stahelski
The action hero movie has become something of an endangered species. In the 80s and 90s it was THE genre as Bruce, Arnie, Sly ruled the box office roost, supported by more niche musclemen like Seagal, Van Damme or Lundgren. These guys could wield a mean M-16, snap skulls with the back of the their hand, and drop-kick an endless parade of goons through the window. But they were just men. For the past decade these films has taken a back seat to all things costumed and be-tighted. Apart from odd spottings in the wild: the Liam Limper, a Jason Statham here and there, the action movie has become something that needs a twist (Bourne – he’s been programmed; MI – he’s a spy; F&F – the cars the star) or takes place in a historic, fantasy or scifi setting) or can’t be taken seriously (the Expendables).
Enter John Wick. Something of a sleeper outing to date, the third chapter has seen Keanu’s suit-wearing assassin go seriously huge. As in 2 and 1 we start in fifth gear, and accelerate from there. Now ‘excommunicado’ from the secret league of international crime ruled by the High Table, exiled from The Continental (an ultra-luxury hotel and safehouse for tired assassins presided over by Lovejoy) Keanu is on the run. With his dog. The second dog. Bar a brief spiritual odyssey in the Sahara it is a non-stop parade of knife, fist and gun play. JW 2 clocked in at around 128 deaths – Keanu offing someone every 60s FOR THE ENTIRE MOVIE.
And this is at the heart of the John Wick series. Remember how lame the exposition was in a Sly or Arnie movie, and you just wanted to see them start spraying the lead and splitting the skulls? JW dispenses with story in one sentence. They killed his dog (1). They stole his car (2). Because actually are these any less plausible than those in Commando, Die Hard or Under Siege? With the plot disposed of in under 60 seconds, we then have the entire film to display a series of ever-more OTT choreographed fight scenes. The only spoiling possible here is splurting out the deliciously outre ways the directors find for Keanu to off the legions of goons.
The second part of the JW approach lies of course in Keanu. Essentially reprising Neo but in a realistic setting, he projects a zen-like blankness that has all the presence of Clint’s Man With no Name. He knows kung-fu (so doesn’t need to tell us), and walks through the movies in his black suit, white shirt and tie dispensing ever-more brutal deaths to an endless series of goons.
Chapter 3 delivers all this, while upping a few things as we spend those millions accrued by 1 and 2.
To Mcshane and Fishburne (essentially reprising his role in The Matrix too) are added Halle Berry and Anjelica Huston in feel-the-quality cameos. Huston appears to preside over a ballet school preparing young girls for appearing in 80s hair-metal videos in slo-mo soft porn sequences; Berry is Mcshane’s counterpart in Casablanca running a hitmen home-from-home in the not at all stereotypically exoticised Morocca.
They can’t resist adding a bit of backstory. From its brilliantly minimalist origins, there is a danger that JW starts to chew on the scenery its created. It turns out Keanu is from Belarus, it turns out there might be someone above the High Table hiding out in the Sahara, it turns out the Continental can be unconsecrated….but frankly who cares as long as I can see Keanu empying his clip into someone’s face. If there’s a signature JW move it’s shooting someone repeatedly from a distance of 6cm.
Finally, they’ve gone ‘full cyberpunk’ on the visual look. The first half of the movie takes place in rain-drenched Chinatown redolent of Bladerunner. The always rather OTT Eastern Europe Mafioso luxury vibe of the hotel gets turned up to 11. The High Table typing pool is full of tattoo’d grandmas rocking rolodexes and Amstrad 8512 green screens (oh the madelaine!). This perhaps is another very clever move that enables JW to have its slaughterhouse cake and eat it: it’s so stylised that we can enjoy the sound of a hatchet being buried in someone’s head from 20 paces as it so clearly could never actually happen.Whether you buy this, whether you buy the zen mastery of Keanu, or just think he’s a plank, will determine whether John Wick is for you. Roll on 4. Hopefully a Keanu – who sports a quasi Liam-limp at the start – vs Brian Mills face-off.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
Point Break, The Matrix of course. Also the early John Woo’s, particularly Hardboiled.