“Si vis pacem, para bellum” – “If you want peace, prepare for war”.
I never would’ve thought that 5 years ago, when John Wick first arrived in cinemas that it would have spawned a whole franchise, but I was so wrong. What John Wick has forged is something momentous; an action franchise that goes above and beyond to please the fans and gets better and better every time you watch it. I thought with Chapter 2 (2017) that it was impossible for the series to get better, but it has; this is not just the best of the franchise, but it is now one of the best modern action movie sagas, I think, ever made!
Set immediately after the events of the second film, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run with his dog from a $14 million contract against his life for killing High Table member Santino d’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) on the grounds of the Continental hotel. He is 1 hour to get his affairs in order before he is declared “excommunicado” and every interested party in New York city will want a piece of him. With the help of Winston (Ian McShane), Continental concierge Charon (Lance Reddick) and the Director (Angelica Huston), John can find sanctuary, but the High Table wants his life and have sent an adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to find and route out anyone who has helped him, including Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne). With his options limited and reluctance from old friends like Sofia (Halle Berry) and being hunted by assassin Zero (Mark Dacascos), John Wick must find a way to survive and prove to everyone that he is someone you don’t want to mess with.
Like the previous 2 films, the story is pretty straightforward, but it is the furthest thing from being boring or repetitive. Writers Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Marc Abrams and Chris Collins have expanded the original and groovy lore to the next level, allowing the story to take place in locations the original film could only dream about. They haven’t gone overboard with trying to make this film much bigger than before, they’ve managed to retain the essence of what makes the John Wick films so brilliant; action is storytelling. It’s great to see that Chad Stahelski has come back to direct the third chapter, because without him, the action and the narrative style just wouldn’t be the same. He manages to find the perfect blend of brutal realism and stylish athleticism to make the franchise come alive, but leaves in all the juicy details that make up the fantastical lore and truly palpable backstory of John Wick himself. You can tell that he doesn’t want to stray too far from his masterpiece; he has clearly learnt that you don’t go overboard with a new narrative, just tweak it in little ways because why would you change perfection?
You can tell that Chad Stahelski has evolved as a director, just as much as his film have; he loves to let the characters lead and doesn’t let too much of the detail cloud their performances. Keanu Reeves has been soaked in the blood of hundreds of fallen assassins over the course of the film and have hardened to deliver a very physical performance, which has become of the best he has ever given. He still manages to show us his emotional wrought compassionate drives, but really, his actions and ass-kicking speak louder than words. The groovy dialogue and plethora of style are driven by the supporting cast with Ian McShane, Mark Dacascos and Halle Berry leading the way. The real surprise of the film was that of Asia Kate Dillon, who gives us a character who seems robotic, distant and so cold you can practically feel it; I love it.
The performances of any action movie are difficult to get right, but the action itself is even trickier. It can’t look fake, it must entertain without being boring and if something seems impressive, try and better it. This kind of philosophy has been applied only to the best modern action films, but John Wick takes it to a whole new level. It shows action and stylish and brutal fashion and finds just about every method in the book to kill people, including being kicked by horses and stabbing people in the eye. Blood, sweat and tears drench this film in glorious style and every gunshot in this film is practically like cannon fire; no faffing around or playing coy with the audience, this is action turned up to eleven.
The brilliant thing about John Wick 3, looking at it from a logistical and narrative viewpoint, is that it is amazingly fluid. It starts with that tense countdown before exploding into exciting action and chasing, but still leaves room for the characters to explore themselves and each other. The music in the film allows this natural progression to unfold as well, with composers Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard returning. The music never feels tonally different from the previous films, it still feels strong, energetic, modern and tense, easily some of the best of the composers’ careers. They’ve still kept to using the same themes and dynamic compositions of the previous films, so it is easy to think that none of the score is different, but you’d be wrong. Thanks to the new scale of the film, the music is allowed to be a bit more expressive and diverse than before, mainly thanks to shifts in locations.
Like the first 2 films, it is mostly set on the streets of New York, but John Wick never just leaves it at that. We now see more of the continental than ever before; halls of mirrors and glass art with massive, colourful reflecting TV screens, the grand Kasbah of the Casablanca continental, the antique weapon warehouse and even the dimly lit stables where horses can somehow be used as weapons, are all designed and crafted with exquisite detail. Then you have the streets of New York themselves, all framed and lit with beautiful colour and style; pinks, greens and turquoise blues make this film shine in contrast to other action movies.
In fact, I would go as far to say that when it comes to good looking action, the whole John Wick franchise is miles ahead of anything else that has even come out in this century. Cinematography Dan Laustsen shot the previous film and its thanks to him that the world of John Wick is bursting with colour and noir style lighting and framing. From the use of rain and steam rising from the city streets to the hot and dry aurora of the Casablanca sun, this film is easily the best shot of the franchise. Even scenes involving face to face talking like in a Ballet theatre or the continental lounge are breathtakingly shot and when the action heats up, the lighting and movement of the camera explodes with style. I’ve always liked what Dan Laustsen has shot before in action cinema, but his work on John Wick is something special; one of the best shot and most beautiful action movies I’ve ever seen.
What really amazes me, is how the production of this film was allowed to exist in the first place. It could’ve been so easy for the film to have been shot in a green screen environment or even use copious amount of CGI, but it didn’t. The fighting is expertly choreographed, the sets are all real, the props are all physical; its old school filmmaking, but in a thoroughly modern setting and even though this is a sequel, is budget is only a tiny bit higher than the previous film, allowing for monetary constraint, but still allowing room for growth.
I don’t think that the word ‘good’ could even justify the quality of this film. John Wick Chapter 3 is the culmination of one of the best action sagas of the modern age. Proper old-school filmmaking, stylish cinematography, excellent performances and fantastic action choreography. It is now not hard to see why another film is in the works.
I give this film a 9.5/10.