That's not to say what JOHN WICK 3 doesn't kick ass... because it bloody well does. And wow, what an absolutely bonkers film it is. Director Chad Stahelski returns for his third outing and doubles down to up the ante ten-fold. The first film was an instant cult classic and might have benefited from being a stand-alone (dare I say) masterpiece... yet having said that, the second film raised the bar and delivered an absurdly entertaining demonstration of excessiveness. It was a frenetic, relentless and gratuitous opera of violence that dazzled the screen with some of the best choreography of modern cinema. And now the highly anticipated third chapter has arrived, taking place one-hour after the previous events, with the dial turned up to eleven.
Keanu Reeves reprises his lead role as though no time has passed at all, and baring the wounds of the second film he's running against the clock to seek medical attention before all hell comes crashing down on him. He is, of course, the legendary hitman whose cinematic journey began when mobsters killed his pet dog. Throughout the course of the three films we discover that he occupies a universe where the world is governed by high-level crime syndicates and their members walk amongst the civilian population in abundance. Wick's status is downgraded to excommunicado when he conducts “business” (ie kills) within the walls of The Continental; a place of sanctuary. And with that, Wick becomes public-enemy number one with a 14-million dollar bounty on his head, and is pursued by a never ending barrage of assassins hellbent on claiming the prize.
John Wick is a simple franchise and its integrity derives from its stylings. From its wet neon noir cityscapes to its elaborate and masterfully orchestrated action sequences, it is an ultra-violent escapade that leaves little room for story... and that's perfectly fine. Much like the seminal Mad Max Fury Road, here is a franchise that challenges standards and shifts the boundaries of action. Of course it must be said that the perimeters had already been crossed by director Gareth Evans' films The Raid and The Raid 2, which no doubt influenced the direction of John Wick... and in fact both franchises ought to occupy the same universe...
The violence smacks the audience from the moment the film begins and it reaches mass casualties before the running time hits double digits. Humans are turned into pin cushions as hundreds of knives are flung across the screen. Skulls are crushed and bones are shattered as Wick dispatches waves of assassins like a proverbial blowtorch to a barrel of monkeys. And it is glorious. No sooner has Wick dusted the floor with a dozen killers, he's then trotting through the city on horseback before whooping ass in Morocco (yep). There's no mistaking the lunacy of this series, and with each instalment comes an added level of absurdity, and what began as a narrowly focused action movie has suddenly blown up into a mythology that teeters on being supernatural.
Keanu Reeves' longevity and ability to maintain this status within Hollywood is a story unto itself, and with decades of titles like Point Break, The Matrix and Speed to his name (just to skim the surface), he deserves full ownership of the industry's most versatile and unassuming action star. John Wick might well become his most beloved character of all, and rightfully so. He returns to the series with the same level of intensity as when he began five years ago, and he shows no signs of slowing down. His supporting cast includes return players Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane and Lance Reddick - who all appear to be having the time of their lives – with an assortment of newcomers including Halle Berry, Angelica Huston, Marc Dacascos and Asia Kate Dillon.
The new additions do little to improve upon the legacy. Huston's contribution amounts to an extended cameo, and she players her Russian member of the high-table with little subtlety. She is neither good nor bad and her part amounts to little more than that “ah look, Angelica Huston” factor. As for Halle Berry... she deserves a new paragraph.
Why the Hell is Halle Berry in John Wick?? Her character is pointless and her place in the story is irrelevant. And that's not to say she's terrible in the film either, she's okay. However, her 45-minute subplot fits the series like a moped fits a biker. Set in the deserts of Morocco, she plays a mysterious figure from John Wick's past who owes him a favour. She reluctantly helps him track down the highest ranking member of the organisation and unleashes a can of whoop-ass on the encroaching Middle Eastern assassins as they move in on Wick. This Morocco diversion serves as an unfortunate speed hump to the story and is executed with stark contrast to the American side of things. Presenting Wick as a fish out of water might read well on paper, but having it unfold on screen might be likened to watching a backlot stunt-show at Universal Studios. I found no joy in Halle Berry's inclusion to the franchise and wish to Hell her entire distraction had been left on the cutting room floor.
Contrary to to all of that is the welcome addition of Mark Dacascos who arrives to the series as the tenacious and deadly “Sushi assassin” who stops at nothing to take the head of John Wick, all the while being a massive fan boy. Dacascos is fantastic as he balances the comedic nuances with menace with absolute ease. Despite actively kicking ass on screen for over 20-years he looks fitter and faster than ever before and is, perhaps, even in his prime.
JOHN WICK 3 is arguably the weakest chapter of the series, and yet it could have been the best. The action is beautifully choreographed and flawlessly executed, and with the exception of the Moroccan crux, it delivers a fluent and graceful exercise in ultra-violence. And in the highly unlikely event that a directors cut arrives 45-minutes shorter, it might well be one of the greatest American action movies of the last decade.