I’ve said that the Marvel movies are accidentally insular. The John Wick franchise is purposefully so. I subtitled my review of the second film Clash of Gods, because that’s what the film felt like: Olympian superhumans working out their differences in a space adjacent to where we normal folks live, but not exactly intermingled. John Wick 3: Parrabellum, continues that move. Three people are murdered in Grand Central during rush hour! No one bats an eye. It’s a good choice because the movies should feel as removed from reality as possible – the bizarre and byzantine bureaucracy of the movies is (probably no surprise) my absolute favorite part of them, and the deeper and more surreal we get, the better. I almost wish the movies hinted less at character. For all I care, this whole series could be over a dog.
So, quick recap: in John Wick John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a retired hitman. His wife dies, she leaves him a dog, someone kills the dog, John unretires and murders a bunch of folk, gets a new dog. John Wick 2 features a dude asking John Wick to fulfill a blood debt and kill the dude’s sister so the dude can take her place at the High Table aka the Assassins Administrative Board. John does, then the dude tries to double cross him, so John kills the dude too only he does it on the grounds of the Continental Hotel, which is a big no-no, so he’s excommunicated by his pal Winston (Ian McShane). John Wick 3 opens seconds later, as John faces down the assassins sent after him (being excommunicated puts a huge bounty on his head). Winston and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) meanwhile must deal with a High Table Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), who has come to discipline them for assisting Wick in the previous film.
The truth of the John Wick franchise is that the less they care, the better. From a craft standpoint the movies have been pretty superb. They have crazy lighting, and just absurdly good fight choreography, and wonderful design, and they never let anything hold them back from any of those things. When the fighting gets to a hotel near the end of the film, one of the characters purposefully flips a switch to change the lighting in the hotel from “normal” to “weird neon green strips.” When John Wick has to fight people weaponless they place him in what can only be described as a hall of knives (ostensibly an… antique weaponry shop, I guess?). It’s clear the filmmakers first meeting was “what would be fun” and then they were like “okay, where can we set this?” And why not? The world is pointedly ridiculous, so whatever they want to include, if it’s visually exciting, I say go for it. There’s a scene where a character gives John Wick the advice “go wander in the desert until you faint and then the person you want to find will find you,” and everyone treats it as not only normal but genuinely valuable and legitimate advice.
Leaning further into the John Wick as God element is the way that everyone knows him. Not only does the random cab he hails at the beginning except his secret assassin coin as payment for getting his dog to the Continental, the goons fighting him are all enthralled by him, most of all head goon Zero (Mark Dacascos) who is apparently the head of the John Wick fan club. He’s just so psyched to get to fight John Wick, and again, why not? If we’re to continue to analogy of olympian gods, Zero and his goons are perhaps heroes, half mortal, half god, who have been invited to play with the top guns. It’s goofy and fun, and helps continue to build this adjacent world that has its own myths and rules that we, the normal folks of NYC, are totally blind to.
As for the violence, it cuts both ways. The insular nature of the story makes it so that we can just sit back and enjoy, but also makes it so that we can just sit back and enjoy. John Wick in general does a better job than most action at making fighting look brutal and frankly exhausting, but it’s no critique of violence. It revels in it, and asks us to revel in it. Which is sort of the contract we sign with any action movie. I recently had a discussion on Twitter about the violence in GoTs – should we expect the show to deconstruct our approach to violence when it’s promised us a spectacle and that spectacle is violence? I don’t know. Part of me wants to say, yes, we should always hold our media to a high standard and if it’s not condemning violence it is at least (a la BoJack season 5) normalizing it. But that’s also not really meeting movies where they are, and the violence in John Wick is the raison d’etre, and it’s simply very, very good. It’s well done. How can I sit in a movie theater and fear that someone will shoot it up (I always have this fear in a theater, and just to put it on the record somewhere please politicize my death if I’m shot) while simultaneously applauding the extremely well done gunfighting on screen? I don’t know.
I give John Wick 3: Parrabellum 8 horses out of ten motorcycle ninjas.
- The horse fight was pretty hilarious and cool. As is the dog combat, though it feels less ridiculous and a little more brutal it’s still so tightly put together.
- I had to close my eyes only a few times during this movie! I don’t like eye stuff or head wounds.
- This was an objectively awesome movie to see in a packed theater. People oohed and aahed and groaned at all the right points. Awesome.