Writers: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams
Composer: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburn
The newest chapter in the saga of John Wick has arrived. Following the events of the first two films, our violent hero is alone and being hunted in New York City. Without any assistance from his old allies, how will the desperate assassin survive?
Violence/Scary Images: Significant violence, characters are shot, stabbed, bleed profusely; some scenes of excessive gore
Language/Crude Humor: Intermittently severe language throughout
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters drink alcohol, references to smoking
Sexual Content: None
Spiritual Content: Characters carry religious artifacts for non-religious purposes
Other Negative Content: Betrayal, senseless violence
Positive Content: Themes of loyalty, fighting corrupt authorities
The question floating over John Wick‘s third entry in the series for me was a question of long term viability. The first John Wick film was a lean, no-nonsense action film that blindsided a complacent entertainment industry waiting for the next big thing in action movies. The second one was a more divisive film some fans like myself considered an elevation of the story and world of its lead character, while others disliked it.
The possibilities of a third film in the franchise seemed quite enthralling. Given the events at the end of the second film where John Wick assassinates a ranking member of the High Table in cold blood on the grounds of the Continental Hotel, it suggested the third film was going to reflect a kind of purgatory for the lead character. I got excited early in the film where an assassin walks up to John quoting Dante’s Inferno. It suggested a fascinating direction for where the film could be morally taking John Wick as a character and how the movie might attempt to redeem him. If the first movie was about resurging, then the second film was about a descent into Hell, meaning the third film would likely be a story of salvation. Using the frame of Inferno, the story could’ve theoretically been a gauntlet to explore Wick’s journey to forgiveness and redemption. In practice, however, the moral compass of the third film is quite messy.
The story picks up literal minutes after the end of the second film, where John is being hunted by an army of hundreds of professional assassins all seeking the $14 million bounty on his head. For killing the leader of the Italian mafia, the High Council has dispatched an agent to clean up the mess in New York City. He is to punish every party that allowed him to escape in the last movie and hunt John to the ends of the Earth while he seeks assistance from an elder above the Council who could potentially wipe away his excommunicato status.
John Wick Chapter 3 isn’t a bad film…far from it. It’s one of the most beautifully shot and brilliantly choreographed action movies since The Raid 2. As an orgy of violence, it’s second the none. Yet I couldn’t help but think during the screening that the movie had somewhat lost the plot in regards to where the actual ethics of the story was supposed to be going. I had hoped the story would find a satisfying way to close the book on the story arcs of the first two films while leaving room for a potential sequel, but alas, that’s not quite what the movie does. The movie depressingly functions as an extension of the story of the first two films that seems to suggest the filmmakers are going to drag on this story for as many films as possible. That left the movie’s ending feeling like it could’ve been setting up a clever bait and switch feeling very hollow and rushed.
As a whole, I’m disappointed with the film. It had the opportunity to definitively deliver the cathartic end of the story this central character deserves, or at least should’ve had the opportunity to earn. It’s not like there aren’t a dozen other sequel/prequel ideas the filmmakers could’ve used as a hook for other movies in this universe.
Broken down into its individual parts, however, the film sits with me better. A second act digression in Casablanca with Halle Berry ends up providing the emotional and action highlight of the film. I’d been skeptical of her inclusion in the film ever since I heard she’d be in it, given Berry’s infamous roles in early 2000s trainwrecks like Catwoman and Die Another Day. In her half hour of screentime, she carries more history and pathos than any other character in the film. She manages to outfight John Wick in their scene together and prove her chops as one of the best characters in this movie. I genuinely hope she comes back for another film or earns a spin-off.
Again the movie is quite well done. The John Wick movies are nothing if not some of the best working filmmakers in Hollywood teaming up to create a love letter to action cinema, so the parts of the film people came to see don’t disappoint.
For me, though, the sum of these parts doesn’t outweigh the whole. The economy and tight storytelling of the first movie is almost entirely gone, replaced with scope and ambition that doesn’t serve the story of its main character in an emotionally satisfying way by the end. It definitely ups the ante on action, but doesn’t feel as cathartic as the second movie’s Rome sequence which came with 15 minutes of setup/payoff, or dramatic as the first movie’s character motivated action. I hate to be negative about this movie at all given my adoration for the first two films and just how much everyone in this film is giving it their all. However, at the same time, I don’t want this story to drag out indefinitely. John Wick deserves a proper ending to his story that addresses the conflict that’s been building up over two movies.
The Bottom Line