The Chad Stahelski-helmed John Wick franchise is relatively unpretentious, despite the intricate assassin’s world it has created. It’s a string of honest action films. That being said, it’s still got a unique storyline that keeps rolling along with every film.
John Wick 3 doesn’t have the novelty of the first film but has a stronger story than the second film. After the assassination that went horribly wrong (or right, depending on who you ask) in John Wick 2, Wick’s dealings with Santino D’Antonio led to Santino’s demise. Trouble was, the murder was on Continental grounds. As we know all too well, this is a world of assassins, where “there are rules”, as the Continental manager Winston (Ian McShane, American Gods) states at one point. If you are an assassin who draws blood on Continental grounds (it’s a worldwide hotel chain and assassin network), a bounty will be placed on your head. In the case of John Wick (Keanu Reeves, Always Be My Maybe, Man Of Tai Chi) it’s a bounty of $14M.
At the beginning of John Wick 3, we see Wick being pursued by every trained assassin that New York City holds. Not one to try to explain how it was all a big misunderstanding, John fights his way through them all. But not before retrieving another intriguing medallion, a “marker” medallion. And a religious token, both taken from a great hiding spot in the NYC library. Amusingly, John doesn’t stash any weapons to help him make his getaway. He just slogs through bad guys with whatever he can find at hand, making his trip through Chinatown a series of epic beatdowns. He safely stashes his beloved pup at the Continental, where a friendly, kind-hearted concierge named Charon (Lance Reddick, Monster Party), receives the dog.
It is on the streets of New York City where we learn the religious favor’s purpose. John goes to see the mysterious Director (Angelica Huston, Trouble, The Witches) at a ballet school, and the Director bestows the favor of safe passage on John Wick to a place of his choosing: Casablanca, Morocco. The weary John knows that she will extract a physical sign from him that all her favors have been used up. We know that the Director is not immune to the unique charms of the infamous High Table, so her punishment for helping John escape is forthcoming.
Meanwhile, slightly ahead of the Director’s punishment is the debts of punishment for those others who aided John Wick. For both the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne, Ant-Man and the Wasp), the underground crime boss who oversees a network of vagrant New York assassins. And for Winston, the manager of the New York Continental, to whom John is a friend. Here enters the menacing, non-binary Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), known by no other name.
In this film, stalking and coldly glaring through every scene they’re in, the non-binary Dillon really shines as a bona fide villain. The Bowery King and Winston are both asked by the Adjudicator to relinquish their offices within 7 days or face the music. Both appear not prepared to do so. The Adjudicator’s enforcer, Zero (Mark Dacascos, Brotherhood of the Wolf), and his students, Shinobi #1 (Cecep Arif Rahman, The Raid 2, Gundala) and Shinobi #2, (Yayan Ruhian, Triple Threat) are instructed to take down John Wick. For Zero, the thought of fighting the famed John Wick is an irresistible challenge.
From there, John Wick 3 then takes us to the exotic locale of Casablanca, to a Continental kasbah. John seeks the help of fellow assassin (and dog-lover) Sophia (Halle Berry, Kingsman: The Golden Circle). While the two of them used to be friends, when John meets up with her, they’re on the outs. Partially because Sophia owes John a blood debt (as John did for Santino). And partially because of some old wounds, Sophia is not very receptive to John’s plight.
Sophia soon relents, however, and aids John. She allows that they must find a mysterious figure called The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui, Wonder Woman). He lives in the Moroccan desert, for he is a nomad. But he is Above the Table, which means that the High Table’s governing do not affect him. Basically, John is going over his employer’s head to get a pardon. After a bit more fighting, because Morocco, too, has woken up to the news that John Wick’s head is worth $14M, Sophia makes good on her deal with John. She leads him to another assassin, Berrada (Jerome Flynn, Game of Thrones). Berrada tells John he can find The Elder by walking through the desert until he cannot walk any longer. Again, with the partial aid of Sophia, John sets out to seal his fate.
The action of John Wick fighting assassins was good. Better than good, actually. The getaways were pretty good too, I won’t spoil them but there were at least two that were my favorites. There were some genuinely fun fights that put a smile on my face and made me laugh and wince. The fight with Berrada, in particular, had me in stitches laughing.
The only thing about the fights was that once John landed in Morocco, they felt like transition pieces to the next scene. Not like their own proper fights. Just guys John Wick had to slam into a wall so that he could run where he was running next. While John Wick 2 was thin on story, it did the right scope of worldbuilding appropriate to the movie, and it had some really brilliant fights. John Wick 3 feels just a little too big for me to follow, in terms of worldbuilding.
The use of the Director and the Adjudicator was interesting, and I look forward to seeing what they will do in John Wick 4. Bearing in mind, the Adjudicator works for the High Table. This is the governing body whose rules all assassins adhere to, and are presumably the rules that each Continental abides by. The problem here is that we never actually see the High Table. Perhaps for some audience members, this creates more foreboding for the villain. But for me, it made the references to the “High Table”, and “Above the Table” and “Below the Table” go over my head a bit. But I’m sure Stahelski has a plan in mind for how we will meet the High Table in the next movie.
I thought the use of a different location was interesting as well, it helped flesh out the assassin’s world. It will be neat to see what kind of places will factor into the John Wick storyline next time. The pacing and writing of these movies are very well-done, and the characters well-realized. I loved Halle Berry’s character as “assassin dog trainer”. Nicely done. And honestly, because there are more dogs than the first and second films, I loved that aspect of it. Seeing dogs do stunts and doggie parkour felt really real and vivid to me. I’m an animal lover, and I’m awfully fond of John’s dog in the movie.
Even if it wasn’t the most cohesive John Wick film, I’d still tell everyone (and their dog 🙂 ) to go see it. Immediately. Shit, there’s even a cameo of Boban Marjanovic from the Philadelphia 76’ers. Chad Stahelski has done some neat things. I look forward to seeing him and his team reach new heights of ass-kicking in John Wick 4. You can keep updated on that via the franchise Facebook page.
For anyone who’s watched the movies, the humor is not lost on us with regard to news about John Wick: Chapter 4 coming out May 21, 2021. The news spread by way of a text message, for those fans who had signed up for mobile updates. It notified them of the release date by SMS: “You have served. You will be of service. John Wick: Chapter 4 is coming – May 21, 2021.”
John Wick 3: Parabellum is currently available in theaters. No dogs were harmed in the making of this film. 🙂