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-[Film Reviews]-, Hollywood, NORTH AMERICAN CINEMA

‘John Wick 3’ (2019): Review

Directed by: Chad Stahelski || Produced by: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee

Screenplay by: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams || Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane

Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard || Cinematography: Dan Laustsen || Edited by: Evan Schiff || Country: United States || Language: English

Running Time: 131 minutes

Upon the successful release, reception, and box office take of John Wick 2 (2017), I stated without equivocation that the American action movie was back. I stand by that assertion two years later, as Tom Cruise’s practical stunt-based Mission: Impossible (1996, 2000, 2006, 2011, 2015, 2018) franchise grows in size and unabashed adult-orientated action features like Atomic Blonde (2017, helmed by John Wick [2014] uncredited co-directer, David Leitch) and Fury Road (2015, an Australian co-production) become commonplace. Even multiple high-profile entries in popular, mainstream superhero franchises — properties notorious for their over-reliance on bloated digital FX, censored violence, and family-friendly spectacle — turned to the dark side with successful outings like Deadpool (2016, 2018) and Logan (2017). As more and more violent entertainment transitions to streaming services, some of my faith in humanity is restored upon seeing so many people willing to tolerate the overpriced, inconvenient theatrical experience to see movies where dozens of people get shot in the face. I suppose there is still good left in this world.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves, left) makes a deal with The Director (Anjelica Huston, right) for safe passage to Morocco.

That the John Wick intellectual property has grown to the point of being a playable “skin” in Fortnite (2017) is a sign of how mainstream audiences appreciate both the brand and the stylistic resurgence it represents. I have no delusions about hard-R action films dominating theatrical releases above all else, but it’s satisfying how a sizeable chunk of the general population now has a passing clue about what kind of cinema I love most.

Enter John Wick 3, third directorial feature by former stuntman and longtime colleague of star Keanu Reeves, Chad Stahelski. Stahelski has staked his entire career on this franchise, transforming from an unnamed Matrix (1999) stuntman to neo-noir action thriller auteur in a career metamorphosis as stunning as Jordan Peele’s turn to horror (e.g. Get Out [2017], Us [2019]). To say the man has run wild with Derek Kolstad’s efficient, bare-bones original script would be a vast understatement, as the property has embraced film noir aesthetics, “gun-fu” choreography, and diegetic minutiae in a way few series have, niche or mainstream. It’s a franchise that’s both self-aware and cognizant of what its hardcore fans want, yet refuses to descend into cynical meta-commentary a la Deadpool or bloat its background narrative beyond storytelling necessity. With its latest and possibly not final entry, the John Wick series proves itself not only one of Hollywood’s finest modern action properties, but also one of its most patient, most careful diegetic world-builders.

The franchise’s remarkable consistency in both concept and execution make differentiating John Wick 3 (JW3) from its predecessors difficult. That’s a good problem to have when your original film is 2014’s John Wick (JW) and your first sequel is the loud, proud, and beautiful John Wick 2 (JW2); yet, in hindsight, analytical criticism of this latest sequel was destined to be repetitive given how confident Stahelski and Kolstand are in their command of this cinematic material. What is new to say about JW3 relative to JW or JW2 that doesn’t reference the franchise’s correlative (causational?) rise with the resurgence of adult-orientated action cinema? Its fluid close-quarters-combat coalesces with its charismatic action stars and Dan Laustsen’s smooth, identifiable cinematography and striking neon colors, its narrative is constructed around obscure yet enticing organized crime syndicates and their mythology, and Tyler Bates’ and Joel J. Richard’s electric guitar-based soundtrack thumps in the background. Sound familiar?

The lone elements distinguishing JW3 from its predecessors are its somewhat inconsistent pacing in its opening act (3-4 brief action scenes back-to-back-to-back-to-back), Halle Berry’s supporting performance with her two German shepherds, and the film’s video-game inspired “boss battles” in its final act, the latter a clear nod to the original Raid (random trivia: Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman, lead villains of The Raid [2011] and The Raid 2 [2014], respectively, guest-star as minor villains). The former is a slight disappointment given how much of a well-oiled machine JW2 was in terms of pacing, though the visual and thematic references to video-game antagonist hierarchy at the end compensate for that. Berry, meanwhile, mangles her simple, straightforward dialogue, though her dedication to her action sequences is appreciated, as are the number of times her dogs chomp on enemy groins.

Reeves (center) takes on Yayan Ruhian (left) and Cecep Arif Rahman (right) in the film’s penultimate fight sequence.

Bottom line: If you were impressed by the work of star Keanu Reeves, screenwriter Derek Kolstad, and director Chad Stahelski in the previous two John Wick features, you know what to expect with this latest sequel. Perhaps the most positive thing I can say about John Wick 3 is how comparable it is to the rest of the franchise without feeling stale, repetitive, or predictable in the slightest. Discussing each film in detail may be monotonous, but the films themselves are anything but; the John Wick franchise may be likened to the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” which is a rarer cinematic phenomenon than one might think. How many sequels or spinoffs grow stale due to repeating the same formula, all while changing minimal, if any details from their respective originals? The fact that Stahelski’s John Wick keeps gunning and throwing and punching and wrist-locking without losing steam is a small marvel. In a world where franchises must reinvent themselves (e.g. The Fast and the Furious [2000-present]) to survive or peak by their first sequel (e.g. Empire Strikes Back [1980], Aliens [1986], The Dark Knight [2008]), John Wick shows no signs of changing things up or slowing down. It doesn’t have to.

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SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Stahelski, Kolstad, and Reeves may as well ride this franchise till they die. After three films with minimal adjustment in formula or execution and remarkably stable results, the John Wick series appears the exception to the franchise rule: It neither adapts, nor dies, only pushing forward with the uncanny ability to entertain no matter the nitpicks.

However… speaking of nitpicks, John Wick 3 could’ve omitted an early action sequence or two and Halle Berry still can’t act. I like her dogs, though.

—> HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Water remains wet.

? You lose a finger, John?

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

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