‘Guns… a lot of guns.’
Keanu Reeve’s connection to the neo-western genre now goes beyond the prefix. In the latest Wickian outing, director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad put a spectacular bounty on the boogeyman’s head, switching out the Wild West for neon-scorched cityscapes and adding a breathless amount of kung/gun/dog-fu.
A single droplet of blood cues the cheesy opening credits. We’re back in the world of John Wick (Reeves); immediately following the events of Chapter 2, Continental hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane) allows the hitman one hour to escape before a $14 million contract for his life is lit.
Every single killer in New York City wants a slice of that bounty; but it’ll be no easy catch. This is “John fucking Wick”, “the last thing many men see before they die”, therefore, “the odds are about even”. As the rain pours like a Vietnam monsoon, John is hunted like a dog – though we all know that action equals a deadly consequence in this franchise.
Old faces return: Lance Reddick’s low-toned, refined Charon; Laurence Fishburne on amazingly loose form as Bowery King (he belongs in Westeros with lines like “I am the throne, baby!”). But, as the lore of this canine-avenging series expands and vastly deepens, many more emerge from the shadows: Asia Kate Dillon as The Adjudicator, representing the High Table’s reticles focused on Winston after his friendly allowance to John after breaking sacred rules; Halle Berry as Sofia, a former partner of John’s with a toe-curling knack for letting her pair of gorgeous dogs ravage her enemies genitals (it happens a lot). Not to mention the actual Anjelica Houston and Mark Dacascos as a delightfully twisted baddie.
Coins, markers, High Tables; Stahelski and Kolstad have rapidly moved from their emotive beginnings to expansive, hammy lore, constantly revealing new areas of the assassin-sphere. Your allegiances can be deciphered on the primitive question; which film did you prefer? The answer will likely indicate how you take Chapter 3, by far the most outrageous, exaggerated entry of the trilogy.
This time round though, the leaps and bounds the whacky mythos takes doesn’t always equal an exciting story. The runtime, a reasonable 131 minutes, can sag in bullet-less intervals, often woven with opaque dialogue about bonds, worths and penance. But, when the action comes back, the film kicks into a much higher gear.
The choreography here is close to The Raid 2-levels of blood-soaked quality; inventive, grim but rarely gratuitous. There’s horses, kitanas, uber-shotguns; all and more used in the act of killing, and it’s glorious. From a fight with the franchise equivalent of Jaws (Bond villain, not the shark), to a jaw-dropping move with a book, to the most impressive use of dogs in any motion picture that’s ever existed; this is premium action cinema. Stahelski is a genius in this arena, but all due credit to Dan Laustsen, the cinematographer that evokes blinding electricity from acutely framed, cross-discipline chaos.
“Art is pain” one character quips; I bet Reeves agrees. The people’s action star is known for loving the stunt-work, but this performance is one of immense physical aptitude. Stahelski said in an interview that when John looks to be struggling in the movie, panting and grunting, that’s because Reeves is. You believe it, you’re there for every punch, stab and shot he faces, every body-slam he dishes out; but with that reliable charisma he’s perfected in his renaissance, he’s also an immensely likeable hero.
There are other quibbles; Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s score is a bit uninspiring; it has momentum, but not the raw acceleration of say, Junkie XL’s work on Mad Max: Fury Road. There’s also the fact that these assassins kill people in broad daylight a lot, even in train stations, and nobody seems to notice. But, with such a remarkable plethora of sequences some directors could only dream of producing, this is an exhilarating, ooh-inducing watch (shout-out to all the good dogs again).
First he avenged a dog, now he fights alongside them. John Wick’s third chapter is an over-the-top feast of brutal, giddy, masterful violence.
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm