Editors Note: This article is a guest contribution from Jason Delgado.
By Jason Delgado
John Wick Chapter 3 – Parrabellum is a ballet of violence, a perfectly choreographed thing of beauty, very much a parallel of the stage play ballet dancers who appear in scenes with Angelica Houston’s character in the film. Wick 3 is an action masterpiece, an evolution of the genre, and it even ups the game within the Wick franchise (plot withstanding). How did we get to such an apex within action flicks?
I can remember the days in the 80s and 90s when muscle-bound bodybuilders were the popular thing. Schwarzenegger or Stallone would say a cheesy line with conviction, flex their sculpted body, and flash some charm all the way to the box office bank. Then Keanu said, “I know Kung Fu,” in the Matrix, and we all said “Whoa!” along with him after seeing the spectacle of new special effects combined with awesome martial arts combat.
Bruce Lee is to credit for the pop culture explosion of martial arts mania, before, and especially after, his untimely death at the age of 32. Lee became immortalized, while so many producers were forever searching for the “next Bruce Lee.” For a brief moment, they thought they may have found him in his son, Brandon Lee, but he died from a tragic firearms stunt gone wrong on the set of the Crow.
The history of action films has brought us to the most excellent adventures of John Wick 3, and I haven’t even mentioned the swashbuckling days of Errol Flynn, or the turbo-charged cars of Fast & Furious, and return of the muscle-heads like the Rock and Vin Diesel, yet there remains one constant. Keanu Reeves is the past, present, and future of action, because like the Terminator says, he’ll be back, and John Wick 3 is just his latest vehicle.
There is one man who is a connection between the Crow, the Matrix, and the John Wick franchise, and his name is Chad Stahelski. Stahelski became the stunt double stand-in for Brandon Lee after his death, in order to complete filming of the Crow. He was close friends with Brandon for five years prior to the accident, and had to study his movements to “become Brandon” for the movie. Stahleski later became the stunt double for Keanu on the Matrix, doing such a fine job that he was elevated to the position of the martial arts stunt coordinator for the two Matrix sequels. Chad went on to direct all three John Wick films, so he knows the history of martial arts action quite well, and uses it all to his advantage.
The first major action sequence in John Wick 3 is a tribute to a legendary Bruce Lee scene from the film Game of Death, where Lee fought basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul Jabbar. It’s a classic David vs. Goliath story, which is always fun to watch, with real-life giants playing the part. In this film, Keanu Reeves fights current NBA player (and seven foot, three inches tall Serbian man-beast) Boban Marjanovic. Shaquille O’Neal often teases Boban anytime a highlight comes up of him on Shaq’s NBA on TNT show, jokingly saying, “You Rang”, as a reference to the character of Lurch from the Addams Family. The fight between Boban and Keanu is quite the sight to behold, and the choreography is done masterfully, in order to play up the ridiculousness of it all. Even though Keanu is six-foot-one himself, the height contrast makes for significant viewing entertainment.
Reeves has said that he has gotten better at doing his own stunts after each John Wick film (he trained for five months before the filming of part 3), and it shows. Keanu shines as a hand-to-hand combat martial artist and expert gun marksman, with many rounds being shot at close range and rapid fire. The pacing of the action is at breakneck speed, while being beautifully planned out and executed, to the point that it’s like watching an old-time Busby Berkeley musical dance number, only with violence. We’ve seen that same style since the first John Wick movie, but not to this grand degree. Wick 3 is on another level, using dogs and even a horse to execute some of the outrageous action sequences. The action is heightened because of the fact that Keanu does his own stunts; viewers can see his face during the fights and the director can do longer scene takes, which may seem trivial to the casual moviegoer, but these choices do add a lot to the realism and entertainment factor of it all.
Keanu Reeves has been an ageless wonder since the 80’s, the original “dude” long before Jeff Bridges, with such memorable lines as,”Strange things are afoot at the Circle K,” or “Party on dudes!” The classic movie Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a personal favorite of mine, and I’m cautiously optimistic for the upcoming Bill & Ted Face the Music. It’s crazy to think about how Keanu keeps reinventing himself, from surfer/former football hero Johnny Utah in Point Break, to the clean cut cop in Speed, to Neo, the slo-mo bullet dodging savior of the human race, in the Matrix, to now the black suit wearing, world’s greatest assassin John Wick, all while never seeming to grow old.
Another person in John Wick 3 who hasn’t seemed to age over the years is Halle Berry. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a lot from her in Wick 3 because she hasn’t had much of an acting impact in recent times, besides playing Storm in the X-men films. Yet Berry really impressed me in this movie, much to my delight. You can tell that Berry trained for her stunts just as hard as Reeves did, because she holds her own next to him, which is no small feat. Berry’s acting style in Wick 3 exudes fierceness, like her two dogs in the movie, and just like the Wick character, people should know better than to mess with her dogs!
The plot of John Wick 3 is quite simplistic. There is a fourteen million dollar bounty on Wick’s head, available to any and every assassin, because of Wick’s actions in John Wick 2. He broke a cardinal assassin rule, and now there are “consequences” (as he keeps uttering) in this film. The plot is so simple, which works for what this is, but at the same time keeps it from being a truly great movie in my opinion. Even though the action is better in this film, I have a hard time elevating it above John Wick 1. The original’s plot of being out for revenge over his dog being killed was so unique and empathetic (while the action style itself was superbly original at the time), yet in Wick 3, the protagonist’s main motivation is to simply stay alive. However, there are a couple of cool twists, and the strange assassin world around Wick is still fascinating.
New York City and Morocco are settings in Wick 3 that are characters in and of themselves, as certain iconic places can be in the world of film, with a visual flair and liveliness of their own. Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburn, and Lance Reddick are all excellent In reprising their roles from the previous Wick flicks. Mark Dacascos plays a fun main foil to Wick, an expert ninja assassin named Zero, who happens to be a major John Wick fanboy, even as he’s trying to kill him. Dacascos adds humor to the film, while also being terrific at the martial arts aspect of his character. I wasn’t blown away by Asia Kate Dillon as the Adjudicater, but the role itself seemed stiff by design.
I give John Wick Chapter 3 – Parrabellum four hot sauce packets out of five. It’s inferno level hot! The only thing holding Wick back is a strong plot, but who needs that when you have awesome action? Party on action dudes!
News Update: Plans are underway for John Wick 4 with a release date set for 2021!!!!