The Boogeyman, the Baba Yaga, the scourge of other assassins: John Wick has been through it in the last two movies. You know the drill by now; it’s kill or be killed in the seedy underworld of John Wick’s universe. This time, John Wick is in a spot of trouble. He’s being pursued by every assassin in the world – literally – after the High Council excommunicates him and puts a bounty on his head. He’s persona non grata, ostensibly without friends or help, and he must find a way to survive while bargaining for his life.
Thus far, the first two films have managed to blend balletic action with highly stylized visuals and cinematography that rises far above that of most action movies. Both beautiful and brutal, the John Wick series has elevated American action cinema to new levels of respect. So is John Wick: Chapter 3 worth it? Does it live up to the expectations and relentless action set by the first two films? Read on for three reasons you must see it when it hits theaters this weekend.
1. Halle Berry Deserves Her Own Spinoff
Not enough will be written about Halle Berry in reviews. That’s a mistake. Because Halle Berry (Sofia) and her trained attack doggos are everything in this film. The John Wick movies have, let’s been honest, been short with women, with most female characters either being fridged for the sake of Wick’s narrative or scantily-clad models in the background of the main action. Enter Sofia. From the moment she steps onto the screen, she commands it. Sofia is John Wick’s equal in every way and, dare I say, superior in some, neither intimidated nor impressed by him.
There’s a particular flaw that drives me nuts in action scenes, and it’s when I don’t believe the actor or actress when they throw a punch or point a gun. Some actors you buy as a badass; others you don’t. Granted, a lot of this often comes down to the stunt choreography and the editing work, but it begins with the actor. Berry has said in previous interviews that she trained for months for the role in everything from hand-to-hand combat, weapons mastery, and attack dog training. But even months of training isn’t always convincing if the actor isn’t naturally inclined toward physicality; luckily for us, Berry very much is. She is intimidating as hell with a gun, and her command of the dogs is impressive. The two Belgian Malinois shepherds work together with Berry as a well-oiled unit. While the action is literally and figuratively exploding all around them, she and the dogs never lose their cool. Where there are moments of black humor in John Wick’s fight scenes, Sofia and her dogs are all business. It might seem heretical to say, but if I were picking assassin teams, I might pick Sofia and her dogs over John Wick. Yeah. Halle Berry is that good.
2. The Action – Obviously, The Action
I admit – I’m generally not a fan of murderhobo-ing in movies and I’m generally not a fan of violence for violence’s sake (looking at you, Tarantino). There are only so many times I can see a nameless henchman be killed or gruesome violence before it all starts to blend together into one big ball of “Was that necessary?” for me. But in the John Wick franchise, there has always been meaning in the violence and beauty in death. Yes, he kills a lot of people in this movie, but it’s for a reason and with a purpose. In his world, every assassin is quite literally out to kill him and take the bounty on his head. Honestly, John Wick 3 made me think maybe I have been seriously underestimating the number of assassins who walk hidden among us; they are everywhere in the first and third acts. That sushi chef? Assassin. The homeless guy? Assassin. That woman leaning against the wall in a hoodie? Yeah, no, she’s definitely an assassin.
Yet, it’s the realistic unrealism in the John Wick franchise that makes it so immersive. We expect that there are assassins around literally every corner, springing out of the shadows to get their shot at the Baba Yaga. We believe it in the context of the world. And so the Baba Yaga must find ever-inventive ways to kill them or be killed. Ever wanted to see John Wick kill a man (okay, multiple men) on a horse? Great. Now’s your chance. How about on a motorcycle? That, too. The stunt choreography in the franchise has always been top-notch; it’s a testament to those involved, particularly fight and stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio, that the fights rarely get old. The inventiveness of action sequences is also kept visually mesmerizing by cinematographer Dan Laustsen’s camera work, particularly his single-take tracking shots. Normally I check out of over-long action sequences; during my screening I found myself wishing I had a pause button to hit so I could rewind and watch certain bits again.
3. The Mythology And World-Building Are Incredible
Some people prefer the John Wick universe remain small and self-contained. That’s perfectly fine for some, but not this gal. Not this gal. Give me all the deep mythology and complex world-building. To this end, John Wick 3 gave me my fix. The third installment in the franchise opens the world up wide for a period of time, giving us a tantalizing sketch the broader political structure underpinning the entire criminal underground. We meet the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), a member of the High Council elected to hand down judgments and punishments, as well as getting a glimpse of the Administrator (Robin Lord Taylor), in charge of running the information network of the underground. It makes you aware of just how vast and broad John Wick’s world is and that we’ve only been allowed to catch glimpses of it, flickers at the edge of our vision that hinted at something much greater. Now, the bigger picture is finally starting to come into focus and it’s intriguing as hell.
Every movie has carried John Wick in a loose upward arc closer to the High Council; John Wick 3 practically gets him to their doorstep. And, oh, they do not want him on their doorstep. The third movie, which, in previous interviews, Keanu Reeves had indicated would likely be the last, only sets up a bigger finish for the next movie, which is now inevitable: John Wick has gone underground, and now he’s coming for the Council. With nothing left to lose, he plans to burn it all to the ground. I, for one, can not wait to see him wage war.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is in theaters today. Get your tickets here.