Keanu returns in an even more expanded universe, but is that a good thing?
The “John Wick” films have developed into a surprising franchise for Lionsgate Films. The original, a low budget action set piece that starred a rarely seen Keanu Reeves was a slight hit that developed into a cult favorite. While a pure action film (the script could have believably been about 25 pages) the approach was something completely original over the usual heavy weapons chase scene fodder.
All three movies have been delivered by the writing-directing tandem of Chad Stahelski and Derek Kolstad. Stahelski has extensive experience as a stuntman and stunt coordinator and his skills in that field have perfectly fed the “Wick” series. The movies have distinguished themselves from typical action films with elaborate gunplay and combat scenes in creative settings with impressive camerawork.
With each film the universe of the hitman reluctantly drawn out of retirement has expanded. The original seemed largely set in a select few New York boroughs, and the sequel took on a broader setting across more of New York, with a foray to Rome. Chapter 3 feels more international, both in staging and with the scope of assassins gunning for the titular hero.
Picking up immediately where “Chapter 2” left off Wick is literally on the run, with his dog, as the call goes out that he is “excommunicado” from The Continental – the underworld business haven hotel. Like the scope of the story the bounty on Wick’s head has grown with each episode. The $2 million placed by the Russians in the first film grew to $7 million in the sequel, and now The Continental has placed the staggering $14 million price tag on the international contract.
In keeping with the first two films, we are delivered copious servings of gunplay, hand-to-hand battles, and chase scenes. This time we get intricately staged fights in a knife repository, a deftly choreographed battle in a horse stable, along with a creative chase on horseback and motorcycles, and a lengthy but absorbing battle in Morocco with Halle Berry joining Wick and a pair of guard dogs to fight out of a headquarters.
The signature gunfight takes place in The Continental itself, and while that all feeds our tense hunger there are times this film seems almost too expansive for the Wick enterprise. One of the hallmarks of those first two films is how lean everything all felt. Keanu Reeves serves the taciturn character well, as his limited acting prowess is offset by his onscreen charisma. Wick is a cipher, and he does not need an overly dramatic backstory to deliver.
However this third iteration feels almost too choked. A secondary motorcycle chase is beautifully shot, but feel superfluous. A lengthy fight scene between Wick and two Asian assassins, leading up to the climax was wholly unneeded and possibly detracted somewhat from the final fight. But in the end we are well served the expected thrills. The professionally staged and shot battles here fit in perfectly with the series.
Most action movies rely on noise, explosions, and a buffet-style of filmmaking that serves up everything they can think of to stoke the audience. Those are driven by testosterone and sweat, where the “Wick” films operate on adrenaline and guile. “Chapter 3” gives us everything we enjoyed about the first two movies and more. The “more” was not really needed, but only distracts somewhat while it does not truly detract.
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