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Movie Critique – John Wick Movie Series

Stars: 4 / 5

Recommendation: The film has its weak spots obviously, but comes with heavily action packed mob-involved revenge plot that doesn’t disappoint the viewers. If you like bloodshed and guns and revenge, this is the right series to pick up.

John Wick Movie Series is a series of films, three of which have been released so far, with two more in planning. The stories in these movies follow around John Wick, a retired hitman who is brought out of his retirement in each movie for one or the other reason. Wick was an orphan who is raised to be an assassin by the Tarasov Russian Mafia. Keanu Reeves portrays the titular role so far. 

One of the questions in the American TV Game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was about John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum. Specifically around the word Parabellum used in the title. That prompted an interest in me to watch the movies and see who the heck was John Wick. And hence the review.

The first film, John Wick, was released in 2014 and focuses on Wick taking revenge on the people who had killed his dog , Daisy, a recent gift from his deceased wife, Helen. He comes out of a 5 year retirement to hunt the killers. The plot is loosely based on an incident in Texas involving former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, whose puppy, DASY, was shot by street bad guys. 

The second film, John Wick: Chapter 2 was released in 2017. This time Wick is forced to honor a past debt and is sent to assassinate someone he doesn’t want to kill. What follows is again betrayals, fights and a river of bodies before he finishes his mission. The story begins a few weeks after where the first film ends. 

The third film, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum was released in 2019. The previous installment ended in a cliffhanger so it is expected that the film begins from where part 2 left off, an hour after those events. John Wick is now an internationally marked man on the run. Now every assassin in the world is out to get him and collect the $14M dollar bounty on him.

When the character Wick was conceived, screenwriter Derek Kolstad influenced by film noir with a revenge and redemption theme; and on the curiosity that what would happen to the worst man when he finds salvation and then is stolen from him. That's exactly what we see of Wick in the first film. Also Derek's 88-yr old grandfather, John Wick, inspired the name for the character. 

However, Director Chad Stahelski mentioned that the Wick was influenced from several movies such as the 1966 The Good, The Bad And The Ugly; the 1967 Point Blank to name a few. Incidentally, in the Matrix series, Chad was Reeves' stunt double. Chad also mentioned that "Continental" hotel concept was based on Rick's Place in the 1942 film Casablanca where everyone comes to find a safe haven. And that is why he sends Wick to Casablanca in the third film as a nod to that film.

The first film, sort of forms a reunion for producer-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch; and actors Keanu Reeves, Daniel Bernhardt, & Randall Duk Kim; all of whom had been part of The Matrix Trilogy. Although in the second film, Reeves' is united with his Matrix co-star, Laurence Fishburne. He gets less than 10 minutes of screen space in it, but in the third film his role expands considerably.

Jimmy, Wick's cop friend, played by Thomas Sadoski, appears in the first two installments but doesn’t in the third film. He has only a few lines with Wick in both films, but somehow I presumed his role to evolve in the third one based on those few lines. Looks like the writers didn’t want to bring him back.

The continuity between the movies is shown in several scenes. For instance, the dialogue "Be Seeing you, John" is said by Viggo in the first film and Ares in the second film, after Wick stabs them both with a knife; Viggo speaks of a fight scene by Wick in the past where he kills three people with a pencil in the first film and in the second film Wick kills two assassins with a pencil; Charon retains his position in all three movies; repeatedly use of the phrase "be seeing you", a catch phrase from 1967 TV Series The Prisoner.

In the second film, the opening credits don’t start until 20 minutes into the movie and they are considerably more graphic than just simple titles as the first film. The sequel increases everything twice - bloodshed; bodies dropping; the twists and the critical assignments - including the gross earnings on the film. 

The Reflections of Soul exhibit in New York that is shown in the second film is fictional. However the fighting that Wick has with Santino and his goons in there is very similar to the climatic mirror-room fighting between Lee and Mr. Han in the 1973 film Enter the Dragon. Director Stahelski had mentioned that this was one of the ideas he had wanted to recreate in the story. It was indeed excellent although I didn’t see Enter the Dragon movie so cannot compare. 

Here is the scene from this movie though:

While the second film has the famed showdown in the mirror room, the third film has the showdown between Wick and Zero in a glass house, entirely constructed of glass, even the steps and all. 

In the title of the third film, the word "Parabellum" is added which is taken from the famous 4th century military quote  "Si vis pacem, para bellum," which means, "If you want peace, prepare for war." You can see the word three times in the film - tattooed on the back of the ballerina girl; appears on the door of the bus; and Winston (portrayed by Ian McShane) quotes it towards the end.

Again the bloodshed, gunfights and martial arts choreography are all the more intense in the third part. Just based on the word "Parabellum", one should expect it. Audience are definitely not disappointed, and the profits are tripled for the film-makers too.

The third film also gives an internal conflict within John - the John who wants to live with the memory of his wife and the John Wick who is trained to be an assassin. The Russian ballet "Tale of Two Wolves" shown in the film reflects the same.

Fight scenes in the films used gun fu style, martial arts and fight choreographers to stage them. Reeves had trained prior to the filming of each film on the necessary martial arts such as Judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and others apart from marksmanship and driving. Reeves mentioned that he had done 90% of his own stunts in the series. A few scenes in the first film he shot with a temperature of 104F. Although in the third film, Halle Berry went through dog training as well. 

The movies definitely have a heavy hand with bloodshed and killings. In the first movie alone Wick kills 67 people of the total 77 body count. The second film had a body count of 128, while in the third film it is 94. And you see there is marked absence of any law enforcement after any of the gunfights or kills except for Jimmy, Wick's police friend. 

The antagonists after Wick though are powerful are weak as they come. Instead of facing Wick, they turn their tails in and run - Viggo Trasov sacrifices his son in the first film, while Santino D'Antonio seeks refuge in the Continental Hotel in the second film.

Keanu Reeves lived the role of Wick, one fails to see Reeves and wonder if Reeves himself felt lost in Wick. As for his supporting cast, they definitely do not reduce his presence, and add to the story line effectively. 

The film has its weak spots obviously, but comes with heavily action packed mob-involved revenge plot that doesn’t disappoint the viewers. Don’t forget to see the connection to mythology in case you missed it. You believe or not, even mythology used in the film grips you to the screen. If you like bloodshed and guns and revenge, this is the right series to pick up.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Trivia

a. John Wick:

i. The scene were the Russians invade his home resembles to the real-life incident that Reeves had gone through earlier in 2014, the same year the movie released. He woke up to a stalker in his home whom he had to calm down by talking before handing him off to the cops. 

ii. There is a book on the coffee table which is a monography of the famous Portuguese architect, Álvaro Siza Vieira.

iii. At the airport, the security guard is seen reading the 1970s thriller novel "Shibumi" by Rod Whitaker, under the pen name Trevanian, which is also about a retired master assassin. One of the scene from the film (about Wick killing three guys with a pencil) is a crucial scene in the book

iv. Dean Gerard Winters portrays the role of Avi, Viggo's right hand man. I recognize him for his Allstate Mayhem commercial. 

v. Tattoo on Wick's back reads  "Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat", a Latin phrase translating to "Fortune Favors the Strong".

vi. The hotel manager, Charon (portrayed by Lance Reddick) takes a gold coin from Wick when he checks into the hotel. In Greek Mythology, Charon is the ferryman in Hades to whom you pay for safe passage. 

vii. Bridget Regan portrays the role of Addy, the bartender at the Continental Hotel. I remember her from two Hallmark movies - 2015 Magic Stocking and 2017 Christmas Getaway.

viii. This is one of the final acting roles for Michael Nyqvist (portrayed the role of Viggo Tarasov), who had passed away in 2017. Incidentally Nyqvist was injured seriously in one of the fight scenes that required 8 stitches to his head.

b. John Wick: Chapter 2:

i. John Wick's car has an inspection sticker with the expiration date of October 2014, representing the release date of the first movie in the series.

ii. Wick is seen wearing the watch from the same company on the billboard in the scene seconds prior. It is an advertisement of Carl F. Bucherer who sells Swiss luxury watches. Very neat piece of jewelry if I may say so. Check about them here.

iii. Franco Nero, famous Italian actor portrays the role of Julius. I remember him for many of his roles on American TV and film including 2010 TV film Letters to Juliet.

iv. The DJ performing at the party in Rome is Le Castle Vania, who wrote music for both John Wick movies.

c. John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum"

i. The song "Ninja Re Bang Bang" by Japanese artist Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is featured.

ii. The Librarian at the New York Library is played by Susan Blommaert.

iii. In the chase where Wick passes on a horseback, you can see Director doing the cameo - he is the guy who is trying to cross.

iv. If you are a fan of cooking shows, I am sure you will recognise Mark Dacascos (portrayed the role of Zero). He is famous for his Iron Chef America and Iron Chef Australia shows.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. John Wick:

i. In the beginning of the film, Wick is talking to Marcus in the rain, both are holding black umbrellas - Marcus a smaller one and Wick a larger one. The umbrellas get exchanged between the scenes without them exchanging actually.

ii. When Viggo sends his men to attack on Wick (40 minutes into the movie), he kills 13 people but makes the dinner reservation for 12. 

iii. While Wick is leaving the premises after collecting his new car, you can see the camera crane reflected on the Charger's roof. 

b. John Wick: Chapter 2:

i. Even though the plot-line shows a few weeks after the first film, Wick's dog that he had rescued from the pound at the end of the first film is a full grown dog in this film. 

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