Kevin Chan’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Elder: Why do you want to live?
John Wick: To remember Helen. To remember us.
There are undoubtedly instances wherein weaving through a film’s bones and sinews just may be fruitless because after all, the sheer enjoyment of watching an action movie may come from the purely dumb fun and thrill of the whole shebang. Maybe not only such, but the star power involved, the wonder of how such intricate stunts were crafted & accomplished, and as a result, the visuals to enamor viewers’ eyes. It seems this is a common argument people make for the excellent output from action stars such as Jackie Chan, Tom Cruise, Stallone, Schwarzengger, Willis, and taking it all the way back to the silent era of moviemaking — the indomitable Buster Keaton. With work including The Matrix series and the John Wick franchise, Keanu Reeves can definitely be added to that list — the amount of work he put in for this role is as honorable as to what Chan, Cruise, and Keaton have done to keep people on the edge of their seats bearing eyes filled with awe. However, as explained in some of my write-ups like this one for Jackie’s The Accidental Spy, Tom’s M:I - Fallout & Top Gun: Maverick, and Buster’s Seven Chances, there happens to be true and essential weight to all the powered action and suspense in Parabellum. Such facets aren’t merely constructed to please audiences’ eyes and ears, but sprout from a deeper purpose within the film’s narrative. Whether that be deliberate or accidental, the meaningful magic and substantial themes that stem from sheer entertainment for audiences young and old, is a delightful occurrence that just may be birthed from the blissful motive of entertaining as an act itself. As Walt Disney said,
“I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.”
Obviously, this isn’t a message brought forth in movies nowadays like Marvel capeshit and additionally some of the latest animated Disney vomit. In addition to the aforementioned examples of films that do “entertain and hope that people learned something”, the John Wick series just may take the next cake — particularly this third installment. Sure, studios desire profit, and so the sequels are born. And yet, for a consolidated franchise such as this, the challenge to take ideas to the next level manifests. How long must a man suffer to escape the life of murder, of being on the run, and of having to defend himself so as to live in harmony?
After murdering crime lord Santino D’Antonio of the High Table (a council of the top crime bosses), being declared “excommunicado” from the Continental hotel after murdering D’Antonio on its premises, and with the price on his head now doubled, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run yet again to escape the clutches of international assassins seeking the $14 million bounty. Since losing his wife, Helen, due to a terminal illness and losing his beloved dog, Daisy, which was not only a gift from Helen, but a representation and an extension of her, John can’t seem to catch a break after his attempts at leaving his past life behind. With no resources left, the dapper killer must continue to find respite by making any plea and deal that will allow him to keep the memory of love he once had with Helen. That includes remaining subservient to the High Table and killing his good friend, Winston (Ian McShane), owner of the Continental. But will that subservience be honored? Will John forgo a pact with evil puppeteers to prevent having to kill his friend? Will members of the High Table meet their maker as they’ve unfairly kept a man, who wants to change his life, under their auspices to continue murdering others?
Anjelica Huston’s “The Director” tells John before granting his wish to travel to Casablanca…
The Director: [as she and John walk through various studios within the Tarkovsky Theater] You know, when my pupils first come here, they wish for one thing: a life free of suffering. I try to dissuade them from these childish notions, but as you know…
[as they pause to watch a ballerina tear off a worn toenail]
The Director: … art is pain. Life is suffering.
Quite fitting for crafting an action flick. And generally, fitting for moviemaking. In parallel to The Director’s pupils — ballerinas destined to become assassins — the art of directing a movie is full of pain, frustration, and long days of toiling away at establishing the best shot and editing for the sake of delivering a movie for the masses, to name a few elements of filmmaking. But as a result, comes gratification from creating a product that pleases and entertains as a result of such labor. But such labor is only an element of life, which is brimming with suffering itself, or else, how would one find the form of great joy to put one’s mind and soul at ease? How long did it take to capture the best shot of Keanu twisting and turning & kicking and punching to subdue a thug? How many tries must our leading man and the stunt team endure so as to perfect a sequence of fight choreography for the camera to record it all for the pleasure of the viewer?
Via the treacherous toil and trouble to achieve the technical aspects bound for entertaining audiences, a tongue-in-cheek humor presents itself through the relentlessness — an acknowledgement of the ridiculousness of Wick’s near-invulnerability and reputation as the greatest assassin of all time. One man against hundreds and he’s able to stop all who are after him, not without injury, of course. But even then, a man surviving several attempted knife and katana wounds and flailing bullets? Never being knocked unconscious by being slammed, punched, and kicked into and through glass numerous times?
Hearkening back to Stallone’s Rambo-esque macho whimsicality, Jackie Chan’s pulsating magnetism, and Buster Keaton’s hysterical survival through all odds, Keanu’s miraculous inclination of always being the last man standing and sly reactions to all the recklessness he’s fought through is one of sheer catharsis and the aforementioned dumb fun — a self-awareness and tribute to action movies that have come before. But within all of that is a disheartened man seeking refuge. Amazingly, an innocent widower at the last end of his rope who has not only grown tired of his profession of murder, but has seen a new light of harmony and love in his wife Helen. Unfortunately, the death of John’s wife has caused him to sink back into the profession of regret, tension, and seemingly no chance of escape, but all the chances of sacrifice. Should he go on to stop his ways of killing and just die to be with his wife? Or should he go on after murdering the corrupted individuals who’ve wronged him and taken away not only the representation of his beloved wife, but the remnant and extension of her — his dog, Daisy? Must John continue and try stopping this unfortunate domino effect of villain after villain looking to kill a legend in their midst? A legend who merely wants to be left alone and remember the one woman who infused sinlessness into his heart?
Look — as it was written at the top of this review, is it all fruitless to weave through a film’s bones and sinews? An action film, particularly? Because after all, the sheer enjoyment of watching an action movie may come from the purely dumb fun and thrill of it all? Don’t really think so. As once again, the sheer motive of entertainment can naturally bring about magic and substantial themes. John Wick is a man who has lived and worked in a hellish underworld of ending lives. However, through his wife, he finally found peace that was then taken from him. Once more, how long must a man suffer to escape the life of murder, being on the run, and having to defend himself so as to live in harmony? The seeker of peace must not only plow through hungry minions seeking his ruin, but purge the head demons at work — the High Table.
Winston: If you want peace, prepare for war.
And so we, the eager audience, must prepare to join Keanu’s sharp-suited widower in his quest for peace. In its own unique manner, Stahelski and Reeves’ dedication to widening viewers’ eyes and holding their interest through a directorial imprint in aesthetic, style, tongue-in-cheek humor, and choreography; fresh world building and mythology; and within all of it, a man seeking to regain and remember true love and honor by putting hell behind him is one to enjoy and savor.