John Wick was a movie that quite frankly caught me off-guard. I went into it expecting some kind of mindless action flick and got caught up in a visceral revenge movie with amazing fight scenes. John Wick as a character possessed intriguing levels of depth and a level of resignation and crisp professionalism about everything he did. There was no wasted movement, no extra effort.
Coming out of that, John Wick 2 was far more mindless and violent. It had a over-complicated plot that tried to tie into a greater world, one of debts and secret societies and complex conspiracies, one which the first one hinted at but never really explained. JW2 explored that world, but at a cost to the titular character. His motivations became murky, his actions lost their singular, vengeful purpose. Also, to challenge him, the fights became bigger, broader, more elaborate and challenging.
Into that setting sweeps John Wick 3 and at first, it seems to take a step back to the original. John is fighting to survive. But then it delves back into the secret society stuff, which, while interesting, doesn’t grip as emotionally. There’s plenty of action. Some very awesome fight scenes, especially early on… but then there’s some mid movie that are *over* choreographed, almost wooden. You can almost hear the director going stop, now do step b, stop, now do step c, etc. And then the motivations become less clear. Is John doing what he does to survive or for some other reason. Is this part of his plan, has he had a plan? Indeed, is John his real name?
It’s a sort of existential crisis that robs the movie of some of the hook. It’s an interesting set of twists, but these twists aren’t explored. Bits of JW’s past are brought up, hinted at, revealed, and discarded without any emotional impact. The ties that bind this secretive criminal empire are shown, but we aren’t given reason to care. Each new group is either a reluctant ally or the source of countless assassins willing to die for the chance to take down John Wick.
And boy do they die. Sometimes in inadvertently amusing fashions as they come and go so quickly. JW’s coup-de-grace headshot is almost comical as the CGI blood splatters from him splitting skulls and stabbing through craniums and then following up with headshots. The action is rapid-fire (see what I did there?) and it doesn’t stop. The tension is constant, with some heel-turn moments that leave you guessing… but also left me unsatisfied. Those who take action are for the most part open books, but JW’s motivations are hard to interpret and, well, murky. And those of some of his allies, well, those can be even less satisfying.
I’m all for the awesome carnage and the fantastic fight scenes. Keanu Reeves and Halley Berry do and did some amazing scenes and I would love to see this level of fedelity in more action movies. On the other side of things, the movie’s writers need to be beaten. Both actors did fantastic jobs with the bits they were given, but the writers seemed to think that a few mysterious looks and sparse words would do, when in reality that’s just not enough. At this point, hundreds, possibly even a thousand, assassins have died at John’s hands. People don’t go blindly to their deaths against those kinds of odds without real motivation. Someone doesn’t *kill* that many people without some kind of real drive. Give JW a story worthy of that drive, not some half-assed power struggle in an organization that we don’t even know the name of… after three movies.
Make the goals, the motivations, something we are emotionally invested in… make the carnage something worthwhile. Otherwise you end up with this, a movie where a guy we used to know kills a lot of faceless mooks in really cool, creative ways.