John Wick, the action-thriller film starring Keanu Reeves, hit theaters back in 2014. Originally, I shrugged it off thinking it would be “just another action movie with explosions and no story.” However, several friends had told me otherwise. The film did extremely well, which is surprising for an action movie that’s not a remake or based on a comic book. It even got a sequel in 2017 that also did well in theaters. The series was becoming a big hit, and so my curiosity was certainly peaked. The trailer for the third installment in the franchise was released, and fans were more excited than ever. Eager to discover the phenomenon that I had been missing out on, I sat down with my wife and watched the first two John Wick movies, and then saw the third in a theater.
The John Wick series is a single, on-going story, more than most movie series typically are. It plays more like a high-budget television series that releases on the big screen instead of cable. They blend together as one entity rather than feeling like individual movies that share a series. Because of this, this review will be for the first three movies (since that’s what has been released so far) as a whole. It will be for what we currently know as the whole John Wick story.
First and foremost, John Wick is an action movie, so the action needs to be good. The action definitely delivers. It’s extremely well choreographed, and you can tell all the actors trained hard to be able to pull off the intense stunts. You feel every single brutal hit when they happen. The filmmakers were able to find ways of making each fight scene more and more over the top without ever getting too ridiculous or unbelievable. It still feels grounded. Even though the action feels real and grounded, it’s also very creative. Everything from library books to horses are used during fights rather than just the usual guns and knives.
The John Wick movies use the right amount of gore. Some action movies go way too over the top with blood and broken bones while others are too afraid show bloodshed whatsoever. John Wick uses just enough to make everything feel more realistic. If something would break someone’s bone, we see it, but it’s not done ridiculously or shoved in our faces.
I was so very wrong when I thought John Wick would just be mindless action with no story when I saw the initial trailer. John Wick has a shockingly heartfelt story that not only makes you feel emotional, but it makes you feel even more invested in John’s character. We see the real reason he came back to the hitman lifestyle and why the events throughout the story are so meaningful to him. It’s not just some dog, afterall. It makes you feel concerned about the outcome of each fight, which adds to how good the action is in the first place. It’s hard not to be interested in where John will end up next.
There’s also some clever world-building seen throughout the films. Yes, it does take place in the real world during modern day, but we are introduced to and learn a lot about the underground society known as the Continental. We learn their rules, how their hierarchy works, how they interact with other members, and how they go about their business without being noticed. This includes having their own currency and giving each other special tokens they can turn in to exchange for a mandatory favor. There’s definitely a sense of mythology to this franchise. It’s certainly an interesting and unique secret world, and I’m excited to learn more about it in future films.
The directing and cinematography of the John Wick movies are particularly well done. They work together to create this cool, dark yet colorful aesthetic. I especially like the text that appears onscreen to emphasize certain lines.
The characters, not just John, are all really interesting and fleshed out. Sofia, played by Halle Berry, has an intriguing backstory involving her daughter. Both Winston and Charon, the owner and concierge of the Continental hotel, become very interesting due to how much they appear to actually care about John. I loved when Charon joined the fight in the third movie. Even the villain characters are interesting. The villain in the first movie is very modern and realistic, as he is just a snobby, spoiled, rich kid who’s the son of a wealthy gang lord. It was actually quite fun to see him get his comeuppance. The villain in the second movie was actually someone who had helped John in the past. The third antagonist is a higher-up of the Continental, making one question who John can really trust.
There was once a time, mainly after seeing the Matrix movies and the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, when I felt that Keanu Reeves was a boring, emotionless actor. Yes, he was amazing in Bill and Ted, but that was when he was younger. However, the John Wick movies showed me how great of an actor Keanu Reeves can be. In fact, the rest of the ensemble cast featuring Ian McShane, Common, Halle Berry, Ruby Rose, and more, are extremely talented and certainly show off their skills in these movies.
There is a lot of violence and killing happening, and much of it is in very public places. We barely see civilians fleeing or recording the crazy fighting and killing going on around them, and we never see law enforcement attempt to intervene. I feel as though it would add to the realism if cops either tried arresting all these gunmen or, if they are aware of the underground hitman world, at least investigate to make sure that they are Continental hitmen.
Because the John Wick movies are one big story and they rely on the existence of both past and future movies in order to make sense, they aren’t great standalones (other than the first one). It’s not a big deal since that’s the intent, and I do really like that they are being unique with their storytelling format. I just think that maybe there is a way to have it be one big story and still have the individual films be good standalones.
I assume that everything about John’s past, the Continental, and any other unanswered questions will be explained at some point in future movies. However, based on what we currently have, there is some needed information that could be beneficial to know. When we do find out answers, I feel like even more questions start popping up. Like in the third film, we find out a lot more about how the Continental functions, but we also meet Sofia, another mysterious ally from John’s past who I want to know more about. We are also introduced to the High Table, which sound like some interesting antagonists, but we have to wait to actually meet them in future installments.
As great as the movies are at finding new and fun ways of keeping the action fresh, I am concerned it will feel tired or too much of the same by the next sequel or two. They are getting dangerously close to having too much of the same choreography or the same gunplay that it will grow dull. I want more John Wick, but I’m worried that they will get to a point where the movies are all hitting the same notes. However, I’m also concerned that they might spice things up too much and make it so over the top that it’s no longer John Wick, like having him fly through space or catching torpedoes with his bare hands. I’m hopeful they will still find that incredible middle these first three films have had.
Both Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne star in the second and third John Wick movies. It’s interesting to see them on screen together for what is probably the first time since the Matrix trilogy. The end of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum sets up more of a relationship between their characters. I’m intrigued to see where that goes and if it will feel similar to their relationship in the Matrix at all.
Speaking of The Matrix, John Wick director Chad Stahleski worked as Keanu Reeves’ stunt double during filming of the Matrix Trilogy. He and Keanu must have a pretty good relationship to be working together in a different way years later. It also somewhat explains why the action is so good. The director is certainly no stranger to action and has been apart of it himself.
During the safehouse scene in the first movie, there are characters playing an online video game. The username shown is “Neo” in reference to Keanu Reeves’ famous character in The Matrix.
The John Wick franchise has a subtle plot hole problem by not having the world reacting realistically to the extreme violence being seen in public. The second and third movies are not good standalones, and the series must be seen in chronological order to fully understand John’s story. However, the John Wick series is a breath of fresh air. It is a masterfully choreographed action series grounded in reality without any CGI armies or superpowers. Despite the bad ass action, the story has a lot of heart to it. I can absolutely see the name “John Wick” becoming just as iconic as James Bond or Jason Bourne. I honestly want more of John Wick, whether it be a comic book or video game or anything else. John Wick is what modern action movies should strive to be.