In one of the scenes of “John Wick: Parabellum”, actor Keanu Reeves who essays the role of Wick is greeted by his would be assassin who says, “Mr Wick I am such a big fan and love your work” …..after a few seconds he points his Samurai (Hattori Honzo) type sword at him and pounces on to shred him to pieces. In yet another scene, Wick meets with The Director (Anjelica Huston) who is part of his own crime syndicate. She claims, “ Why will you kill 100 people over a dead puppy?” … Wick replies, “ It was not just another puppy!”
This over the top and yet appealing swag is on full display in JW3. Wick is all uber style and panache. He rarely loses, gets beaten up by every small gangster he encounters and yet never gets killed (fully I mean) and resurfaces to avenge on deaths of loved ones.
John Wick looks quite similar to Liam Neeson from “Taken” , Mads Mikkelsen from “Polar”, Charles Bronson from “Death Wish” and so on. But even in such a crowded genre of the “$20 Million action film” , JW3 weaves its own stylized world of crime syndicates, hitmen and brutal capitalism.
This essay is aimed at reviewing “John Wick 3- Parabellum”, its various perspectives and the larger political point it aims to make.
The film starts as a follow up to John Wick 2 when Wick breaks the rules of The High Table by murdering on the floor of The Continental in New York. As a result, he gets marked by The High Table and a bounty of $14 Million is out on him as a punishment. With every known assassin on the planet from the US and world over out to kill him, John Wick has to fight his way out from this impossible situation. On the way he is helped by The Director (Anjelica Huston) a powerful mob boss of Russian origin, Sophiya ( Halle Berry) a Casablanca based hotelier from the High Table and a number of people like Charon, the Concierge at the Continental Hotel. There is also Lawrence Fishburne as The Bowery King who too helps John in his escape. While all this is ensuing, The High Table sends Asia Kate Dillon who is The Adjudicator for judging the compliance matters within. The film literally tails Wick step by step as he encounters one hurdle after the other. The High Table is the crime syndicate for which Wick works as an assassin for hire.
The Genre of Hitmen and their syndicates:
Hollywood loves to explore the genre of Hitmen and the big corporation they work for quite repeatedly. Although the first film which created the first “Hitman” was Jean Pierre Melville’s 1967 classic “Le Samourai” starring Alain Delon. Films like “Wanted”, “Hitman”, “The Bourne Series”, “Polar”, various CIA/FBI related films portray dangerous assassins turning rogue for personal reasons. Over the years, the leading men in this genre are becoming more of a mix of swag and emotional sensitivity. There is usually a loss of a loved one, a sense of fatigue and in some cases a sense of guilt which pushes these protagonists to go against the very system they had been working for. In the case of John Wick, he is given a warning, a breather for 1 hour to save himself and yet goes against his own “corporation” for principled reasons. He turns rogue first for ideological reasons but then also runs for survival when needed.
The John Wick Narrative
Originally started as a low budget action film, John Wick in some ways makes Keanu Reeves look quite similar to his role in “Constantine”. In the Wick films, he never changes his suit, his face always has some injury/cuts to enhance his appeal. Rather than a modern day Rajnikant, who can beat up a whole army, John Wick gets beaten up regularly but he eventually gets up and fights. His weapons are class A quality. Be it a regular revolver which has seven rounds to automatic rifles with double sized bullets, its these weapons which are his superpower. In one of the scenes when he reprises from a near death experience, he is rewarded with a hot water bath (something he needs) and a “damn good black suit with a new shirt”! It’s this tongue in cheek writing which makes John Wick palatable. In some of the fight sequences, absurd objects like hardcover books (in context) in a library, a dozen variety of knives are used to kill the enemies.
Wick has been put in the script as a unique character. Almost 80% of the characters have “titles” or “half names” such as “The Adjudicator”, “The Bowery King”, “The Director”, “Winston”, etc. Only John Wick has the full name which comes to the screen. This seems deliberate.
The World of High Table
The most interesting part of the Wick franchise is the working and organization of “The High Table”. To me it looks like the Director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad are balking at Capitalism by putting up this “Eilte Club” of contract killing and crime. After all, everything here is about money at the end of the day. There are direct references of the Russian mob and its well entrenched roots in New York City. Almost as if Communism at the inner sanctum of an American Crime Syndicate. Wick too has been portrayed as someone from distinct roots in Russia which also influences in his killing style. The High Table has a big execution team which involves compliance too. Dillon as the Chief Surveyor of sorts gives that impression. Anybody who breaks the rules gets very customized punishments from a “sword in your palms” to a “Seven cuts across your body” and so on. With Japanese, Chinese, American, African, Arab recruits in its roster, it almost looks like a GE of the crime business. If you like John Wick, you will like it also because of The High Table and its real estate. The kills and contracts are written in old school at a venue which resembles the scoring area of a Derby!
The Action of John Wick 3
The film shows Wick fighting with knives, customized guns, karate, judo, taekwondo and what not. The film’s action can get overwhelming as viewers don’t like elongated fighting scenes in a 120 minute film. But Chad Stahelski uses different instruments, and super elaborate venues to amplify the sequences. You will assassin dogs who can chew up a whole man in a jiffy, half a dozen variety of knives and swords. The choreography of it all is simply outstanding and makes a small conflict within a company look like a semi-epic of sorts.
Keanu Reeves has put in a lot of physical effort in the film and doesn’t really emote that well as he is busy fighting most of the time. But he looks Wick to the trot. Nobody else can pull this role off other than him. Ian McShane as Winston is the epitome of cool, his calm and poise in a chaotic world is refreshing. Not to mention, his Carl F Bucherer watch, his super expensive suits which exude that perfectly. Lance Riddick as The Concierge is similarly coolheaded and brutal at the same time. Berry too kicks some serious ass here and is convincing as Sophia. Lawrence Fishburne disappoints but does have a screen presence. Asia Kate Dillon looks like a showpiece as The Adjudicator with similar mannerisms from “Billions” and “Orange Is The New Black”. She could have done better.
John Wick 3 deserves a 6.5/10 for its rip roaring action sequences, Reeves, and the world of The High Table!