Tale as old as time. Revenge. My FAVORITE plot motivation. Yes, it’s my favorite, more than love, more than action, more than feel good… I can live vicariously through those seeking revenge onscreen instead of going through all the training, learning to fight and shoot, and drive through crowded streets… dealing with the cops afterward. Revenge is A LOT of work! This film franchise is hand’s down one of the best revenge series I have ever seen. I’m going to break these down by chapters, as released, to help you with the main plot points of the series.
Released in 2014. The hero, played by Keanu Reeves, is a man you cannot help to…well, help. Yeah, John Wick, aka the man you send to kill the boogeyman, has led a life of murderer for hire but it was only business. He fell in love and did what he had to do to get out of the life so he could be with his lovely wife, played by Bridget Moynahan. (Who, by the way, must have had a sweet shooting schedule because she is only shown in flashbacks. She’s credited in all three films but only had to show up for work in chapter 1. Pretty nice.) Back to the story. Five years goes by, his wife dies from illness and a couple of days after her funeral, John Wick receives a gift from her–awww–a puppy named Daisy. She is super cute with floppy years. Don’t get too attached. A very stupid, macho, wannabe mobster, Iosef Tarasov, crosses paths with John Wick, admires John’s 1969 Ford Mustang GT, and becomes angry when John Wick blows him off. John’s got Daisy to take care of now, he ain’t got time for some guy acting like a big shot.
Later that night, Iosef Tarasov, played by Alfie Allen, and his thugs show up at John Wick’s house, break a bunch of stuff, beat up John Wick (hey, it’s been five years, the guy was caught off guard…) steal his car, and **spoiler alert! do something very bad to Daisy. When John wakes up next and sees what they did to Daisy, all holy hell breaks loose. And I mean HOLY HELL. John Wick is pissed and once he figures out who did it, no one is going to get in his way. Now, Iosef’s father, a mob boss who worked with John Wick tries to smooth things over when he finds out but it doesn’t do anything but make John Wick even more determined. When Iosef finds out it was John Wick’s car and dog, he thinks he can “make it right” but doesn’t actually make any effort toward doing so. He opts to party instead. Bad choice.
The sheer number of people in Chapter 1, makes John Wick the ultimate killing machine. Keanu Reeves is a tall, lumbering fellow with deliberate dialogue bringing a sincerity to his mission yet even with his size and taking his time, he is so precise. He doesn’t waste bullets by spraying them. Hey, there’s innocent people at this party. He’s only after the people who’ve wronged him. Shooting, knife work, amazing fight choreography, car chases, motorcycles…He doesn’t miss. Unless, he wants to. There is a scene in a underground pool party lounge, for example. John Wick has just eliminated a few “bodyguards” (in quotation because they aren’t very good) and now big shot Iosef is running with his towel wrapped around his waist and screaming like a little girl for someone to help. John Wick takes some shots at Iosef which hit right behind him making the chase a little more interesting. I think John Wick wants him to know terror before he put him out of his misery. Which he does, eventually. I will leave the remaining plot points to the viewer; however, it can be noted John Wick does get more than satisfaction by the start of the credits…
It should be noted even though this is a business of murder for hire and such, there are rules and protocols in place. “It’s what separates us from the animals.” A quote said by different characters throughout the franchise. There is the High Table which sets the rules and managers who maintain the rules. There are hotels, such as The Continental, which serve as a safe haven for assassins as well as those running from them. NO business can be conducted on consecrated ground. This rule is fundamental to a few plot points as well as changes the course of the story in Chapter 2. This rule is abided by most parties involved 🙂
John Wick supporting players include Ian McShane, plays Winston, the manager of The Continental as well as a “friend” to John Wick. He gives him advice and guidance… and a few other things. McShane is perfect in this role. Slightly emotionally disconnected and yet when he speaks to you, it’s delivered with such sincerity. Lance Reddick plays Charon, the concierge for The Continental. A soft spoken willing man with the ability to bring authority when needed. No one bats an eyelash when he reminds them of the rules and he happily obliges most requests. If you need it, he can get it. Willem Dafoe plays Marcus, a trusted and long time friend of John Wick. They’ve been through a lot together and this instance is no exception. Marcus gets John Wick out of a couple close calls, unfortunately to his **spoiler alert**demise. I love Willem Dafoe. Yeah, who doesn’t? But did you happen to catch him in a little 1984 movie called Streets of Fire? It didn’t have the following it deserved but it was quirky he’s pretty awesome in it. But I digress…
Michael Nyqvist, plays Viggo Tarasov, the mob boss and Iosef’s unlucky father. His expressions speaking to his idiot son are priceless. Dean Winters plays Viggo’s right hand man, Avi. One thing I’ll say about his character which annoyed me (and maybe him) he doesn’t speak Russian. You would think after working with Viggo for how ever many years, he would’ve picked up some of it. Throughout the film, “English please, Viggo?” Learn some frickin’ Russian, I say. (I know it’s the scriptwriter’s choice to make the character this way but come on…) John Leguizamo rounds out the main players as Aurelio, the chop shop owner who tells John Wick who stole his car. Of course, he’s great.
The movie is beautiful. The rich color choices of saturated black, grays, blues, and reds. Overhead shots of the city and architecture. The vibe is distant yet pulsing with activity in the underworld only mere mortals get to visit. Each location has either a stark emptiness like the warehouses, rich browns and opulence of the Russian mob boss office, and the sleek modern home of John Wick.
I love so many things about John Wick but there are little details which make it even more everyday for me. John Wick waking up to already brewed coffee, for example. I can picture him the night before, this assassin for hire, measuring out the scoops of coffee, adding the water, and setting the timer so it’s ready at 6 am. Such a regular guy thing to do. Also, Marcus juicing his vegetables as part of his morning routine. A guy has to stay healthy when he’s in this line of business, you know. Do they go out jogging together on Saturdays? Finally, John Wick’s relationship with Jimmy the neighborhood cop. That’s all I’m gonna say on that. You’re gonna have to watch to experience the brilliance of these two exchange dialogue. One thing I find humorous about this film is the use of bad guy uniforms. They’re easy to pick out (and pick off) in a tense situation with innocent people running around. Just look for guys with the red shirt and black jacket.
Now, Keanu Reeves, is and can only be John Wick. A human manifestation of inner turmoil and pain like a riptide current under a glass smooth surface. There is no negotiating with John Wick. It’s business, well, it’s personal but his approach is business oriented. The scariest kind of boogeyman.
Released in 2017. After a brief recap, John Wick is hanging out at home with his new companion, a beautiful blue gray pit bull when someone from the past shows up. Santino D’Antonio, played by Riccardo Scamarcio, needs to cash in a marker John Wick gave him five years ago in order to get out of the life. Now, John Wick, has only been home for a day or two when this guy shows up so he’s like, nah…I don’t think I’m interested in doing any favors. Well, Santino reminds him all markers have to be honored but John politely says no. Okay. Santino graciously exits to his cars, takes out a HUGE cannon and begins firing it John Wick’s house, blowing it up, and burning it down. Of course John Wick and his dog escape and head to the only place they know for solitude– The Continental. At which time, Winston, reprised by Ian McShane, reminds John Wick about the rules separating us from the animals and he needs to honor the marker. Fine, thinks John Wick. How bad can it be? I’ll be in and out in no time. Yeah….if only.
Naturally, Santino wants a seat at the High Table but not just any seat. His sister Gianna D’Antonio’s seat. And he wants John Wick to kill her so he can have it. Um, wouldn’t a person holding a seat at the High Table be off limits to such requests? Apparently not. John Wick says fine, travels to Rome, meets up with some amazing tailors, weapon masters, and a map genius. Bullet proof suit? check. Small guns, mid-range guns, big guns, knife? Check. Map of the catacombs and castle? Check. Check. He’s ready. Walks right in actually, no worries. Finds Gianna, played by Claudia Gerini, all alone in her massive, gigantic bathroom with a tub the size of a small swimming pool. Where’s her bodyguard you ask? Oh she told him she needed some freshening up and to give her a minute. What does he do? Wait for her outside? No. He goes to the party. It’s okay. She isn’t alone for long. John Wick shows up, tells her what’s up, and she decides to give the High Table seat her way. Gianna is gorgeous, by the way. And frankly, I sort of wished she would have turned the table on her brother and had John Wick assassinate him instead. She gave up too easily for me. Anyhoo…
John Wick takes off, kills some bad guys, and makes his way back to New York. Now, I know John Wick is the greatest killing machine ever; but, the bad guys kind of make it easy by carrying flashlights with them or have them on the end of their guns. I mean, hello, who handed those out? John Wick doesn’t need night vision to hit his targets, he just has to aim above the flashlight beam. I think the guy who handed them out in Rome had a brother in other geographical areas of the movie because a lot of the bad guys use them. Not too bright…
Of course, with the death of his sister, Santino puts a $7 million dollar contract on John Wick to avenge his sister’s murder. Um, hello? Okay. Now John’s on the run and literally everyone is ready to cash in on his contract. And I mean everyone. The lady with the stroller, the violinist in the subway, random janitors…The guy cannot catch a break. Of course, Winston and Charod and a couple of other people aren’t supposed to help John Wick but they do. Laurence Fishburne makes his appearance as Bowery King, the leader of the army of homeless people and chief pigeon wrangler. He’s perfectly arrogant and smart. He knows John Wick is trouble but also knows better to have John Wick next to him than against him. He gives him a Glock 34 with 7 bullets, one for every million in his contract to take care of Santino. John Wick uses each bullet wisely and saves the last one for the final task. Santino knows John Wick is after him and heads to The Continental for safety. After a brief conversation about how a person could live there for years and never eat the same time twice and a warning from Winston to walk away, Santino learns the steak and fries he was arrogantly eating in front of John Wick, just became his last meal. Of course, John Wick has now broken a MAJOR rule. Winston gives him one hour to plan his next move and warns John Wick people will come for him. John Wick’s response? “Tell them, whoever comes, I’ll kill them. I will kill them all.” Winston: “Of course you will.” I mean, it doesn’t get better! Saddle up for Chapter 3!
Some things I liked: The secretaries for the contract information epicenter all look straight out of a Betty Page spread with Pink sleeveless shirts and tattoos. John Wick is a well rounded guy who speaks many languages, including sign language which he needs to communicate with Ares, played by Ruby Rose. Ares is Santino’s deaf right hand woman and she kicks butt in her scenes with John Wick. I appreciate having strong women in these films but Ares is somewhat underused. She plays more of a henchwoman leader of thugs instead of really getting there for some meaty fight scenes. They save it for later when she goes head to head with John Wick.
This movie is a perfect continuation of Chapter 1. The color saturation, locations, overhead shots, and fight choreography. It doesn’t disappoint. I think there may be even a higher body count in this one. John Wick is a legend and legendary.
Released in 2019. Saddle up kiddies, time for Chapter 3 Parabellum which means “Prepare for war”. And a war it is. When we last left our hero John Wick, he had just killed Santino for putting a contract on his head after fulfilling the marker obligation. He was given 1 hour to plan his next move. He heads to the library to retrieve some much needed provisions hidden in a book, of course, and is met by a very tall adversary who would rather not wait until the hour is up to collect the contract cash. The contract is set to increase to $14 million at the stroke of the hour, so time is of the essence. After a brief conversation and the library miraculously cleared out, the two go at it. Now, this guy is like twice as tall as John Wick and it’s quite the fight scene. Books used as weapons–knowledge is power–the guy’s sheer height is probably his downfall. John Wick makes it to the doctor’s office and with five minutes left, gets stitched up, grabs some meds to keep him going, and gets on his way. What the doctor can do in five minutes…well, we should all have a doc like him. No questions, no insurance card, just gets to it. Of course, John Wick has to shoot him before he leaves, not fatality, just so it looks like he had no choice. Remember, no one is supposed to help John Wick. Once the clock strikes 6 pm, all bets are off. This is, by far, the goriest of the three films. Knives are used extensively, through the head, through an eye ball (yes, I had to watch that part with my fingers over my eyes) through the body. Lots of breaking glass and mirrors. There are scenes in rooms built of mirrors and glass cases. I don’t know for sure, but the imagery on some of these walls reminded me of a TeamLab installation. Just gorgeous.
While John Wick showcases his masterful ability at car maneuvering, he is also very adept at motorcycles and horses. Now, I am right there loving this as it’s happening but the voice inside me asks questions. John Wick, while outsmarting some bad guys chasing him, move a horse into position, smacks it’s butt and the thing kicks the guy standing behind it to high heaven. Question: How safe is it that any guy can smack a horse’s rear and it kicks? During the motorcycle bridge scene, John Wick puts a bar or something in the front wheel of the bad guy’s motorcycle WHILE they’re racing on the bridge. Question: Wouldn’t his arm get ripped off once the bar took hold? What is the likelihood of even getting the bar thing to go in there when the wheel is spinning so fast? Back to suspension of disbelief….
Meanwhile, the Adjudicator, played by Asia Kate Dillon shows up to read everyone involved the riot act and reminds them they cannot help John Wick and will be punished for their involvement thus far. For instance, Winston is going to be replaced; the Bowery King gets seven slashes for the seven bullets he provided in Chapter 2, and The Director gets a sword through her hands for giving John Wick passage. The Adjudicator may be respected but not well liked. She comes off as an arrogant… well, you know, and does it very well. Everyone sort of tells her “oh I’m sorry but…” and is really thinking, “Don’t tell me my business, lady. I’m on the front lines of this!”
John Wick makes his way to The Director, played by Angelica Huston, who gives him passage to Casablanca. With a price, of course. She “tears his ticket”. There John Wick hooks up with Sofia, intensely played by Halle Berry. (Halle Berry trained for 6 months to prepare for this part and it shows. She kicks serious ass. If the franchise is smart, they’ll bring her back for Chapter 4.) Sofia reluctantly agrees to help and takes John Wick to see a man about getting a second chance. Well, let’s just say the man makes the wrong choice shooting one of Sofia’s dogs unleashing round two of holy hell. Sofia: “He shot my dog.” John Wick: “Yeah, I get it.” (The dog was fine, he was wearing a bullet proof vest.) Well, Sofia didn’t like that ONE bit so everyone in the vicinity gets taken down by her and John Wick and the dogs. After they kill the bad guys, she drops him off in the desert to find The Elder who is the only person with the authority of giving him a second chance. The desert is arid, dry, and a sea of velvet orange ripples. As John Wick lies out there dying of heat stroke, he’s found and brought to The Elder, played by Saïd Taghmaoui. You can have another chance, but for a price he tells John Wick which he gladly pays. John Wick, back in business! But wait, there’s more! A catch. He has to kill Winston. What?! Of course John Wick says yes, but we know he has a plan. Right? On the way, more fighting, more killing. Mirrors and glass cabinets. What a mess. Zero, a fierce martial artist, played by Mark Dacascos, has some funny moments and fantastic fight artistry. Zero has a boy crush on John Wick and it’s cute.
Winston and Charon band together with John Wick when they find out and so ensues a battle against the High Table. Let’s just say, the High Table isn’t truly prepared to go to war with John Wick and friends. *They have lights on their guns, too. When in Rome…wait, it isn’t Rome. Dang it. Oh well. The Adjudicator finally calls for a parlay. They all meet on top of the Continental to discuss the terms when Winston pulls a fast one on John Wick. Let’s just say, only John Wick could’ve survived, which he does and is taken to the Bowery King to recuperate.
Some things I liked: I really liked the use of orange. The vast orange desert and the Bowery King’s orange soda glowing in the bottle by the firelight. I liked the use of mirrors, a la Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. This movie brings the goodies, even with those annoying questions popping into my head. I don’t care. The John Wick franchise can do no wrong.
My recommendation is a John Wick movie marathon. Take the day, prepare some snacks, and relish every kill. Soak it up because Chapter 4 won’t be released until May 4, 2021. I know….too long to wait.