John Wick 3 is here. It is very good and very fun and absolutely stuffed with dogs, horses, and betrayal. I watched it opening weekend, as is my policy with movies in which Keanu Reeves plays an assassin who likes dogs and horses and gets betrayed. Below, please find eight thoughts I had about all of it. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts later. I can’t wait to watch this three times a month on cable in a year or two. Until then, there’s this.
1. I’ll tell you what I respect most about the John Wick franchise, and especially about this third installment: In every scene, sometimes at multiple points in the same scene, it feels like someone asked “What’s the coolest and wildest shit we could do right now?” and then they went right ahead and did that. Use a horse as a weapon? Sure. Stage a fight in a hallway lined with knives in display cases and have everyone huck knives at each other for a few minutes? Done. Have Ian McShane sit in a luxurious panic room and casually sip brown liquor while war breaks out all around him in the Continental? Yup. That is in the movie, too. Ninety percent of McShane’s role as Winston in this movie is sipping liquor and reacting to text alerts, sometimes with a scowl but usually with a concerned muttering of “Oh, Jonathan.” The other 10 percent… we’ll get to later.
The movies have gotten a lot bigger since the first one. What started as a story about a guy who was pissed about someone killing his dog has turned into a globe-trotting tale of one very talented man versus the entire world. It’s not exactly “Dominic Toretto goes from a lunch counter owner who steals DVD players at night to the intelligence community’s only hope against a notorious cyber-anarchist played by Oscar-winner Charlize Theron,” but it is a heck of a journey. And it seems like everyone involved is taking the money this journey has earned them and putting it right back into the franchise to make it cooler and bigger and more fun. I respect that, too.
2. The first 30-40 minutes feature some of the craziest action you’ll ever see, including an extended scene in which John attempts to escape a squad of motorcycle-riding hitmen on horseback, and he succeeds, in large part due to an impressive set of gymnastics-inspired swinging and such. I have so many questions about this. Was this part of his training at Anjelica Huston’s Home For Troubled Youth Who Will Learn To Kill And/Or Do Ballet Or Else, or was he just winging it? How did this exceed the expectations I set in my brain after seeing that paparazzi shot of the scene a few months ago? What would you do if you were stuck in traffic and saw a bloodied man in a suit killing a dozen men on motorcycles? Etc. etc. etc.
The whole opening is like that. This movie, like the second, begins immediately after the action in the previous one ends, so there is never a moment to stop and breathe. It opens at full-speed and barely lets up even for a second until the credits roll. That’s how you do an action movie. The only real complaint I have about any of it is that I really did not want to see that ballerina pull off her toenail. I could have done without that. Someone in the theater I was in uttered a surprisingly audible “noooooo” when it happened. The person might have been me.
3. I really appreciate this franchise’s commitment to casting actors from my favorite television shows. Ian McShane (Al Swearengen from Deadwood) gliding around the hotel with Lance Reddick (The Wire, Bosch), Asia Kate Dillon (Taylor from Billions) forcing Jason Mantzoukas (guest spots in every comedy you like) to hold an umbrella while a message from the High Table is delivered. Jerome Flynn (Bronn from Game of Thrones) as a High Table-adjacent bigwig with a rooftop office in Casablanca. All of it. It’s almost like the films are now trying to pander to me, specifically, which is something I fully support and suggest more movies do going forward.
That wasn’t the best me-bait bit of casting, though. The best was Sixers backup center Boban Marjanovic showing up as a giant hitman with a giant foot he uses to kick John halfway across the New York Public Library. More movies should cast athletes from my favorite basketball team, too. Put Allen Iverson in the next Mission: Impossible movie. I’m barely joking.
4. We’ve barely mentioned this so far so let’s stop to fully appreciate it: Halle Berry is in John Wick 3 as a Casablanca-based Continental owner with a checkered past that includes a hidden daughter. There’s a lot going on in that sentence and all of it is pretty cool, as is the fact that she has two trained dogs that climb walls and attack bad guys and wear bulletproof vests. At one point, Bronn shoots one of her dogs and proceeds to get bit square in the jimmies until his white pants are soaked with crimson crotch stains. This franchise’s commitment to the principle that dogs are good is noble and something we should spend more energy recognizing, possibly via prestigious awards, preferably via a new Oscar category.
5. The time has come to talk about the all-glass skull-lined office in the Continental.
A few notes:
– It is profoundly funny that there’s this multi-story, multimillion-dollar office/museum in the middle of a hotel for assassins in Manhattan — a building we’ve been inside many times — and we’re just finding out about it in the third movie. There’s at least one giant video wall that plays what appears to be a Windows screensaver titled “Ayahuasca.” What a wonderful movie franchise.
– McShane’s character says he only uses it for special occasions. I’m dying to know what else counts as a special occasion, besides, of course, “the legendary hitman that I marked for death is coming to kill me on behalf of the mysterious operation that oversees all professional assassins, and the adjudicator in charge of the whole situation might show up, too.” Like, is that where they hold the staff Christmas party? It seems like a fantastic waste of money to save the room exclusively for times you might get murdered.
– There’s always something eye-catching happening with light and/or color in these movies. This scene was no exception. There were flashes of blue or red, or white fluorescent lights against the dark background, and it all made the action such a blast to watch. Sometimes I find myself looking past the actual fighting into the background of the shots, just because the whole screen is filled up little visual treats. Director Chad Stahelski has been at the helm of all three movies and has created a style that separates John Wick from other huge franchises. It’s not as big as Fast & Furious or Mission: Impossible, just in terms of scale, but there’s more of an artistic quality to it. I dig that.
– Okay, hear me out. This entire office is made of glass, including the walls, which appear to be in clear view of a number of other office buildings in Manhattan. Imagine, if you will, a video circulating on social media the next day. One shot on a cell phone from one of those other office buildings. One that depicts a man in a black suit being heaved through glass structures over and over again by men with swords. I know I spend too much time online. I know that’s not the big takeaway of any of this. But it’s all I could think about every time I saw a shot wide enough to reveal other windows. I kept picturing two first-year associates at a law firm burning the midnight oil and being like “Yo, go get Chad, he has to see this.”
6. These movies are not exactly known for their dialogue. Still, there were a few legitimate laughs in there, one mostly for me, because my brain is a jumbled mess of action movies cliches. The first one was after Bronn shot Halle Berry’s dog and Halle Berry attempted to justify her decision to slaughter everyone she could see, when John replied “I get it.” Hard laugh in the theater. Good joke. Also, between Bronn shooting a dog in this movie and Theon Greyjoy stomping on one in the first, Game of Thrones veterans should not be allowed near dogs in any movie ever again.
The second cool dialogue thing was the running gag about other assassins going full-on Chris Farley Show around him. (“So, uh, you… remember that time you killed a guy with a pencil? That was awesome.”) It was funny, for sure, but it also helped drive home just how revered John Wick is in that world. We can see him do all the cool stuff he does, but hearing the other assassins marvel at it is what makes his legend more real.
The final example is related to the second and I kind of can’t believe they did it. It was when John Wick and the assassin hired by the adjudicator — Mark Dacascos! A famous martial arts movie star who is probably best known as the star of Iron Chef: America! — were waiting to meet Winston and Dacascos dropped a delighted “We’re the same” on John. On one hand, these movies are entirely too good for a “We’re not so different” scene, but, on the other hand, I howled with joy when it happened. I vote we let it slide.
7. Like Skyfall before it, John Wick 3 closed with a grown-up version of the Home Alone ending. The only differences were: Kevin McCallister is now a widowed assassin who is out for blood and freedom and recently chopped off his ring finger to show fealty to a worldwide network of killers; the Wet Bandits are now that worldwide network of killers, some of whom have automatic weapons, some of whom have swords; the Chicago mansion where Kevin lives is now a mysterious hotel that serves only hitmen. Other than that, I mean, basically the same.
8. This brings us to the ending and, specifically, the betrayal, when Winston shoots John Wick and watches him tumble off the roof. This made me so mad. Winston! Ian McShane! Come on! John just let you live and defended you and your hotel while you sipped booze in that clicker-controlled panic room. That’s how you repay him? By shooting him and leaving him to die so you can keep your hotel. Ugh. You snake. You bastard. You bastard snake. And I see you standing next to him, Lance Reddick. I can understand McShane doing it because I’ve seen Deadwood, but you? You?! Ooo, I’m mad.
The silver lining in this shameful double cross is that John Wick is now teaming up with the cabal of fake homeless assassins led by Laurence Fishburne and Jason Mantzoukas. So now, heading into the fourth movie, we’re looking at a war with Neo and Morpheus from The Matrix and Derek from The Good Place and (possibly) Halle Berry on one side, and Al Swearengen from Deadwood and Lt. Daniels from The Wire and Taylor from Billions on the other.
Please make this movie as quickly as possible.