If you are new to the John Wick franchise, and you walk in to the new installment and see a guy get stabbed in the eyeball, you may wonder why everybody is laughing.
You may also wonder why, amid the pile of corpses, there are so many references to Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, who never stabbed anyone in the eye.
The answer has to do with the fact that the Wick series is directed by Chad Stahelski, a former stuntman inspired by the great silent-film physical comedians of the past, who sees stunt work as analogous to the calculated risk-taking that Lloyd and Keaton used to get laughs. Also, Stahelski’s stuntman education (school of hard knocks, a degree in martial arts and letters) tends to produce a tolerance for rough stuff.
His movies also operate at a deliberate remove from reality, so there is a wink and a nod at all of the mayhem. We’re talking, after all, about a mythos built on an international guild of assassins who stay at fancy hotels, where the concierge outfits them with guns for their next assignment.
The killers are sometimes hired to kill each other, but there is to be no violence in the hotels, so all contracts are executed off property. These rules are enforced by the “high table,” and they are inviolable. So what happens when you break the rule and kill somebody without sanction?
That’s the question addressed in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum. At the end of the last movie, title character Wick (Keanu Reeves) had gone rogue. So Chapter 3 opens with a bounty on his head, and the world’s most fearsome assassins lining up to kill him and to claim it.
The first assailant is a Wookiee-sized hulk played by the Sixers’ own Boban Marjanovic, who doesn’t last long, but that’s just an appetizer for the movie’s best sequence — Wick ducks into what turns out to be a museum of ancient weaponry. As a half dozen ninjas approach, he hastily assembles an antique revolver and scrambles to find the right vintage ammo before the men arrive. From there, we move onto collectible knives, and that’s where the guy gets it in the eye.
The goal for director Stahelski is escalating violence and bloody chaos, pushed to the point of the preposterous and beyond. It is in that spirit that Anjelica Huston turns up with a thick Russian accent as Wick’s guardian and some kind of underworld den mother, before the movie goes to Morocco and Wick hooks up with another Oscar winner — Halle Berry — for some desert action and contributions from world’s best stunt dogs.
The world’s best stunt men are already on the payroll (some actions stars from the Asian market turn up), and it all pushes the running time well past two hours, which is something Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton would probably advise Stahelski to avoid in John Wick 4, hinted at here, or The Highlander reboot he’s currently preparing.
John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum. Directed by Chad Stahelski. With Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Halle Berry, Anjelica Huston, Asia Kate Dillon, Laurence Fishburne. Distributed by Lionsgate.
Running time: 2 hours, 11 mins.
Parents’ guide: R (violence)