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TAC Reviews...John Wick

 

Possibly now to be referred to as John Wick Chapter 1, this film was released in 2014 and saw Keanu Reeves taking on the titular role and co-starred Michael Nyqvist, with Ian McShane, and John Leguizamo. The sequel has been released as I write this so with a bit of luck if you just scroll down that review will be following this one within a few days.

 

John Wick Poster

 

I have been a fan of Reeves for years and enjoyed his martial arts prowess as Neo in The Matrix films, and whilst some of the roles he has done post-Neo have been good like John Constantine in Constantine, others have basically passed me by, like…er…49 Samurai (?)…I think it was called. But in John Wick I think that he may have found a character that could be more than a match for The One himself.

 

Still, let me slow down a smidge and let you know what is going on…

 

John Wick loses his wife Helen to an unspecified illness, and in the wake of her death, he receives a puppy named Daisy that she sent to him to help him cope with her loss. John connects with the puppy and the two of them spend the day driving around together in his 1969 Mustang. Whilst at a petrol station, the group of Russian gangsters led by Iosef (Alfie Allen) insists on buying the car but John refuses. Iosef follows John home and that night attacks him, beats him up, steals the car and kills Daisy when she tries to protect him.

 

Taking the car to a chop shop Iosef tries to get the car’s details changed but the garage’s owner Aurelio (Leguizamo) recognises the car, punches Iosef and throws him out of his shop. Iosef’s father, Viggo (Nyqvist), learns that Aurelio hit his son and demands an explanation, it is then that he is told Iosef stole John Wick’s car…

 

Viggo immediately beats and berates his son’s actions, because John Wick was his former best assassin that gave up that life for Helen. Viggo agreed to allow John out of his criminal world if he killed all of Viggo’s rivals in a single night…John succeeded and was allowed to retire in peace.

 

Viggo attempts to reason with John but it is too late, because John Wick has unearthed his past and is seeking revenge against the man who took his car and killed his dog, and will kill anyone who gets in his way…

 

Okay, now if I’m honest one of the first things that drew me into this film was the fact that it seemed as though John Wick was launching a crusade of bloody vengeance because someone killed his dog, and that reason seemed so petty that it was hilarious. However, the story does have a little more to it than that, yes, John Wick is slaughtering gangers left-right-and-centre because one of them stole his car and killed his dog, but the dog was a gift from his deceased wife to help him cope with her loss. Therefore he is not just going after someone because they killed his dog. Now I used to be one of those people that would just say “it’s just a dog” when seeing someone risk their lives to rescue a dog, however, that was before I owned a dog myself. Yes, before I constructed Abbie I sometimes got lonely being on my ship so I have a German Sheppard-Rottweiler-cross and he is lovely. If someone tried to hurt him, believe me they would be vaporised in short order, so there are certainly worst reasons to get revenge on someone.

 

As the film progresses it keeps it’s tongue very firmly in its cheek, the members of Viggo’s organisation know exactly who John is and some of them are given the “night off” by John and they do not hesitate to leave him to do what he is there to do. As they know if they don’t he will kill them. Viggo even says to Iosef, “it isn’t what you did, it’s who you did it to”, and whilst his father tries to get him off the hook Viggo knows that there is going to be nothing he can do to protect his son from the man coming after him. Fortunately the film knows when not to take itself seriously and keeps the action moving at a break-neck pace throughout. The fight scenes are superbly choreographed, and whilst John is a serious badass, he is not invincible so does get hurt during the course of the film.

 

The Continental Hotel is also a particular highlight with the brilliant Lance Reddick portraying the concierge. The Hotel caters specifically to the criminal underworld and doesn’t allow any business to be conducted on the premises (basically criminals can’t kill one another there) so it serves as a safe haven. I love the idea that there might be places like the Continental in real life that appear on the surface to be up-market hotels but actually deal with the criminal underworld but have a strict set of rules about the clientele leaving their business dealings outside.

 

Basically the film does seem like another mindless shoot ‘em up on par with, well Shoot ‘Em Up, but there is one huge difference that makes this film stand out. There is a scene when John has been captured and is tied up on a warehouse. Once again Viggo tries to reason with him, and tells him that he will return his car. But it is the fact that they killed his dog that John cannot forgive. It is in this scene that I truly think I saw Reeves acting because when he is talking about the fact that the dog was left to him by his wife, and Viggo’s son took that connection away from him, you feel his pain. John Wick gave up his life to be with the woman he loved. A woman that was taken from him by natural causes, he was lost without her, but that little dog, Daisy, gave him something to love and was a connection to the woman he had lost. Iosef took that hope away from him, and now John is going to kill Iosef, no matter what. I have never felt actually emotionally connected to a character Reeves has portrayed. When Trinity died (spoiler) in The Matrix Revolutions I didn’t feel Neo’s sorrow because he basically gets straight up and goes off to fight Smith. Here John Wick carries that pain and sorrow with him the entire film, and the only way he knows how to cope with everything that matters to him being taken away is to kill those responsible. It makes Wick far more human than other characters that may have a tragic past or whatever but that is basically just an excuse to start shooting and not stop till the credits roll.

 

I was familiar with Michael Nyqvist from the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels in which he played Mikael Blomkvist. In that film he was a good guy, whereas here he is portraying Russian Gang Leader Viggo who is naturally a bad guy. However, he is one of the smartest bad guys in cinema history because he tries to talk John down on several occasions, but he eventually realises that John won’t stop until Iosef is dead, and he is going to have to choose between his own life and the life of his son. Again he is not a stereo-typical villain and is far more human than other bad guys who have no redeeming qualities at all.

 

Naturally there is no such thing as a perfect film and there are a couple of downsides to John Wick. The first is that he doesn’t have much time to bond with Daisy. On the afternoon of his wife’s funeral Daisy is delivered, and he spends one day entire day with her before she is killed. Personally I would have preferred it if he’d had more time to really bond with her and that could have given a more emotional impact when she died.

 

So John not having much time to bond with Daisy is a downside, and the other one is the dog he chooses at the end. So when everyone is dead and his vengeance is complete he stumbles into a rescue centre and chooses a pit-bull puppy to replace Daisy. Like I said I have a dog with a lovely temperament, he is great company, and you can reach into his mouth, take a toy he is chewing on out, and he won’t even growl at you. He just looks at you as if to say “I was chewing that” so you give it back. In my opinion, pit-bull’s are not nice dogs, they are very aggressive, and in my opinion are not as handsome as a Rottweiler.

 

So my two criticisms are…John doesn’t have much time to bond with Daisy and I don’t agree with the choice of dog John picks at the end – that’s it. So if that are the only two drawbacks to this entire film then it should be pretty obvious that my Thumb is Up, this is a great action film and I’m eagerly awaiting the next film.

 

 

10/10 – John Wick is truly an awesome character, he is a stone-cold badass that is still human with a very emotional motive for seeking revenge against Iosef and anyone else that gets in his way. The supporting cast are all excellent. The film is an absolute joy to watch and I honestly cannot wait to see where the story goes in John Wick Chapter 2

 

TAC Reviews...John Wick: Chapter 2

 

Not surprisingly John Wick Chapter 2 follows on after John Wick which was released in 2014, Keanu Reeves once again steps into the titular role with Lance Reddick reprising the role as the Continental’s concierge. Ian McShane also returns and Laurence Fishbourne joins the cast. This marks the first time that he and Reeves have worked on a film together since The Matrix trilogy.

 

John Wick: Chapter 2 Poster

 

I gave John Wick my rare 10/10 rating so naturally any sequel was going to have some pretty big shoes to fill, but I liked the character of John Wick and the world in which he was trying so hard to escape was one that seemed interesting. I had thought that John Wick was a pretty self-enclosed story, John goes after the people who killed his dog and stole his car, the film ends when that mission for vengeance is complete.

 

The logical question that must then be asked is: if John’s story of revenge is over, then where does the sequel go??

 

This is a question that I will answer later, for the moment, let me bring you up to speed.

 

Approximately four days after the events of John Wick, John tracks down his car to a chop shop owned by Abram Tarasov (Peter Stormare), brother of Viggo and uncle of Iosef (the main antagonists from the first film). After a brutal confrontation with Tarasov’s men, John spares Tarasov himself by declaring “peace” then takes his damaged car and heads home.

 

Soon afterwards as John is returning the evidence of his former life to the concrete below his basement, he is visited by Santino D’Antonio (Ricardo Scamarcio), an Italian crime lord. It transpires that years ago John swore a “Marker” to D’Antionio, basically an unbreakable blood debt that D’Antonio now wants returned. John refuses because he is “retired”. To refuse to honour a Marker is unheard of, and D’Antonio attacks John’s home effectively burning it to the ground with John (and his dog) surviving.

 

Winston (Ian McShane) the owner of the Continental reminds John that if he doesn’t do as D’Antonio asks he is violating one of only two laws in the criminal world, no business to be conducted on Continual grounds and a Marker must be honoured. Reluctantly John seeks out D’Antonio and asks what he wants in exchange for the Marker John owes him, D’Antonio informs John that his sister has a seat at the “High Table” and D’Antonio wants her assassinated so he can take the seat for himself.

 

John agrees and travels to Rome where he stays at another Continental hotel. He buys various weapons and a bullet proof suit to assist him in his task. He breaches the security and enters Gianna’s bathroom. She recognises him and knows why he is there. As she decides that she will end her life on her own terms, she slices her own wrists, and dies in her bathtub as John holds her hand. He then shoots her through the head. Leaving the bathroom he is recognised by Gianna’s bodyguards and engages in a bloody shootout with them, but then D’Antonio’s people appear and also try to kill him in order to avenge his sister’s murder.

 

John returns to New York and goes after D’Antonio in revenge for betraying him, but along the way he must deal with Gianna’s bodyguard who is also out for blood…

 

Now one of the things I liked about John Wick was that it was a pretty enclosed story, John goes after a man who killed the dog his wife left him following her death and stole his beloved car. He killed the people responsible and got himself another dog. Job done, story over, but obviously he was too popular a character to leave in retirement.

 

The trouble with this film is John is pulled out of retirement by a man he owes a blood debt, a man who then firebombs his house to get his attention, John does what is required of him but he is just about the most obvious assassin in history. Everyone in Gianna’s entourage knows who he is and when they spot him, Cassian (her personal bodyguard) asks if he is “working”, he replies “Afraid so” and the shoot out begins. D’Antonio said he needed John Wick specifically because he is a ghost, and indeed he does slip into Gianna’s bathroom unnoticed but he basically just strolls out of the front door after she is dead. If he can slip in unnoticed then why the crap doesn’t he slip out unnoticed???? Plus D’Antonio goes after him because he is honour bound to avenge his sister’s murder, but he calls John back because he is the best, so again, why go to the trouble of recruiting John Wick if he was planning on betraying him???

 

In addition, Gianna commits suicide rather than let John murder her, so why does John shoot her in the head?? Surely he could have simply slipped out again and she would have been found by her bodyguards who would have assumed that she committed suicide. No assassin, no murder, just a woman that chose to end her own life. D’Antonio gets her seat at the “High Table” and John’s debt is cleared. Job done. So why does John stroll out, confront a bodyguard he knows will recognise him, and admit that he was the one responsible for Gianna’s death?? It makes no sense.

 

In the first film John is out for revenge for personal reasons, here he is out for revenge because he was betrayed by a man that should have known better. In the first film Viggo tried repeatedly to make peace with John but there was nothing he could do because his son had killed John’s dog and taken his car, so there was no talking him down. Here if D’Antonio had let him to his job, and not tried to kill him, then John would have walked away leaving him alive. Why do villains always do this?? They hire their best assassin to do a job for them and then attempt to betray them, logically the next best person to send after your best assassin is your second best assassin. Why would you get your second best assassin to try and kill your best assassin?? Why not send your second best assassin to do a job and then get your best assassin to kill them once they have completed their mission?? I have never understood why villains drag retired hitmen out of their exile and get them to do one last mission before betraying them.

 

Laurence Fishburne is in the film but his is barely in it, he portrays a man that John once spared, after slicing his throat John told him he could either keep pressure on the wound or shoot John in the back. Now he is the Bowery King, the leader of the homeless in the city, and aids John in his mission to get close to D’Antonio.

 

This time around John Wick isn’t the same unstoppable killing machine he was in the first film, his moves seem more wooden, and less natural. Perhaps you could argue this is because he is still injured after the events of the first film, but his moves didn’t seem as smooth and flowing as they did in John Wick. The choreography of the fights doesn’t seem as good as it did before. Reeves seems more clumsy here, and whilst the first film kept its tongue in its cheek, this one seems to take itself a bit too seriously.

 

The main thing that I took away from this film was it was definitely the middle film in a trilogy, because it doesn’t resolve anything. Unlike the first film which was a nice little self-enclosed story, this one leaves everything open, John is on the run, and everyone is after him. I like films which continue a story but this one exists to set up the next one, and whilst the original film had a ruthlessly efficient hitman coming out of retirement to avenge the death of his dog and theft of his car, this one has the aforementioned hitman returning to fulfil a debt they owe to someone, then being betrayed and going after their betrayer. That is a story we have seen countless times. A man seeking revenge for the theft of his car and killing of his dog, that was unique, but John Wick Chapter 2 has returned to more traditional waters of revenge stories which is a shame.

 

The expansion of the lore of the film’s universe is interesting and the idea of the Continental and the people associated with it is expanded on here, which is really good, unfortunately there is just too much that is…honestly…mundane. Legions of hitmen come after John Wick, and he kills them all whilst working his way back to the one who betrayed him, so far, so generic…I wanted another great film but I was ultimately left disappointed. Considering I gave the first film a 10/10 this one did have its work cut out and whilst expecting it to be as brilliant as the first was obviously unfair, it could have carved out a niche for itself, but it just doesn’t.

 

How John copes without his wife has nothing to do with this story and his character doesn’t evolve in any way. He hasn’t returned to the life because without his wife he is lost. He hasn’t come back in because it is the only life he knows. He is drawn back in by a debt he owes to someone else and then is stabbed in the back by the man who recruited him in the first place…yawn…

 

The fights scenes are not as good as the first, the motivations are not as good as the first, and the film is not as good as the first. Perhaps John Wick Chapter 3 will raise the bar back to the levels of the original but I doubt it. As far as John Wick Chapter 2 goes I cannot rate it any higher than average. Man on Fire was a better revenge story, Taken was a better revenge story, and so I have to give this film my Meh rating and leave my Thumb Horizontal.

 

 

6.5/10 – Honestly this film was little more than average, John Wick is slower this time, and the villain is just your typical moron. There was plenty that they could have done. I would have liked to have seen John’s character decline as the loss of his wife lays increasingly heavily on him, drawing him slowly back into the life because it is the only world he knows and understands. Sadly we got a by the numbers revenge flick that couldn’t leave itself more open for a sequel if it tried.

 

TAC Reviews...John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum 

 

Not surprisingly the 3rd film in the John Wick film series which sees Keanu Reeves’ super assassin John Wick fleeing for his life following the events of the second film. This one was released in 2019 and continues on from the cliff-hanger ending of the previous film. Familiar faces join Reeves for this instalment including Ian McShane as Winston and Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King with Lance Reddick as the concierge of the Continental Hotel in New York.

 

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum Poster

 

As you, my loyal reader, will know I intended to review this film last week, but unfortunately Venom was so traumatically bad, I felt I needed to warn others before they dived into that film with anything resembling enthusiasm, which regrettably pushed my review of John Wick Chapter 3 back to this week.

 

Now the subtitle Parabellum is apparently taken from a 4th century Roman military quote "Si vis pacem, para bellum" which means "If you want peace, prepare for war"

 

That is enough of a history lesson; let’s jump straight into the action, which is exactly what John Wick Chapter 3 does...

 

The film picks up around 45 minutes after John was declared “excommunicado” by Winston for breaking the rules of the Continental and the High Table by killing High Table member Santino D’Antonio. Due to their friendship Winston gave John an hour head start before the bounty of $14 million on his head will become active and every assassin in New York will be gunning for him. Being still wounded John seeks out The Doctor to stitch his injuries, but the time expires before The Doctor can finish his work, and is forced to leave John to finish patching his wounds himself.

 

Racing to the New York City Library whilst battling assassins along the way John is able to get to a book in which he stashed items he might need in the future, including a Marker and a crucifix necklace. He is able to escape New York after calling in a favour from The Director, a woman from his past, and heads to Morocco.

 

Meanwhile an adjudicator from the High Table arrives in New York, not best pleased that Winston gave John an hour head start when he should have been gunned down where he stood. Winston is given seven days to get his affairs in order at which time he will give up managing the Continental or face serious consequences. The adjudicator also recruits Zero (played by Mark Dacascos) to help her discipline those that helped John kill D’Antonio by supplying him with weapons or assistance. Those that pledge themselves to serve the High Table are punished through blood and those that don’t submit to the Table’s ruling are executed.

 

After arriving in Morocco John seeks out Sofia (Halle Berry), a fellow assassin and someone that owes John a Marker debt. The Marker debts have to be fulfilled as John was forced to honour the one he owed to D’Antonio in the second film. John has come to Morocco to seek an audience with The Elder, a person higher than the High Table itself, and the only person that can keep John alive as Zero and his assassins close in from all sides...

 

In my opinion the second film only really existed because John Wick was such a success and felt very much like the second film in a trilogy. A film in which the ending is really the only important thing with everything else being so much padding, and I stand by that. All that you really need to know going into John Wick Chapter 3 is that John is on the run for breaking the rules and killing a member of the High Table.

 

In the film’s world, the High Table is the organisation that runs the criminal element of the world, and has its own set of rules because that is “what separates them from the animals”. I do like this idea that there is some kind of central hierarchy and all the assassins are in some way connected to one another and the High Table. A person being declared excommunicado is basically a death sentence as the bounty on their head remains until they are dead.

 

Like its predecessors the action comes think and fast in beautifully choreographed action sequences in which John demonstrates various martial arts techniques. He kills with guns, knives and basically anything that he can get his hands on. It doesn’t stop being entertaining as you watch the one man Grim Reaper that is John Wick cut through enemies in his quest to escape the city and reach The Elder.

 

A couple of familiar faces from The Matrix films appear with the most obvious being Laurence Fishburne and Randall Duk Kim (the Keymaker from The Matrix Reloaded) playing The Doctor. When John reaches Morocco I was a little disappointed that Sofia was played by Halle Berry rather than Carrie Anne Moss (who played Trinity in The Matrix films) because that would have been cool to see Neo and Trinity together once more. I wouldn’t say though that anyone in the case does a poor job or is badly cast, each character actually has a character, they aren’t just boring stereotypes that are uninteresting to watch.

 

A particular highlight is Zero who is obviously being played with great enthusiasm by Mark Dacascos. I have been a fan of his since Crying Freeman and he even popped up in a few episodes of Stargate: Atlantis. He is a martial arts actor and he has a great on screen presence. What I loved about the character was that whilst he is an assassin bound to kill John at the order of the High Table, he is also something of a John Wick fanboy and seems delighted at the prospect of meeting him, and fighting him despite being forced to try and kill him too.

 

The relationship between the two and the way that everyone conducts themselves manages to keep the film’s tongue very firmly in its cheek. Thankfully nothing is taken too seriously, and that works to the films favour. The creative ways that John kills his opponents will make you chuckle simply due to the ease at which he is able to do it. In the film’s final sequence two of Zero’s assassins, who are also John fanboys, engage him in a fight but they don’t just want to kill him, they want to relish in the thrill of fighting the living legend that is John Wick.

 

There was a considerable amount of the film to enjoy, with it following in the footsteps of the original rather than those of the sequel. However, there are a few things that I don’t really understand...

 

 

Okay, so John has travelled to Morocco to try and meet with The Elder, the only person that can save his life. John is indeed able to meet with him and The Elder offer John the opportunity to return to his role as an assassin under the submission of the High Table until he eventually dies. Alternatively he can be executed then and there. John agrees to serve, and is forced to make a sacrifice to prove his willingness. The Elder then tells him to return to New York and kill Winston who has refused to give up ownership and management of the Continental and seems willing to fight the High Table’s assassins to the death. Killing him will conclusively prove that John is willing to kill anyone at the behest of the High Table.

 

Okay fine, so John returns to New York and confronts Winston...

 

However, when Winston asks John why he fights so hard to survive, John answers that whilst he is alive he can keep the memory of his wife alive within him, which he cannot do if he is dead. Winston asks him if he thinks his wife would rather he remained the man she loved or return to the assassin he used to be just so he could remember her whilst betraying everything she loved about him. Naturally John decides to side with Winston against the High Table and helps him defend the Continental from the High Table’s assassins.

 

Right, so what was the point of the whole trip to Morocco, risking Sofia’s life by forcing her to help him even though he is excommunicado, meeting The Elder, and agreeing to kill Winston, only to return to New York, side with Winston and immediately make himself into an enemy of the High Table once again???

 

It just didn’t really make much sense to me.

 

I’d also heard that John Wick Chapter 3 was due to be the last one as I’d heard that Keanu Reeves had done an interview in which he’d said that he didn’t want the franchise to be destroyed by sequel after sequel. But the ending leaves the film open to a sequel which is apparently due to be released in 2021. Plus the ending regarding Winston, John and the adjudicator was a bit out of left field and how John survives seems to have been pulled right out of the film’s arse. It smacks of potentially being the original ending but when a forth film was green-lit, the ending had to be changed so that John somehow managed to survive.

 

When all is said and done though, the film is really good, the characters are great, the action is amazing and whilst the story is a little rocky in places John Wick Chapter 3 knows what it is. It is a fun action romp, which boasts great martial arts action, superb acting and possibly a more iconic character for Reeves’ than The Matrix’s Neo.

 

I am giving the film a strong Thumbs Up because it is a far superior sequel to Chapter 2 and whilst I am looking forward to Chapter 4 I am hoping that it will be the last because I want this franchise to go out on a high rather than just churning out sequel after sequel, which will be what happens if Disney get a hold of the rights to it.

 

Just before I wrap up, as I wrote the paragraph above it occurred to me that the world of John Wick is rich enough with characters to potentially spawn spin-offs. Seeing Zero in his own film, or delving more into the world of the High Table, or the Continental could be great if done correctly. So perhaps after Chapter 4 that would be the best direction for this franchise to go if the filmmakers can’t leave its world alone

 

 

9/10 – A thoroughly enjoyable film from beginning to end and whilst I think it could have ended here, I am looking forward to seeing where the sequel will go. I do have some reservations though as I want the franchise to end with a bang rather than a whimper. Chapter 3 is a solid entry that raises the bar from Chapter 2 and manages to be almost as good as the original.

 

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