John Wick launched a phenomenon. It made Keanu Reeves a household name (again). As a matter of fact, Epic Games even added a John Wick skin to Fortnite. And it’s pretty easy to see why it was so successful.
It’s an incredibly fun but exceedingly simple revenge story with great action sequences. Then the sequel came along, and it blew the previous film out of the water. Everything that the original did, the sequel did with more flair. It expanded on the compelling universe of John Wick, but kept revenge as the focus of the film.
And then there’s the third one. While not a bad movie per se, it feels like a disappointment after the highly entertaining first two. Perhaps part of the reason for that is that the stakes cease to exist.
In the first two movies, John Wick wasn’t an iconic character yet, and, while the audience knew that John Wick wouldn’t really die, there was still the small fear that there’d be a rug pull of some kind. And that’s part of what made the action sequences in the first two so engrossing. They were incredibly tense fights that held attention. In this movie, they feel like a chore. Yes, the choreography is solid and yes, the set pieces are glorious, but it lacks any tension whatsoever.
I hate comparing this movie to the previous movies, because the sequences really are a sight to behold. The movie does, however, rely more heavily on hand-to-hand combat, and it seemed a little odd that they felt weak. The sound editing seemed way out-of-proportion with the action and the framing of shots sometimes felt like they were meant to elicit laughter, though it felt unintentional. And the sequences felt undeniably forced. These movies are excessive, and I wouldn’t fault a movie for being excessive, but if it’s going to be excessive, it’s the movie’s duty to make the action feel more organic. It just feels lazy, which is especially disappointing, given that the film was directed by notable stuntman, Chad Stahelski, who, incidentally, worked on The Matrix with Keanu Reeves long before these movies.
Setting aside the action set pieces for a moment, the movie has other problems: structural problems that further lessen the interest of the audience. The movie, unlike the other two movies, has no focus on revenge and has John Wick running away from someone throughout the entire film. This immediately makes his character less compelling, since he’s not motivated by any emotional core anymore. The movie explains that he wants to live to remember his wife (who, I should mention, is deceased), but the explanation feels more like a screenwriter flourish than a sincere and thought-out reason. So, the movie ends up being this chase film, interspersed by John Wick asking people that the audience doesn’t know and doesn’t care about, for help. Structurally speaking, it’s not a good basis for a dramatic arc.
But the film, for all its faults, must be given praise where praise is due. The movie deepens the very absorbing lore that it sets itself on, and, whenever the weapon of choice isn’t hands, the action sequences are very interesting. The set pieces are (sometimes) glorious. And the movie is very watchable. And, of course, the end teases a revenge-themed sequel, which should hopefully mark a return to the first two films.