Want job security? Be a hitman. If you’re a bad one, you’ll still likely have a job ‘til you die. And if you’re John Wick, your shady employers will make it nearly impossible to quit.
Actually, he did quit. Once. He chucked his weapons, bought a nice car and settled down with his new wife, Helen. But then his wife died and Russian gangsters killed his dog. Next thing you know, he’s slaughtering folks left and right, as if he’d never left the biz. Forget Wick pocketing an AARP card. With him, everything is “AARG!” and “AACK!” and “GET THAT ICE PICK OUT OF MY EYE!”
But these days, John kills people off the clock. He has no choice. Ever since he killed a crime kingpin—part of the infamous “High Table”—he’s been a wanted man himself. By the time John Wick: Chapter 3 opens, the prize on his grizzled head is a cool $14 million, and every assassin and underground bounty hunter on the planet would like to separate it from his suit-draped shoulders.
John Wick’s good at killing. But can he kill every Tom, Ivan and Harry who comes gunning for him indefinitely? Maybe not. And let’s face it: John would like to play fetch with his new dog without the both of them constantly dodging bullets and ninja stars.
There’s only one way out, John figures. And that’s to get back in.
But that won’t be easy. Pert near everyone on John’s contact list is an enemy these days. He’s been declared “excommunicado,” meaning no self-respecting criminal can give the guy as much as a stick of gum. If John wants to get back into this bad world’s good graces, he’ll need to somehow convince the High Table that he deserves another chance—or go above its collective head and speak to someone that even the Table fears.
It won’t be easy, of course. He’ll probably have to fight hundreds of weapons-brandishing enemies, shed pints blood, stave off utter exhaustion and do his dead-level best to keep his dog safe.
In other words, just another week at the grind for good ol’ John Wick.
Yes, John has probably killed more people in his life than we’ve even met in ours. But there’s a good person underneath that black, bloodstained suit.
OK, maybe calling John a good guy is stretching it a bit. But he is trying under some very difficult circumstances. He still pines for his dearly departed wife, tenderly kissing a picture of her before he’s attacked by assassins. In fact, he stays alive mainly to keep her memory alive. That and to care for his dog, of course. He clearly loves his pooch, too: John knows he could get X’s over his eyes at any moment, but he’s going to do everything in his power to make sure his cuddly canine doesn’t follow him to the great beyond. (He sometimes shows a hint of mercy to a few folks, too.)
But John is also grappling with higher questions of morality. Is serving the High Table really serving the best possible good? “Who do you wish to die as?” a character asks him. “Baba Yaga [a reference to John’s nickname as an assassin]? Or a man?”
Though the High Table forbids anyone in the underworld from helping John, a few do anyway. It’s perhaps a stretch to call their “help” particularly merciful—often it seems downright grudging—but one kindly doctor does point John to some painkilling medicine in violation of rules, and he suffers a couple of gunshot wounds for his troubles.
John Wick films, for all their excesses, do something interesting: They take this hyper-horrible underworld and shellac it with a veneer of quasi-religious bureaucracy.
Despite overseeing a sprawling crime network built on circumventing societal law, the High Table has plenty of rules of its own. And when the underground criminal association is discussed, it’s often in the same reverent, fearful tones that folks might’ve spoken of the Catholic Church during the Inquisition. And certain crime enclaves, such as the Continental Hotel in New York, are treated almost like churches—places of refuge and sanctuary, where no “business” can be conducted. The organization’s language also makes generous use of religious terms to stress its spiritual tang as well as its twisted sense of morality and honor.
And when John seeks to return to serve the High Table, his “ticket” is an Eastern Cross (which, unlike our more familiar Latin cross, has a slanted beam toward the bottom). Before his quest, someone takes that cross and uses it as a branding iron—burning an inverted cross on John’s back.
A woman tells Wick that his journey back to paradise “begins in hell,” perhaps a reference to Dante’s Inferno. (All of the John Wick films occasionally seem to lift references from Dante’s work.) We hear rumination on the very word “assassin” and its roots: The speaker believes that it actually references those who are “faithful and who abide by their beliefs.”
John’s nickname, Baba Yaga, comes from Russian folklore, where she’s a bogeywoman of some renown. (John Wick: Chapter 3 is the second movie I’ve reviewed in 2019 name-checking Ms. Yaga, in fact; a more literal interpretation was found in Hellboy.) In the Continental, the concierge is called Charon: In Greek mythology, Charon serves as a boatman ferrying souls from the land of the living to the land of the dead, and he demands a coin as payment. (Interestingly, specially made coins and tokens are used in payment throughout the Wick movies, as well.) Various scenes featuring hotel boilers or metal smelters seem intended to stress that John is in some metaphorical hellscape.
Some women and men wear ballet outfits and other forms of tight, somewhat revealing clothing. A few women are shown, in passing, dancing seductively. John sometimes exposes a bit of his upper body. A receptionist working for the High Table may be transgender.
John Wick is forced to perform nearly impossible deeds here—but they look easy compared to the challenge of a Plugged In reviewer tabulating every bit of violence in these über-violent movies. So I’m not even going to try. Instead, let’s just hit the … highlights?
John kills several people before the film seems 15 minutes old. He struggles with one of his victims, slowly forcing a knife into the assailant’s eyeball: We see it all in grotesque detail. John kills another man with a library book—slamming it into his mouth and doing ghastly things to him with it after that. John turns into a modern John Henry (a legendary American railroad worker), using a knife as a railroad spike and a man’s skull as the tie. He peppers another two assailants with knives repeatedly.
Remember, this is in the first 15 minutes.
He and others kill dozens, perhaps hundreds of people. Many die via bullets; sometimes the resultant wounds leave bloody splashes on walls or floors. When John and a friend pull out some armor-piercing monstrosities, it seems as if heads are practically blown off bodies. Knives and swords get plenty of work here, too (often jammed straight through heads and necks, bodies and eye sockets). John kills a couple of folks with some well-placed horse kicks (sending showers of hemoglobin flying). Nonlethal battles (or, at least, initially nonlethal) feature lots of flying fists and feet and shots at the crotch, along with some nifty work with a basic dress belt.
Some killer dogs attack would-be assailants—often biting them in the crotch (and leaving some seriously bloody evidence of their passing)—but they maul arms and legs too, when they’re feeling more generous.
People crash through plenty of panes of glass, be they display cabinets or windows or floors. Cars and other things blow up. Guys fly off (and are hit by) motorcycles. John’s hit by a couple of cars. Someone’s stabbed through both hands. A man is forced to cut off his own finger: The resultant wound is conscientiously cauterized, but the severed digit is filmed just lying on a table.
A guy is shot several times, falls off a roof and bounces off ledges and fire escapes. A dog is shot. A man faints in the desert. John receives stitches for a serious-looking wound—a wound that he finishes patching up by himself. A dancer peels off her own toenail.
Crude or Profane Language
An upside to all this violence? We don’t have a lot of time for actual dialogue, which cuts down on the swear count. We still hear three f-words and five s-words, though, along with single uses of “a--,” “b--ch,” “h---“ and “p-ssed.”
Drug and Alcohol Content
People drink alcoholic beverages, including several varieties of hard liquor. Someone smokes a small cigar. John takes four tablets meant to both deaden pain and help with his energy levels.
Other Negative Elements
Sofia, a woman who partners with John for a bit, drives him out into the middle of the desert (at his request) and gives most of a bottle of water to her dogs. She drinks most of the rest, uses the dregs to rinse out her mouth and spits it back in the bottle. Then she hands the bottle back to John: It’s the only water he’ll have in his trek through the desert.
Some people betray others.
The John Wick movies aren’t so much stories as they are ballets of blood. And in this chapter—obviously the third installment in the John Wick franchise—the fanbase gets exactly what it wants.
The choreography here is often impressive, sometimes breathtaking. The fight scenes are outlandish exercises in murderous fantasy. The casualties, for the most part, are faceless, emotionless thugs—waves of anonymous enemies that wouldn’t be out of place in a particularly violent video game. The film offers plenty of in-the-know nods to its gratuitous excesses. “That was a pretty good fight, huh?” One bad guy asks John, a sword sticking straight through the guy’s chest.
You could even look at these John Wick movies as fairy tales themselves, in a way—a myth of a warrior fighting through the depths of a fearsome underworld, battling demons and monsters along the path to redemption.
But if so, the films also serve as a sober, unintentional condemnation of what we seem to value.
For all its apparent or imagined pretentions, the latest John Wick flick is a celebration of gore in which blood is showered upon the revelers and organs are carved for applause. Whatever gifts of humor or virtue the film offers come wrapped in skin and bound by vein and gristle. And as society puzzles over what to do about its guns and bullies and road rage, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum opens its doors to young and old, offering screen-based blood and lead for money, cold corpses for cold cash.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Keanu Reeves as John Wick; Halle Berry as Sofia; Ian McShane as Winston; Laurence Fishburne as Bowery King; Mark Dacascos as Zero; Asia Kate Dillon as The Adjudicator; Lance Reddick as Charon; Tobias Segal as Earl; Anjelica Huston as The Director; Saïd Taghmaoui as The Elder; Jerome Flynn as Berrada; Randall Duk Kim as the Doctor; Margaret Daly as the Operator
Chad Stahelski ( )
May 17, 2019