The John Wick series is about two things: professionals and consequences. You’d be hard-pressed to find action films so meticulously obsessed with justifying the events that take place within their world and aren’t based in some other reality. This series that Keanu Reeves (“The Matrix,” “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”), director Chad Stahelski (“John Wick,” “John Wick Chapter 2”) and writer Derek Kolstad (“The Package (2013),” “John Wick,” “John Wick Chapter 2”) created, seems determined to be as elaborate and detailed as possible, in both its action and its mythology.
That’s the easiest way to describe what makes “John Wick” different: the films are steeped in a rich mythology following a globe-spanning organization of assassins. There’s the chain of hotels known as The Continental, where it is against the organization's rules to kill one another, even if your target is sitting right in front of you. Most of the transactions play out using golden coins and blood-soaked emblems. At one point in “Chapter 3,” John presents Anjelica Huston’s character with a Rosary proclaiming it to be his “ticket”.
Truly, Reeves is the ticket that sells this entire series. He delivers lines and actions in a way that no actor could, and yet, the details he has woven into Wick’s life and background make him all the more lovable and charming. One moment after he brutally murders a dozen men on motorcycles, he’s enthusiastically petting the dog he hasn’t seen for days. It’s a great small example of how this series takes what could be simple characters and events and makes them memorable with ample attention to detail and world-building.
It’s this kind of world-building that makes these films so engrossing. If it was the same story, but without these overblown accoutrements, it would be far less engaging. Reeves and the team behind this series clearly know this, and “Chapter 3” spends a lot of time continuing to flesh out this world.
This further fleshing out introduces the standout character for “Chapter 3”; the Adjudicator, played with a grim swagger by Asia Kate Dillon. The fact that their character is never even given a name adds to the mystery of the world and the members of the “High Table” that they serve. The Adjudicator also comes to deliver consequences to many of those who have helped John in the past. These are some of the most engrossing sequences in the film, managing to stand toe to toe with the dance-like action scenes because of their deathly serious nature.
The action in “Chapter 3” continues to escalate from the previous installments. Most have likely heard of the series’ unflinching approach to violence. If someone gets shot, the camera will very rarely turn away, instead showing the impact of every gunshot, knife throw, and sword slash like few films would. The light touch of reality also continues to set the series apart, as the violence is accompanied by gore, but not to fetishistic levels. It’s probably as much as would be seen if someone was shot in the head, knifed in the eye, etc.
While there isn’t much done to freshen up the action, that’s because Stahelski and his crew have more or less perfected their style of doing things. Everything hits with an impact like no other, whether it be Wick killing someone in a library, on horseback, or even the third act's obsession with reloading. Most of this has to do with the intricate choreography throughout the film, and the heavy use of practical effects and general realism. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen’s (“The Shape of Water,” “John Wick Chapter 2”) work here walks a thin line between a stylish and a matter-of-fact presentation of the film’s violence, and it allows even the film’s slower points still manage to pack a punch.
Unfortunately, the film does have some slower points - that’s one of the areas wherein “Chapter 3” starts to show the “Wick” series growing a bit tired. Though, it’s not for lack of effort. The middle of the film just slows down a bit too much. Wick’s journey in Casablanca and across a desert is still excellently shot and well-choreographed, but it feels plain compared to the vents that come before and after. Halle Berry (“X-Men,” “Monster’s Ball”) and Anjelica Huston (“The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Addams Family”), who are introduced in this middle of the film also feel a bit out of place with the rest of this world, as if they were written as extended celebrity cameos than essential characters.
However, while not being as satisfying action-wise, the middle of “Chapter 3” also contains some of the richest story moments and examples of the previously mentioned consequences. It’s also the chunk of the film where the supporting cast is allowed to shine the brightest.
Like previously mentioned, Asia Kate Dillon is a supremely entertaining and solemn menace, paired excellently against the likes of Ian McShane’s (“Deadwood,” “John Wick”) hotel manager; Winston, Lance Reddick’s (“Bosch,” “Destiny 2”) concierge; Charon, Laurence Fishburne’s (“The Matrix,” “School Daze”) Bowery King; and Huston’s Director. Those with roles from past Wick films continue to deliver excellent work on par with the previous portrayals of their characters, with Reddick’s concierge continuing to be a scene-stealing delight.
The only other major new cast members are Jason Mantzoukas (“The League,” “The House”) seen briefly as a henchman of the Bowery King; the Tick Tock Man, and Mark Dacascos (“Hawaii Five-0,” “Iron Chef America”) as gleefully exuberant assassin Zero. His performance is easily alongside Dillon’s as one of the films most memorable characters. The ease with which he slips back and forth between steely-eyed violence to fanboying over meeting John Wick is entertaining and a bizarre kind of wholesome.
“John Wick Chapter 3” may slow down during its second act and have a few characters who feel out of place, but the only reason these small issues stand out is because of the high level of quality afforded to the rest of this film and the previous two. This is still an incredibly engrossing and thrillingly choreographed series, obsessed with its own world and mythology and constantly fleshing itself out. Come for the action, stay for the consequences. 4.5/5