Of all the posters and artwork on the walls in my areas of my home, only three feature images of actual humans.
The first is an original Hong Kong gravestone print of Bruce Lee’s gravestone (though he is actually buried in Seattle, just a few hours from where I live).
The second is an authenticated poster of all the original signatures of all the action heroes of the Expendables movies, including Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Statham, Snipes, Lundgren, and so on. It was something I looked for a long time before actually getting it. I actually had it shipped in from Nevada several years ago. It cost me a pretty penny.
The last one is a picture of John Wick, right behind my head in my office as I type this, bruised and battered, surrounded by a myriad of guns pointed at his head.
That image has significance to me on several levels. The biggest philosophical one is that it resonated with me, seeing myself in it. So many times I was alone, fighting for what I wanted, with seemingly the entire world against me. But like John Wick, I kept moving forward regardless of the difficulties and pain I endured.
The more surface-level meaning for that picture is that the John Wick movies are a light in the mired darkness of today’s dreadful, milquetoast, mostly left-wing, childish, watered-down, poorly written movies of modern-day Hollywood as compared to the creative heyday Hollywood had years ago before the collapse of the West began in earnest.
Unlike almost all other movies today (outside of the Marvel movies perhaps), the John Wick movies are A) actual action movies and B) actually good.
No jump cuts. No close-up shots where you can’t see what the hell is going on. No shaky cam. No over-focusing on tiny women who easily beat the shit out of giant men who outweigh them by 150 pounds.
Good editing. Wide shots. Long takes. Real actors doing real shit instead of obvious stuntmen. Fantastically choreographed action scenes, as good as many Asian action movies (though Asian action movies are still better overall). Actors who have extensive martial arts and/or stunt work experience (at least for the most part). At least an effort to respect the fact that guns need to be reloaded often (though it still fudges on this occasionally). Acting that isn’t bad, and in many cases, actually good.
The John Wick movies are a nice reminder of what can be accomplished by people who actually give a shit about action films. It’s a shame we don’t have more of these films like we did in days past, but at least we have these.
The first John Wick movie was fantastic, and an exemplar of all the items I listed above. It also took place in a world that was unique and interesting, a world I wanted to know more about, rather than the typical bland world in which most action movies take place.
John Wick: Chapter 2 was not as good as the first, but still very good. It’s not the kind of movie I’ll bother to re-watch any time soon (unlike the first one), but still a great action movie. That alone makes it special today.
The third movie, John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum, is much better than the second and perhaps as good as the first. I’m not sure on that last part… I think I need to give it a little more time to sink in. But the fact that I’m saying it could be as good as the first is high praise.
This movie is a must-see for any action movie fan and will probably be the best pure action movie of 2019 (not that it’s a very high bar these days). It has more action, and longer action, than either of the previous two movies. The stunt work is probably the best stunt work I’ve ever seen (though Mad Max: Fury Road still ranks). The fight choreography is better than the second movie and probably better than the first, and again, that’s high praise.
I was also delighted to see that they used real martial arts-trained action stars from Asian cinema as key villains. These include Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman, the amazing Indonesian villains from The Raid movies. (They were the two guys at the end with the curved blades.) Mark Dacascos is the happy-go-lucky bald villain, a staple of B action movies going all the way back to the early 90s, whose father trained with Bruce Lee and was a friend of my father.
Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne are both amazing, as always. I would watch entire movies based on just those two characters. Good shit. Anjelica Huston was fun to see too; I’ve always liked her. Asia Kate Dillon was a little too much, but her acting somewhat matched the vibe of the movie, and at least she didn’t fight, thank god.
Halle Berry, still hot as hell at age 53, did fight, but at least most of her fighting involved her shooting people instead of kicking their asses bare-handed, so I can forgive that. Her fight scenes with the two dogs were really fun. When the movie was over and I walked out at the end with Pink Firefly (she actually likes action movies and wanted to see this movie; a nice bonus with her I wasn’t planning on) I actually wanted to get a dog because of those scenes. (No, no, I’m not getting a dog. My international lifestyle isn’t compatible with that kind of thing. I’m just fantasizing.)
That brings us to Keanu Reeves. Oh, Keanu. The most accurate joke I’ve ever heard about Keanu is that he’s a terrible actor but he’s such a nice guy that we don’t care. I think that’s correct on both counts. I’ve been watching Keanu since the late 80s, way back when he was in Dangerous Liaisons, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and Parenthood. I’ve gotta be honest. Unless he’s playing a teenage dumbass, his acting pretty much sucks. But you know what? Yeah, he’s such a pleasant person to watch, and he tries so hard, and many of his movies are really fun, that I forgive the guy. I don’t think there is any other actor I can say that about (he’s shitty, but I really like him).
I say “many” of his movies are fun because many are not. He’s done a lot of really, really bad films. I watched Siberia a few months back, and holy shit, it sucked balls. Even the Matrix movies are uneven. The first one is a masterpiece, the second one had fantastic action scenes but the story and setting didn’t make much sense, and the third one was pretty lame. John Wick is Keanu’s only consistently good series of films (and yeah, that includes the Bill and Ted sequel which was crappy as compared to the first one).
You may have seen the YouTube videos of Keanu prepping for these movies by doing firearms and martial arts training. That really is him doing much of those stunts. Other than Tom Cruise, Keanu is the only actor in mainstream Hollywood who puts that much work into the stunt work of his movies. He deserves credit for that, and he deserves all the credit he receives in making these John Wick films so good.
Credit is also due to Chad Stahelski, who directed all three of these movies, and Derek Kolstad, who wrote all three. My understanding is that these guys are both former stuntmen, which would help explain why the action in these movies is so fantastic.
As I’ve said so many times before, when you put a movie in the hands of a creative team who actually gives a shit about the genre they’re in and they like the genre they’re in, then the odds are good you’ll get a decent film. This would be the opposite of the Star Trek TV series right now (Star Trek Discovery) which is clearly written by people who hate Star Trek and wish it was something else, and those behind the current Star Wars movies, who clearly think Star Wars is a silly, misogynistic, outdated story that needs to be “updated” into something radically different.
The only other action films of the John Wick caliber right now are the Mission Impossible movies (which are decent, but not as gritty and awesome as John Wick) and the Fast and the Furious franchise, (which has devolved into goofy, live-action cartoons geared towards mostly Asian audiences, not unlike the current Star Wars movies).
The John Wick movies really do stand alone right now, at least in American cinema. I wish they didn’t, but they do. My understanding was that they only planned on making three of these movies, but it looks like they may do a fourth one now. I hope they do, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying that about a movie franchise these days.
In a sea of TV and movie bullshit, at least we have John Wick.
Go see it.