Almost nobody remembers the premiere of “John Wick” in 2014. Not surprising, given that the movie’s release in theaters was as low-key as you can get, covered by an independent producer and on a modest budget, with a protagonist at a low-ebb in his career, the glory days of a post-Matrix Keanu Reeves were long since gone – and directed by two debutantes, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. Nobody expected anything, or at most, people expected it to be one of those mediocre, half-acceptable films, in which Keanu embarked on his most depressing years, something like “47 Ronin”, box-office fodder.
But you know what happened next: a few saw it, left the cinema running their hands through their hair and ranting about the exhibition of coolness they’d just witnessed, a choreographic marvel of thumps, smacks and gunfire that had you jumping from your seat like you were spring-loaded, and bit by bit, “John Wick” became a cult movie attracting the curiosity of a growing audience that left theatres more than satisfied. So, when it came to the second part, we were already well and truly convinced: undoubtedly, a new action cinema classic with a prestigious status comparable to that which the 80’s “Die Hard” series of movies had attained or the early John Woo titles arriving from Hong Kong.
So, here we are again, with the third chapter of the series –“Parabellum”, once again directed by Stahelski- and the consummation of the prophecy that we fans wanted fulfilled: if the second part was better than the first -more savage, bloodier, more elegant cinematography and direction, the third surpasses the second and sets the scene for a fourth, which will be, or at least, should be the most amazing pirouette of an acrobatic circus number, the most difficult yet of the action subgenre accounted for with a minimum of one fatality a minute.
The second chapter of “John Wick”, as those who saw it will remember, concluded with the hero taking flight: he had killed another gunman in the Continental Hotel, where it is forbidden to snuff staff, and that meant excommunication: from here on in, anyone can pursue and liquidate John Wick in exchange for a succulent reward of $14 million. But Wick, you know, is the lethal weapon that Mel Gibson dreamed of being, but in the Hiroshima version, and his escape will be akin to the best screenshots from a video game turned bloodthirsty orgy. What we the fans actually wanted was just that: a festival of hand-to-hand combat, close ups of headshots gushing blood, the dark humor so characteristic of this franchise and, as far as possible, for all that vibrant, stylized and original action to be non-stop. And when you see John Wick creatively using a horse’s legs or a Russian literary masterpiece to snap spines, do away with rivals and convert jawbones into mush, you find yourself cheering and applauding like one only cheers and applauds the great virtuosos of song or ballet.
We’re not going to demand much depth from John Wick – although the screenplay is dotted with numerous religious references and quotations in Latin, which always look good-, but not something you’d expect from this type of movie. And there are several scenes from the third chapter – the final battle among stained glass windows and projections of digital dream landscapes – that are already part of action cinema’s grand history and open the door to an exorbitant expectation: a fourth chapter that should be, if our desires are met, the “Citizen Kane” of the trigger-happy punch-fest films we love. It’s great that we still haven’t had our fill, and we want more, much, much more.