John Wick uncovers a path to defeating The High Table. But before he can earn his freedom, Wick must face off against a new enemy with powerful alliances across the globe and forces that turn old friends into foes.

Chuck says:

You have to give John Wick credit– the guy’s tenacious.  Beat him to within an inch of his life – he comes back for more. Hit him with a car- he walks away as if it’s nothing.  Throw him off a building – he gets up with nary a scratch. If anyone ever put Jerome Kern’s sage advice to “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again” to good use, it’s John Wick. And much like characters played by Buster Keaton and Clint Eastwood, as well as the indefatigable Wile E. Coyote, he doesn’t attempt to make sense of or react to the chaos that surrounds him. His only option is to soldier on, knowing full well that once he’s free from his current dilemma, another awaits him around the corner.

Since bursting onto the screen in 2014, Chad Stahelski’s “Wick” films have become more and more outlandish and in their own physics-defying way, have created a world unto themselves. In this universe, bones don’t break, handguns never run out of bullets, international travel is accomplished without having to worry about money or passports and Kevlar suits can apparently be produced to look like something you’d pick up at Brooks Brothers. Much like the characters in Sergio Leone’s westerns, Wick, as well as his cohorts and rivals, are demi-gods who walk among us, capable of fantastic feats that defy the laws of nature.

And there I go, trying to apply some sense of logic to this gorgeous mayhem. What am I thinking?

More than anything, the “Wick” films are extended tributes to the craft of stunt acting and the magic of movement. A stuntman himself, Stahelski has taken it upon himself to push the limits of his craft, all the while becoming the premiere action filmmaker of his age. I’m sure the ideas for his elaborate set pieces come first and the stories in the “Wick” films, are fashioned to fit them. His priorities are plain. Long and medium shots are employed in long takes so as to allow us to appreciate the elaborate work and physical artistry on display.

Oh, and as for the plot, it’s thin, but hey, if you’re plunking down ten bucks to take in this flick, you’re not expecting Knives Out.  Due to his rash action in the third entry, Wick (the implacable Keanu Reeves) has been excommunicated from The Table, the deep state organization that seemingly runs the world and has an army of assassins at their disposal to make sure the trains run on time. The Marquis (Bill Skarsgard) runs this pop stand and decides he’s going to make an example of the defiant killer, putting a $20 million ransom on his head while sending a league of assassins to take him down.  Anyone who helps Wick will suffer grave consequences.

The mayhem that ensues is in equal measures spectacular and ridiculous. A raid on the organization’s Continental Hotel involves hundreds of warriors taking each other down as they destroy the building, while a visit to yet another high-end discotheque – always the location of brilliantly rendered slayings set to a pulsing beat in Wick-world – produces a tongue-in-cheek Mexican standoff the leads to a bit of the ultra-violence. But the showstopper is a car chase at the Arc De Triomphe, Wick driving his doorless Mustang against traffic, other autos and assassins on foot in pursuit. As our hero tries to dodge one oncoming car and killer that plagues him, the sequence becomes a real-life game of “Frogger,” villains left and right going splat.  However, the final sequence on the steps leading to the Eiffel Tower proves to be much too much and likely to tax the patience of even the most die hard “Wick” fan.

Overlooked amidst the eye-popping action sequences are the strong performances from the cast that have effectively anchored these films. Ian McShane with his gravelly uttered sage pieces of advice is indispensable, as is Laurene Fishburne as the ever-resourceful Bowery King. New to the franchise, Donnie Yen brings his martial arts fluidity to the role of Caine, Wick’s reluctant rival, while Clancy Brown as the Harbinger provides a sense of needed solemnity.  They and numerous others walk a fine line, providing a sense of gravity to the proceedings as well as a sense of arch fun that lets us know they are in on the joke.

I would be remiss were I not to mention the exceptional cinematography by Dan Laustsen, his work making every moment visually intriguing.  If there is an unsung hero in this franchise, it is him, his work criminally overlooked but vital in creating the violent hellscape of bright lights, silky shadows and omnipresent mist that makes these films so visually distinctive.

Whether this is the end of the “Wick” franchise or not remains to be seen.  While there seems to be definitive closer here, much like superhero films, there’s always a way to justify one more go around.  Here’s hoping Laustsen is smart enough to make this the final chapter.  I’m fully sated where Wick and his antics are concerned.  Any more would be overkill.

3 1/2 Stars

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