The Keanu Reeves series is shaping up to be one of the greatest trilogies of the decade.
By Chris Tilly
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, the third chapter in the Keanu Reeves saga, hits screens this week. The story, which kicked off with the legendary assassin coming out of retirement to avenge the death of his dog, and then travelling to Rome to take out a target, now finds the character “excommunicado,” with a contract on his head.
So how did John Wick get here? And what is the unique appeal of both the man and the myth? We examine the facts… (Be sure to also read our John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum review when you’re done here!)
Spoilers follow for the first two John Wick movies!
This is the hook. The MacGuffin. The piece of plot that draws you into John Wick. Because what could have been a film about a man avenging the death of his wife instead becomes the tale of a man delivering payback for the death of his dog. And as dogs are better than people, that switcheroo seriously raises the stakes.
Though of course the canine also represents his recently deceased love. Because, as John tells mob boss Viggo Tarasov, “When Helen died, I lost everything. Until that dog arrived on my doorstep. A final gift from my wife. In that moment I received some semblance of hope. An opportunity to grieve unalone. And your son took that from me. Stole that from me. Killed that from me!”
The loving bond John forms with Daisy the Beagle forces the audience to become emotionally invested. So when that relationship is cruelly snatched away, we’ll forgive John pretty much anything. That’s the genius of John Wick, it seems like Parabellum will feature even more canine action. Though hopefully no more doggy death.
The Boogeyman. The Devil. The Reaper. Baba Yaga. John Wick is known by many names within the criminal community. All of which suggest he’s the assassin’s assassin. He once killed three men with a pencil, apparently, while before the events of the first film, he completed the “impossible task” by killing all of Tarasov’s enemies in one night.
Which makes John a character that’s larger-than-life. But those are just words. It’s not until you witness Wick in action that you truly understand the man. His single-minded focus to complete the task at hand, no matter what the cost. Those lightning reflexes that allow him to dodge knives and bullets and speeding cars. And the tactical smarts with which he outmaneuvers and outwits his opponents. John’s every action backs up the legend. And during Chapter 2, we even get to see him go to town on a trio of assassins with a pencil.
Yet he’s also a sweet, polite, thoughtful man; one who keeps his cool, who possesses a moral compass, and who knows right from wrong. And it’s that dichotomy that keeps audiences coming back for more; those tales of the monster he was before he found love, contrasted with the man he has become after. Contradictions that make John Wick an endlessly interesting character, and one worthy of an ongoing series of films.
More than 20 years ago, John Wick director Chad Stahelski landed a gig as Keanu Reeves’ stunt double on The Matrix. So started an ongoing collaboration that has spawned incredible action across multiple movies. Which in turn inspired Reeves to phone Stahelski when the John Wick script landed on his desk.
It was the right call to make. Having doubled for Keanu, Chad knew how he moved, how he fought, what he was capable of physically, and how to make that look cool onscreen. The action in the John Wick movies is therefore fine-tuned for Reeves’ abilities, leaning into the ways in which the star excels.
And with all three chapters shooting fairly quickly (we’ve gotten three movies in four and a half years), when Keanu isn’t shooting a John Wick movie, he’s training for one. As that’s where much of the trilogy’s budget is spent; not on expensive CGI, but on months and months of prep. The actors and stunt performers perfect each sequence before a second of footage is shot. Resulting in some of the greatest action ever committed to celluloid.
John Wick loves his puppy in the same way audiences love Keanu Reeves, an actor who seems so sweet and vulnerable that you just want to give him a hug. So genuine and likable that when he looks at you with those big, brown eyes, you can forgive him his many missteps and mistakes, from the accent in Dracula to pretty much all of Matrix Revolutions. In the casting of Keanu as John Wick, we’re already on the character’s side.
John Wick is also something of a samurai; a noble warrior travelling from city to city, delivering justice and righting wrongs. And that’s a persona that Keanu Reeves has been developing onscreen for decades, playing quietly determined heroes in the likes of The Matrix, Constantine, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and 47 Ronin. It feels like it’s all been building to this, with John Wick the ultimate incarnation of that stoic soldier.
Plus, having collaborated with Keanu Reeves for decades, director Chad Stahelski doesn’t just know what the actor is capable of physically, but also in terms of performance. As in, maybe to get the best out of Keanu Reeves, you don’t give him too much dialogue. John Wick is a man of few words, who lets his actions do the talking. Which makes these movies the perfect marriage of actor and material.
Chapter 1 built a mythology around not just John Wick, but also the murky underworld in which he exists. One of strict rules, mysterious terminology, strange currency, and outdated technology. That first film introduced The Continental, a New York hotel that serves as neutral territory for a syndicate of trained assassins. Violence is strictly forbidden on the premises, and punishable by excommunication, or death. All of which is decided by the High Table, whose supreme authority is final.
This intriguing netherworld is loosely based on Greek mythology, with the Continental’s concierge named Charon — ferryman to the Greek underworld back in the day — and gold coins replacing dollars as currency.
The John Wick underground world was expanded upon in Chapter 2, with blood oaths introduced, and the Continental’s influence extending to Rome. And it looks to be opening out even further in Chapter 3, with the organisation’s global network coming into focus, leaving John nowhere to hide.
Meaning the stage is set for a dramatic, adrenaline-fuelled finale to this particular story. Which may in fact be just the beginning, as there’s a TV spin-off planned for post-Parabellum called The Continental. And surely the movie series can’t be over yet…
So rather than John Wick being one of the greatest trilogies of the past decade, if everything works out in Chapter 3, we might in fact be looking at the finest ongoing franchise of the next.