Still alive, up and kicking. No matter how much you put John down, you can be damn well guaranteed that he will come back and make you pay. It is perhaps this resilience coupled with his high precision training and absolutely brutal deliverance that makes John Wick such a formidable character and a force to reckon with. That he now has a significantly developed universe backing him up and providing a canvas for his backstory to settle, putting a quasi-religious twist on an organisation of lethal assassins makes Wick’s story all the more interesting.
A franchise was always planned with the first film in the series, but no one could have foreseen the degree of success it would have attained or the numerous directions it would go on to explore apart from John Wick, much less acquiring its own defining characteristics and be recognized for it, more specifically and commendably a splendid neo-noirish meets cyberpunk aesthetic, and its own unique sort of over the top action, among a clutter of other action films releasing by the dozens every year. John Wick is still standing strong, and the way this third entry turns out, it doesn’t seem like he can be stopped anytime soon either.
In an inconvenient irony of sorts, the third instalment in the ‘John Wick’ franchise opens at a dangerously reckless pace, picking up right where the second one left off. What makes it inconvenient is that following some heavy, nerve wracking bits and a bit of an adrenaline surge that leaves you high and dry until the next big fight fills the screen, the film admittedly loses a little steam in the middle. Just as the title card appears, we see Wick on the run hastily after having been declared ‘excommunicado’, following the killing of Santino D’Antonio, a member of the high table in Chapter 2. The High Table places a $14 Million bounty on his head, as he is relentlessly taunted and pursued by a number of assassins looking to take the bounty for themselves.
As the clock runs out, Wick runs to the New York Public Library, an archive of sorts for the table, and retrieves a medallion and a crucifix from there. It is here that Wick makes his first kill in the film with a book, adding to his long list of ingenious slaying methods. This gives way to another absolutely brutal and excellently choreographed knife fight in a warehouse, leaving another dozen bodies or so in its wake. For me, this was clearly the film’s high point.
The high table, now viewing John as a threat to be neutralized, deploys ‘The Adjudicator’ to reason with the Director at The Continental and The Bowery King in the underground, assigning them both seven days to retract from their positions under the high table within seven days for aiding John Wick in escaping, warning them of severe consequences (that both ignore) if they failed to comply. As the body count rises wherever John goes, through another relentless chase on a horse, Wick finds his way to the Director at a ballet performance arena, giving us a deeper look at John’s past, particularly the place he was trained at. The Director is a member of the high table and a leader of this shadowy organisation that trains assassins like John, and ballerinas, providing a crucial hint at the franchise’s future. John hands over the crucifix to her and tells her that she is bound while he was owed. The Director reluctantly accepts and arranges for John to be sent to Casablanca.
In a universe expanding bout, turns out that even Morocco has a local ‘Continental’, the director of which is another assassin from John’s past, Sofia, played by a kickass Halle Berry who makes for a fine accomplice for John, who then asks her to return the favour of getting her daughter away from the kind of life she was leading, thus ensuring her safety. He shows her the medallion with a mark of her blood, symbolising her favour.
John enlists Sofia to aid him in finding ‘The Elder’, presumably the head of the High Table. She reluctantly agrees and takes him to a local man named Berrada who owns an establishment that is responsible for the creation of the coins used as contract currency by the Table. He provides John with an impossible to follow location in the desert, and tells him that The Elder would find him when his body would have given out. In return for the information, he asks for one of Sofia’s dogs and shoots him upon being refused. Naturally, the two flee from the scene, leaving another pile of bodies. Sofia drops John in the desert where he travels for hours without refuge, being picked up by a member of the Table and finally being presented in front of The Elder when he collapses.
The two exchange a conversation where John asks for amnesty for his transgression of the High Table rules, so that he could live to keep the memory of his wife alive. The Elder offers John the choice to die there and then, or accept to work under the High Table for the rest of the days, beginning with killing Winston on his direct orders; John agrees and severs his ring finger as a way of swearing his fealty to the Table, again. Back in New York, the Adjudicator recruits an assassin that goes by the name of Zero and his gang to act upon those who trespassed her authority, and in effect, the High Table’s. They act as enforcers and kill several of the Director’s and The Bowery King’s men brutally, before punishing both physically for aiding John in escaping, again. The Director pays in blood, while The Bowery King in “seven cuts”.
Meanwhile, Wick too returns to New York and is chased by Zero’s gang on bikes, until he overcomes them and reaches The Continental where he seeks sanctuary and is temporarily immune to attacks, with his excommunicado now due for being revoked once he killed Winston. Wick confronts Winston in an impressive digital lair with glass aplenty, the staging of our final fight. Winston clearly offers him a choice to live out his days either as Baba Yaga or as a man who loved and was loved by his wife.
The Adjudicator then arrives and John immediately refuses to carry out the kill order, while Winston too declares his refusal to step down as the manager at The Continental. An enraged Adjudicator now has the New York Continental declared “deconsecrated”, as a result of which the High Table could now allow killing on Hotel grounds, also requesting for the Table’s finest backup forces to join them in eradicating the two. As expected, the final showdown carries on for about 40 minutes in unmistakable visual and violent style, switching between at least three ingenious set pieces.
The Ending, Explained
Let’s be clear here: this is a mainstream Hollywood production about a retired hitman and a one man army forced back into business when his dog is killed, leaving at least a hundred people dead per film through a combination of guns, knives and hands. No one, and I repeat, no one expects a twist in the finale wherein the hero loses, and this is John Wick we are talking about: a hitman who is told by his attackers mid-fight that they considered themselves lucky to have fought him. There is no version of this story where John doesn’t make it out in style, brutally killing Zero and his gang of martial arts trained fighters, before overcoming the forces of the High Table in a relentless gun fight. A sweeping shot towards the end even shows the number of bullets scattered across the floor, and the sheer intensity of it is something only Keanu Reeves can pull off, all the while looking like a total freaking badass.
With the fights done and the attackers at The Continental dead, the Adjudicator calls Winston and offers to parley. Winston quickly negotiates his way out of the settlement despite being warned by the Adjudicator of this being only the first wave, and that there was only one way the “war” would stop. She agrees to Winston retaining his position at the Continental, but points to John still being a betrayer of the High Table and a problem that they still had to deal with. Winston seemingly double crosses John on the rooftop of the Continental, shooting him multiple times, as a result of which he falls from the building, presumably to his death.
As the Adjudicator leaves the premises of the hotel, she notices Wick’s body gone and confronts Winston about it, who seems to agree that it was a problem if John made it out. The “seemingly” is important here, because it is almost completely obvious that Winston was in fact aiding John in escaping yet again. An injured John Wick is carried to the Bowery King’s new hideout, who is now severely scarred from the Adjudicator’s punishment. He tells John that he was “pissed off” with the High Table for enacting their will in that manner, and turns to John for asking how he felt about it, to which a bloody eyed, enraged John agrees. The High Table has no idea what’s coming for them!
Little piece of trivia here before we go on to examining the future of this extremely entertaining franchise. One of the things that certainly caught my attention ever since the first time this film was announced was the ‘Parabellum’ in its title. Well, turns out ‘Parabellum’ is a Latin phrase translating to “prepare for war”. In its wider context and in the film’s as well, it’s said as a part of the entirety of the phrase “Si vis pacem, para bellum”, meaning “If you want peace, prepare for war”, same as what Winston utters as he waits inside his bunker in The Continental while John and Charon prepare for the oncoming siege on the hotel. Interestingly enough, Parabellum is also the name of a range of 9mm guns/pistols and bullet casings. Even though the term was primarily introduced in the film’s title in keeping with the director Chad Stahelski’s language fetish, I hardly think it’s a coincidence that it is also the name of one of the most widely used guns in the world, which is also Wick’s weapon of choice.
Easter Eggs and Future of the Franchise
While the golden age of comic book film adaptations and shared universes has spoilt us for looking at each film with an astute eye in the hopes of spotting something not immediately relevant to the film in question but may come to mean bigger things in the future, I couldn’t help but notice at least two of them very clearly at play in the already vastly established assassin’s universe in ‘John Wick’. Now, word to the wise, moving forward, they may at this point of time simply be construed as this writer’s fancy. That, or you could read about what directions I think this franchise will take, here, and agree to disagree. However, the film makes much of it clear moving forward.
The first one of them appears after about a third of the movie has passed and John visits the Director at a ballet performance centre. As are the quips of this world, the performance centre is a front for training young individuals into becoming highly efficient assassins, much like John, who recounts his time there. One of the prime focuses of this segment, and even while the end credits play, is the ballerina, restlessly and unfailingly practicing her moves in the punishing art that is the ballet. This is obviously a nod to the John Wick prequel that the studios are developing, after Lionsgate purchased a script in 2017 titled ‘Ballerina’. The script is centred on a child assassin in the same world as Wick’s, and ‘John Wick 3’ makes it very clear that she would be trained at this very academy.
The second bit that I still *think* is a nod to future expansion for the franchise is when the High Table commandos enter The Continental to take down John and Winston. The reception, otherwise familiarly occupied by the concierge Charon, who is busy preparing for the oncoming onslaught inside Winston’s Bunker, displays a card that reads “The Concierge will return, soon”. This in my opinion (not to mention my probably overly keen eyes) is a nod to the prequel TV series that Lionsgate is developing along with Stahelski and Derek Kolstad, the writer of the Wick trilogy, with a working title called ‘The Continental’.
The series will focus on the New York sanctum of the High Table, and the assassins that it has nurtured and housed over the years, and is to prominently feature Lance Reddick as Charon, the concierge at The Continental. Although Charon does appear shortly after, assisting John in taking down the heavily armoured High Table commandos, the camera lingering on the message almost two seconds too long does possibly allude to it.
While these two were anyway confirmed possibilities, the third John Wick film ends just as the second, implying an obvious need for a direct sequel. While this would currently seem to be the least of the studio’s priorities among the three, if this one comes to somehow succeed wildly, Lionsgate may just be prompted to fast track this on priority basis. Wick fandom, you know what to do! Funnily enough, days ago, we were wondering what side this already vast franchise could turn and head towards. Now we have the answer, it seems. Read More: Will There be John Wick 4?
‘John Wick 3’ adds to an already explosive franchise. The body count this time around is higher than ever, and as always, Keanu Reeves makes it all look effortless. His rugged aesthetic and a certain jaded appeal reflects in even his walking and stance is something that immediately establishes John Wick as an endlessly alluring character, despite literally killing people in cold blood for roughly a quarter of the film’s runtime.
Plot-wise, I do have some complaints, but I seriously consider that I would be doing a disservice if I pointed plot shortcomings for a franchise that has earned its audience and fame around outrageously brutal action set pieces and completely ingenious kills, the cake for which is taken by the pencil kills in the second one. In fact, if we are to compare, ‘John Wick 3’, despite being an altogether solid film with its fair share of entertaining and well-choreographed action sets, falls just a tad short of the second chapter, which I feel was a penultimate for the franchise until now, even as it continues to grow both in scope and execution.
The film admittedly moves to Asian martial arts as a primary fighting style in its unforgiving hand to hand sequences, which I see as a welcome change, although one that I would like to see limited to this film only, simply for the sake of variety. That is not to say that the guns take a backseat. There is plenty of those bad babies talking and how! In closing, ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ scores and soars despite following a rather set blueprint and breaking no new ground in its story that is also remarkably bereft of any emotional weight whatsoever. It’s just two straight hours of shooting, stabbing, choking, punching, killing and cutting people banking on the endearing screen presence and agile physicality of its extremely likable lead. For the lack of a better word, kickass.
Read More in Explainers: John Wick 2 | Lethal Weapon | Saw