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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, May 24, 2019

‘Wick’ burns with all that fans of action movies crave




I recently ran into a fellow film buff and his father at a screening of “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.”

“We’ve seen each of these films together,” the dad said to me before the movie began. “It’s a tradition.”

“My wife and I have a John Wick tradition, too,” I replied. “She stays home while I see the new movie alone.”

When I left the house, I simply told my wife I was going to see “John Wick” and left. I didn’t even engage her in the first part of our tradition:

“Want to see the new John Wick movie with me?”

“How violent is it?”

“Very.”

“No thanks. Get milk on the way home.”

I skipped this conversation because there was no point to having it. If someone didn’t want to see the first two John Wick films, or if someone saw them and didn’t like them, then the third trip around the Continental isn’t going to make any new converts.

I get it. Different strokes for different folks. But if you did enjoy the first two films, then I believe you’ll love the third.

I can’t remember the last time I sat in a theater and smiled through nearly the entire movie. But “John Wick 3” plastered a huge grin on my face that rarely fell.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a glutton for movie violence. But I do love action done well, and in “John Wick 3,” the action is done very, very well.

As before, Wick kicks, punches and shoots his way through a long procession of enemies. The moves are highly choreographed and, for the most part, beautifully executed.

I said this about the first two films as well, but the action, camerawork and editing are even better in part three. God bless director Chad Stahelski for his long takes and keeping his camera centered on the fisticuffs rather than whipping it around and cutting to a different shot every three seconds.

The set pieces are also more creative. I never would have thought to throw John Wick and a handful of skilled assassins into a corridor lined with knives in glass cases, but the filmmakers did, and the results are glorious.

There is the occasional torn seam. Some of the hits don’t land, despite the sound effects insisting they did, and I lost count of the bullets that should have hit Wick but didn’t.

These things usually yank me out of a movie, but each time this threatened to happen, “John Wick 3” pulled me back in with another great stunt.

Stahelski films the action against a canvas of large, exotic sets, including a stunning glass office that accommodates the final battle. As Wick engages in a hand-to-hand battle to end all battles, massive LCD screens filled with colorful, swirling smoke fill the background.

It’s a deeply arresting image that made me rethink my plan to retire my rarely used Blu-ray player.

I also love a story well told. While there isn’t a great deal of story to tell in this third chapter, Stahelski and his writers do add considerably to the complex, captivating world they built in the first two movies.

It’s a world in which a homeless man in a random alley could be your killer, a world with its own twisted but rigid ethical code, and a world that exists parallel to ours but goes unnoticed by regular men and women. Stahelski suggests as much in a scene in which several thugs are knifed to death in Grand Central Station as travelers go about their business.

That’s not to say there isn’t a semblance of a story in “John Wick 3.” The third chapter picks up where the last one left off: with Wick being excommunicated from a society of assassins for killing a member of the high table in the Continental Hotel, which is considered a safe haven.

Wick sets off in search of “the one who sits above the high table” to plead for his life, and due to the $14 million bounty that’s on his head, a string of brutes is soon following him like a herd of lemmings.

Although the story is thin, it’s enough, and Stahelski and his writers make up for its slender bones by giving Wick a perfectly good and profoundly human reason for continuing the quest of revenge that began in the first film.

That there is any character development at all in this frenzied and feverish love note to martial arts and old-school action films is a miracle. Even when the carnage goes on for too long, as it does toward the end, it never loses sight of its central character and the one thing that propels him forward. (Spoiler alert: It’s not preserving his life or exacting revenge for his dog’s murder.)

I do have one gripe, and it’s a big one: the casting of Halle Berry as a former assassin and owner of one of the society’s hotels.

Berry is an excellent actress, as she proved in “Monster’s Ball,” and she’s at home in an action film. She’s played a Bond girl, for crying out loud. But she’s out of place in the Wick universe.

To fit in, Berry overacts, and each time she snarled a line because her character is ticked off, I cringed. (Remember: I didn’t say my grin never fell; I said it rarely fell.)

Thankfully, she’s in only one small portion of the film and is then gone.

I, however, wanted to stay planted in my seat for another showing.

But I left the theater like a good moviegoer, plotting my return for a second paid viewing. Upon arriving home, my wife and I did play out the final part of our John Wick tradition:

“How was the movie?”

“Incredible.”

“Did you get milk?”

“I’ll be back.”