Saturday, May 25, 2019

Action Watch: John Wick 3 (2019)

Watched:  05/24/2019
Format:  Alamo Mueller
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's

I'm not sure what to say about the John Wick franchise.  It is what it is.  A celebration of cinematic violence in a world set up specifically to support deeply stylized violence with no sense of consequences (despite what the movie keeps trying to say is the theme, but which, in no way, resonates with anything we're seeing).  Essentially a self-playing videogame, the movies are about the glamour of killing, and being unkillable in a world where the only real humans are a few named characters, with a sub-class of nameless henchmen, and then NPC's of the rest of humanity sort of appearing as shapes and colors the assassins can disappear into, but who aren't really there.

It's fine.  It's watching a "ballet of violence" where the lead character is a clearly aging Keanu Reeves and the set-up is as fantastic as anything featuring elves and faeries, with a whole mythology of rules and regulations that make no sense whatsoever when you're talking about people who are all supposedly well-monied and who kill exceedingly well, paired with zero sense of remorse.*

John Wick 3 (2019) picks up immediately after the conclusion of John Wick 2, which I did not see but I feel like the minute they spent re-capping the plot more or less got me caught up.  John Wick has tagged a man on base, which is against the very specific rules of murder-people, and now everyone is allowed to murder John Wick and get paid for doing so.  There is, of course, a shadowy council somewhere guiding the moves of all assassins world-wide, dictating stylish tattoos and tailored outfits and keeping Suicide Girl alumnae employed as their administrative staff.

For the record, I did not like John Wick 1, finding the entire notion of the Hotel for Dogs Assassins flat out dumb, taking a premise I found intriguing and then hurling the characters and premise into an area I had no interest in following.  And, as this movie is entirely about the world built upon the notion of a hotel in the Flat Iron Building that caters to super villains and the sadly byzantine bylaws and CCR's of the organization and property, it was a rough start.

It's a curious age to be a movie star from a pre-streaming TV era.  You must still command a big payday, but it's also totally worth it to show up and play make-believe in superhero movies and John Wick films, and this movie includes no less than Halle Berry**, Laurence Fishburne, and Hollywood royalty Anjelica Huston.  And Ian McShane who, let's be honest, will show up in anything.  All are players in this world of assassins and not-money, tied to the debts of honor that it makes no sense to honor given the strict HR guidelines of AssassinCo, but honor them they do.  Or else the world's least convincing and goofiest dressed HR rep (who makes herself deeply easy to kill, yet no one does) will come and be kind of mean to you.

The weirdest thing about the non-stop violence of John Wick 3 is how boring it feels by the time we enter the 45 minute mark.  The first two fights of the film are genuinely thrilling, but after that, there's a law of diminishing returns that no one on the production side seems to notice.  Apparently the world's top assassins think you should endlessly rush John Wick one at a time with hand weapons or guns which you must not fire until you're close enough for him to twist your hand away.  One well tossed grenade (and doing things quietly or without the public noticing is not part of the equations) could have solved everyone's John Wick problem about 50 times over in this movie.  No one owns a rifle.  Poison, gas, garrotes, bombs, bows and arrows, teamwork, mass attacks, etc... not on the table.  Which is weird, because someone is calling down these armies of people on John Wick and doesn't care how many disposable assassins they throw his way, so why not suicide bomb the guy?

I know... I don't get it.

The art design in the film is amazing, expensive, balls-to-the-walls nuts and goes way deep on the sort of "classy" you get in mid-tier beer commercials selling a "lifestyle" and/ or IRL in Vegas where dudes in open collared shirts with ill-fitting suits and gold chains smoke $10 cigars for which they paid $60.   It's the sort of idea of what opera looks like to people who've seen opera in gangster pictures or vampire movies.  It's beautiful and wonderful and stupid but crucial to selling this movie to the same audience who sees the same in the background of their video games.

But, mostly, there's no story.  There's stuff that happens to set up John Wick for the next brawl, but you'll be left wondering what the deal was with the trip to Morocco and what and why anything was happening.  The Morocco sojourn also contains the one scene that could have galvanized what John Wick wanted and why (you know, the absolute basics of character) - looking beyond the next scene - and decided to just reverse tracks and refuse to answer that question.  As much as I genuinely did like the dog stuff in Morocco, as software developers will always opine "that meeting could have been an email".

Again, minus three fight scenes (the giant, the museum collection and the dog fight), it's just boring.  I'm a fan of many martial arts films and gun-fu type movies, but I also need things like characters and a story - there's a reason the Chow Yun-Fat/ John Woo movies were so good.  The fights are and can be an end unto themselves, but you are allowed to pause for story and contemplation.  Fights are there to punctuate the drama, to raise stakes and give our protagonist something to overcome - but if that's all that's happening?  So... what?

Further, if there's a given that John Wick will inevitably stand back up after killing everyone against him, no matter the odds... well, where's the drama?  Where's the tension?  Is it interesting to watch LeBron James dunk of middle schoolers for two hours, no matter how cool the dunks?  What am I even looking at by the time we're breaking all that glass in the third act?

And, yes, I absolutely groaned (inwardly, I'm not a monster) when the movie ended by not ending, just asking us to show up for the inevitable and telegraphed Part 4.

I dunno.

required photo of Ms. Berry

I hear a lot about these movies feeling like old school 80's actioners, and I'm second to none in my appreciation of Commando, RoboCop and whatnot - but those movies were not endless and relentless violence - not even Commando!  They had plot, discussions that lasted longer than 45 seconds, motivations for characters, backgrounds, humans they had to consider, etc..  I just don't see the comparison.  Instead it feels distinctly like a distillation of Michael Bay-ness and your typical 14-and-up video game where you get points for killing hookers.  Which, you know, if that's what you're into, fine.  But go back and watch Bruce Lee movies to see how you handle story and balance it with an actual bad-ass of all bad-asses.

I did find out the fight scene with the dogs wasn't CGI the way I assumed (that's a problem with anything shot at night or in the dark these days, I assume CGI everywhere).  Those dogs were practical, well-trained dogs, it seems, and only liked Halle Berry, which I think we can all understand.

*What IS the economy of the world of John Wick, anyway, when you have this many successful assassins?

**dear god, Halle Berry still looks amazing.


RHPT said...

Why did you watch this, when you hated the first movie so much? I enjoyed the first movie because the premise of "man leaves trail of dead bodies because they killed his dog" is amusing. Also, the movie has 89% at Rotten Tomatoes which I find surprising. I also believe they're making a TV show centered on the Hotels.

The League said...

Because it was Simon's birthday and it was what he wanted to do and I like Simon more than I dislike John Wick. And, of course, sometimes these things really find their footing on a sequel and I can get onboard.

And, yeah, I agree, John Wick 1 could and should have been amusing based on that premise, but I never got over the hotels any more than I got over the "they're using humans as batteries" stuff in The Matrix.

I think a USA network show from the 1990's is the right place for the show about the hotels.

Stuart said...

Well, The first movie was nearly perfect for me. I liked the Assassins Hotel idea. I know it's not realistic, but it's weird and fun and that's good enough for me for a night at the movies. I definitely agree about diminishing returns on the fight scenes in this one (and JW2). By the end they feel like a chore to get through. Muddied character motivations and fast-switching allegiances don't help. Could be my imagination, but that early gunfight in the antique shop (or whatever it was) seemed like a deliberate callback to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and that made me smile.

The League said...

I've seen some folks mentioning references here and there to other films, and I can see the G.B & U reference even if it's not what leaped to mind at the time - but I think you're right if I play back the scene in my head.

I mean, until they were throwing knives everywhere (which was brilliant).

I dunno - I think had JW1 started earlier with the hotel for assassins stuff or framed it from there from jump, I probably would have bought into it more there and then. There's just something about the premise and the way they've made it sprawl out into what feels both derivative and pointedly ludicrous - like it would make more sense as the coven house of a bunch of vampires or whatever, someone who needs a secret society. But, yeah, for me it's somehow a bridge too far and I can't go with them.

All this said, I am wildly curious who they'll stunt cast as The Table in the next film (should they ever get there).

RHPT said...

I think they already set a release date on the 4th one.

RHPT said...

Also, you are a good friend

The League said...

Well, you know, I don't NOT want there to be a 4th movie. If that's your thing, enjoy! And Simon and I are good pals. He's watched plenty of stuff on my say-so, and I'm not sure he's loved all of it.