JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Back in 2014, many would have agreed that Keanu Reeves’ star was on a long, slow fade after a stream of forgettable movies. But that year he decided to go with a script called, “Scorn,” written by a guy named Derek Kolstad, whose major credits were a couple of movies for Dolph Lundgren.
The new film would be co-directed by two first-time directors -- Chad Stahelski and David Leitch -- former stuntmen who worked their way up to stunt coordinators and second unit directors. Both had a history with Reeves, with Stahelski serving as his stunt double for “The Matrix.”
The actor chimed in with a suggestion: change the movie’s title to the name of the main character: John Wick -- who was named after the screenwriter’s grandfather.
The result was a surprisingly entertaining revenge story about a former assassin who goes after the mob after they kill his dog and steal his car. This incredibly violent film featured highly original and intricately choreographed action scenes that raised the bar for the genre.
Audiences loved it, with “John Wick” earning $130 million worldwide.
The second film did even better -- $180 million -- which naturally led to a third installment: “John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum.” (Parabellum comes from a longer Latin quote that loosely translated states, “If you want peace, prepare for war.") And yes, that means there will be lots of firepower.
The story begins immediately after the end of the last movie, with Wick being pursued in New York by multiple assassins. There’s a $14 million bounty on his head for killing a member of “The High Table” criminal guild inside the off-limits Continental Hotel. (Still elegantly managed by the returning Ian McShane, with Lance Rennick also back as the always-helpful concierge, Charon.)
The action quickly kicks off with an impressive close-quarters fight scene inside a library where books are used in painful ways the authors never could have imagined.
Stahelski, back again for his third "John Wick" film, quickly follows that sequence with a second, equally-strong fight inside a New York stable, which includes the clever utilization of horses as weapons.
With the budgets of these movies increasing, the filmmakers were able to get some notable actors in supporting roles. Oscar winner Anjelica Huston (pictured below) is wonderfully standoffish as an elegant woman called “The Director” who runs a kind of training school for both ballet dancers and future assassins. Her interesting outfit features a high collar that makes the ensemble look like Dracula’s cape -- a perfect touch for an intimidating woman.
Fellow Oscar-winner Halle Berry also has a relatively short but memorable part as a fellow assassin whom Wick seeks help from in Morocco. The 52-year-old Berry and 54-year-old Reeves prove they can still hold their own in a lengthy fight scene that impressively incorporates Berry’s two German shepherds as very able combatants.
The movie does feature a number of villains, chief among them Asia Kate Dillon (“Billions” and “Orange Is the New Black”) as “The Adjudicator” -- a person who is determined to make anyone who breaks the rules of “The High Table” pay a price.
There’s also the refreshing Mark Dacascos (“Iron Chef America” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) as “Zero,” a brutal killer who balances that with being a bit of a gushing fanboy toward his target: Wick.
The film runs a lengthy 2 hours and 10 minutes, which means Kolstad, along with co-writers Chris Collins, Shay Haten and Marc Abrams, needed to fill that time with enough interesting scenes. Unfortunately, the action starts to feel repetitive toward the end. I lost count of how many times Wick shoots someone in the head with a resulting red mist of blood.
This film franchise became successful by being original and needs to be careful not to keep relying on the same bag of tricks.
The movie does deliver on a number of levels: plenty of action, beautiful cinematography and some interesting characters. With the door wide open for “John Wick 4,” the filmmakers just need to remember to keep it fresh.