Ranking the John Wick Films

The John Wick movies (no matter if they descend into a period of total mediocrity or not) will always have a special place in my heart for being a big part of restoring Keanu Reeves’ status as a big star in Hollywood. Here is how I rank the films (so far). 

 

3. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum [2019]

After the second film, it became clear that there was a tension in the John Wick films. The more success they had, the bigger the budgets. That meant more ambitious fight scenes and more impressive cast members. But it also meant that in modern Hollywood, it came with gratuitous and corny world expansion. This cannot just be a series of films about Keanu Reeves killing people. It has to become a multi-media franchise.

That being said, at its core, this movie is still primarily about Keanu doing fight scenes and it is hard for that to be not good. (In particular, oh my god, the Boban fight. SO good.)

The most interesting part of this film might be the casting of Halle Berry which serves as an interesting What if…? Halle Berry is a good action performer but has never had a clearly established star persona. This movie kind of gives an alternate reality in which she became an action star. The problem here though is the aforementioned lack of star persona to fall back on when it comes to the writing. Berry struggles here mightily when she has to deliver tons of exposition explaining her motivation and her role in the world. She delivers when she has to do the fight scenes. Alas.

 

2. John Wick [2014]

The first John Wick film works so well because it does not feel like a “first” film. It feels like a single, self-contained film. John Wick is a classic Keanu Reeves character, and he has a neat and tidy story in this film. Keanu is a grieving widow. Before she died, Keanu’s beloved wife arranged for Keanu to be delivered a dog. A bunch of fucking little shits fuck with Keanu and even end up killing his motherfucking dog (a sequence I just cannot watch more than the once). Keanu then spends the movie seeking and finding revenge on those fuckers. It is a great premise, and with Keanu more than his comfort zone, the film is a rousing success in every way,

In the context of all the films that have come since, there are some more things worth nothing. Future films would steadily expand the universe more and more. The mere teases of John Wick being part of a larger world here were far more effective.

This film established its signature ability to make gun fights compelling, but also established that these movies struggle with the lighting of their fights. The fight scenes in the dark are simply frustrating and would continue to be in future films.

While the expansion of the universe in future films would be a mixed bag to say the least, they often nailed the castings perfectly. In this first film, Michael Nyquist and Alfie Allen not much of a dynamic duo of a bad guys. They pale in comparison to what would come if nothing else. On other hand, the role of Clarke Peters suggested a more interesting world than the one we ended up getting in the sequels. Clarke Peters carried himself as a working stiff assassin, and he is one of the few contract killers we get to know which implied there were a lot like him. Almost every assassin in future films though would be closer to superhero abilities like John Wick himself.

 

1. John Wick: Chapter 2 [2017]

The first film had such a simple but tight concept that it made it hard for the second film to justify its existence. The “marker” gimmick was a good one though to keep the fun going. There is something thematically appropriate for the character of John Wick to be sucked back into his world because could not not avenge the murder of his dog. The movie is definitively a mixed bag in that it aims higher than the first film, only sometimes they missed.

The positives. The bigger budget allowed the second film to have an increase in the variety of the fights. The film could also afford higher profile supporting actors in more roles. Thus, the fights and the supporting characters becoming way more dynamic this time around.

There was an increase in negatives compared to the first film though. The world building starts to get excessive. Asking us to be emotionally invested in the larger world of John Wick and the implications for someone at “the table” “taking New York” is a giant leap and very presumptuous of the team making these movies. We really just want to watch Keanu kill people.

This movie is a turning point in the franchise as this is the film that made it…well…a franchise. The budget increase came with a tradeoff: great new actors and fights in exchange for cynical world-building. The balance in that tradeoff works out well here.

 

 

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