Reboot overdue for ageing franchise

REVIEW / ACTION

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 (M18)

131 minutes/Opens today/ 2.5 Stars

The story: After the events of John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), in which he violated the code of the assassins' guild by killing someone on the grounds of the Continental Hotel, Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run with a US$14-million bounty on his head. With the help of allies such as the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) and Winston (Ian McShane), manager of the Continental, he has to find his way to Morocco to enlist the aid of another old friend, Sofia (Halle Berry).

The first John Wick (2014) followed a simple idea - make a 1980s-style action movie, but update it with urban noir and martial arts inspired by Asian cinema.

It was a shot of adrenaline in the arm of the Hollywood action genre. But now, in its third iteration, the franchise is showing its age.

That it feels slower has to do with how other films have caught up and surpassed it. The single bathroom fight scene in Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018), for example, is bolder and tougher than any of the fights seen in this film.

To be fair, the idea of John Wick, created by Reeves and stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski, has a few quirks that stop it from blasting into full-blown, realistic action. Its visual stylisation, for one thing, favours sleekness and smoothness over blood and realistic violence.

In another peek into the comic-book aesthetic of the assassins' guild, its communications hub is shown to be run by women in rockabilly gear - pageboy fringes, arm tattoos and flared skirts.

 

Also, there is its principle of homage. When the film is not obsessed with night scenes and orange lamps reflected on water, stainless steel and glass, it brings in talent that its makers feel are unfairly overlooked, such as 1990s martial arts hero Mark Dacascos, the hero of many straight-to-video wonders.

In this film, he has a comic turn as a fanboy of Reeves' Wick, as well as the assassin out to kill him for the bounty. And Oscar winners Halle Berry and Anjelica Huston have supporting roles as powerful women who rescue Wick.

The Wick enterprise was kickstarted with the idea of an underdog with special skills out to avenge a dead puppy and retrieve a car. Since then, it has succumbed to the Fast And Furious syndrome, becoming a franchise with an invincible hero and a mind-numbingly high body count. A reboot is overdue.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2019, with the headline 'Reboot overdue for ageing franchise'. Print Edition | Subscribe