Might as well get it out of the way early: I’m not a huge fan of the John Wick franchise. As much as I love how they’ve thrust Keanu Reeves back into the spotlight and made him relevant again, they don’t do much for me, which is kind of weird, because I like generally like action movies, and I’m also a fan of the actor. It should be a good combo … but for me, it isn’t.
Parabellum is the third movie in the franchise so far and seems to have been well received. I missed it in the cinema but figured it was time to give it a try, but after a decent early opening, the movie quickly got tiresome, and I found myself clock watching towards the end. I confess to doing that in the first two movies, but this time around it started a lot earlier.
This third movie takes place directly after the last one – following Wick’s execution of a bad guy in the sacrosanct New York City hotel, The Continental, managed by Winston (Ian McShane), he status is reduced to “excommunicado”, and a $14 M bounty is placed on his head, meaning that all assassins can now go after him. This plotline is one of the reasons I have trouble connecting with the franchise – I just can’t buy into the ridiculous mythology of the series, and how badly it’s handled by the writers. It reminds me a little of the Assassins Guild video game franchise, in that there is a shadowy group of expert contract killers who are always killing high-value targets. I’d have a lot less issue with the premise, if not for the fact that there are just a shit TON of them, everywhere, in different groups. It’s too expansive and the sheer size of the organization and its logistics is just kitchen-sink storytelling to me. The most important thing about world-building in fiction is to make that world believable, no matter where it’s set of who populates it. I find the world of John Wick just too ridiculous to invest myself in it, even though I can get into things like the MCU, The Matrix, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.
What makes these other worlds successful is that they are already established as having a different set of rules to our own world. By setting John Wick firmly in a recognizable, present-day environment, the rules in which the action happens needs to be established earlier, and clearly, but this is the vital ingredient that’s missing. The crazy action doesn’t bother me one bit, but the fact that it all takes place AS IF EVERYONE IN THE MOVIE IS INVISIBLE, is just really, REALLY shitty writing. I don’t think it’s incompetent writing – I mean, not Damon Lindelof and Simon Kinberg level incompetent – but it’s clearly lazy writing. It’s basic, floor-entry level writing that more befits the cut scene in an average video game. I lost count of the times that people are killed in plain sight of the population of New York yet nobody bats an eyelid. There’s a scene just like this set in Grand Central Station, where the entire crowd of people seem utterly oblivious to what is happening right by them. Even the rooftop where Lawrence’s Fishburn’s character The Bowery King operates is a rooftop in open sight of taller buildings just a block away, where everything can be seen. And cops – there appears to be no form of police activity in these movies either. Killings, gunfire, car chases, they all happen in a city with one of the biggest police presences in the world, yet they’re never seen in the John Wick movies. Sure, you could say the movie is making a statement about the incompetence of the cops, the groupthink phenomenon in human society where the bigger a crowd is, the less inclined it is to take action, but really, it’s just bad writing.
But here’s where I get a little serious. I’m not hugely active on social media, and I rarely use it to expound on my own personal philosophies, but I need to say something. I’m a gun owner and have been for a number of years now. When I applied for a purchase license, I was astounded by the ease of which I could get a gun, and my license allows me to purchase any kind of gun I can afford. That still seems odd to me. It’s a US Constitutional 2nd Amendment right that has been the subject of global vitriol – I’m not going to debate this here, but what I have noticed, especially on Facebook, is the complete lack of irony within nerd culture. especially those who are anti-US gun laws. In the aftermath of mass shootings in the US, many people take to Facebook to complain about the US gun laws, which is a right they have – yet THE SAME PEOPLE remain huge fans of the John Wick movies, and action movies in general. These movies are nothing but the fetishization of guns and gun violence, the promotion of gun violence as entertainment. Surely the exposure of consequence-less gun violence is a first step to killing people in the real world with guns? It HAS to be. When you shoot someone in entertainment, they simply drop dead as if by magic. Do you think that’s what happens in the real world, when a shot to the stomach produces an exit wound in the back the size of an apple, an agonizing death, and the mental anguish of knowing death is imminent? You see, when a mass shooting in the real world happens, we see those consequences, but there is some kind of denial going on in the minds of those who actively promote the fetishization of gun violence by watching and enjoying movies like John Wick, yet at the same time unwilling to admit that desensitization of violence makes it easier for some people to engage in it. As for me, I love guns and I love gun violence in movies, so this isn’t the philosophy of a liberal political mind – I just can’t stand the hypocrisy over guns that exists in society. You’re either for or against, and if you’re against you need to follow through with your convictions and stop giving your money to those who promote gun violence in entertainment. But you know and I know it won’t happen.
I haven’t even talked about the movie – though it’s a safe bet you’ve realized I didn’t think much of it. The story involves John Wick evading and defeating the assassins hell-bent on killing him and collecting the bounty, but there’s never really any doubt that he’ll survive. The choreography is good and creative in the first half of the movie, but as it grinds on, these action scenes just become too long, too seen-it-all-before. It becomes a case of more is less, and I got bored. There’s a scene in the Morrocan desert that is built up as important, both in terms of plot, and to the character of John Wick himself, who has been established as a man of high principles from the first movie. Yet this scene, and what he must sacrifice and the important vow he must give, loses its power later in the movie where Wick simply throws these principles out the window and breaks his this same vow. Again, here it’s plot over character, lazy writing that gets from point A to point B with the absolute minimum of effort, a real turn off for me.
The sheer number of people who are killed with shallow, surface-level violence left me with the sense that I was watching someone play a third-person shooter from their couch. It’s simply a connection of video game scenes where all you do is take aim and pick off each new wave of NPCs, proceeding to the end of the latest quest. These games are entertaining to play with a controller in your hand, but not so much to watch someone else doing all the work. It’s not something I can get into.
I like that the John Wick movies have given Reeves his mojo back, but the franchise has become sloppy and mediocre to the point where it feels like I’m watching someone’s bad fan fiction. At the end of Parabellum there’s the lead-in to a fourth movie, but I couldn’t care less.
© Andrew Hope, 2019