May 18, 2019
Watch ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,’ Then Watch These Movies
To a degree, the movies that you need to watch after John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum are the same as you need to watch after any John Wick movie. Director Chad Stahelski has been noting the series’ influences all the way through, namely the films of Sergio Leone, Akira Kurosawa, Sam Peckinpah, William Friedkin, John Woo, Park Chan-wook, Jackie Chan, and Buster Keaton, plus movies starring Steve McQueen, particularly Bullitt, and John Boorman’s Point Blank specifically and especially.
Fortunately (but surprisingly), I haven’t done one of these lists for any of the John Wick movies yet. Still, I don’t want to be too general. The following picks indeed include some movies that could be recommended to fans of John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2, but each has a direct connection to Chapter 3, either for the filmmakers or for myself.
The Villainess (2017)
When our own Rob Hunter reviewed Jung Byung-gil’s The Villainess, he not only called it one of the best action movies of the year but also compared the Korean feature to “similar recent gems” John Wick and The Raid. He also later listed this movie as number two, right behind a top choice of John Wick: Chapter 2 in his official list of the best action movies of 2017. Therefore, it’d be fitting to recommend The Villainess after you watch any John Wick movie anyway.
Appropriate to Chapter 3, however, is the fact that the latest John Wick sequel is clearly inspired by The Villainess. Admittedly so, at least for one sequence. In a featurette video teasing the new movie’s motorcycle chase and sword/gun fight, actor Keanu Reeves says, “Cinema is rich in traditions, what has come before. I saw a picture called The Villainess, and it turned out that Chad had seen it.” Then Stahelski adds: “The Villainess is a great action movie, and it has a great motorcycle sequence in it. The first couple times we watched it, me and my stunt team and effects team were impressed and said, ‘Ah, that was a really cool idea.’ This is tipping our hat to them. Here’s our little ode to you. Good fucking job!”
The Raid 2 (2014)
The Raid movies have already gotten a mention on this list, as Rob Hunter’s other comparative reference for The Villainess. The 2011 original and this sequel are famous enough to recognize that way. But these Indonesian action movies are certainly not familiar, even if they’re known about, to everyone going to see a John Wick sequel. Otherwise, the remake of The Raid (aka The Raid: Redemption) wouldn’t still be in development. Nobody who loves John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum should be skipping the real deal for the English-language copycat simply because of the language, though.
I’m only highlighting The Raid 2 with the assumption that you’d also see the first movie but you also may not be watching John Wick or The Raid movies for the plots and can just enter the sequels blindly to enjoy the action. Either way, The Raid 2 is where you’ll find both Yayan Ruhian (who was also in the original as a different character) and Cecep Arif Rahman, as the two “ninja” fighters whom John Wick takes on in a brutal but humorous sequence near the end of the movie. It’s a much better Hollywood import and employment of their talents than Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and if I’m remembering right, both of their characters are left alive by John Wick, so hopefully, we’ll see them return in John Wick: Chapter 4.
Assaulted: Civil Rights Under Fire (2013)
Can you be a fan of the John Wick movies and also be a supporter of gun control? Sure, because movies aren’t real. But it can be a tricky issue and plenty of even favorable reviews of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum and the rest acknowledge the critic’s uncomfortableness with so much gun violence and weapon fetishization. Maybe that’s why so many of them highlight the knife fight and employment of dogs and horses as weapons this time around?
Barring the existence of documentaries about actual worldwide leagues of assassins, this week’s doc pick is maybe the most controversial I’ve ever recommended here. Assaulted: Civil Rights Under Fire is a film arguing against gun control. Narrated by Ice-T and featuring such supporters of the Second Amendment as Ted Nugent (obviously), its primary audience is certainly the choir on the issue. But if you’re going to enjoy something with as much gun-based action and with such a high kill count by guns, you might as well hear the real gun lovers out, for media literacy sake anyway. And this sober and relatively balanced doc might be the best outlet for those voices to reach open and curious minds.
Before he was John Wick, before he was Neo (in The Matrix), Keanu Reeves was Jack Traven. The movie that firmly established the actor as a blockbuster action hero, Speed is a very different kind of action vehicle than what Reeves is known for now. He doesn’t get to do a lot of man to man fighting, let alone show off any martial arts skills. For being a movie initially dismissed as another Die Hard knockoff, Speed doesn’t even have much of a kill count. Mostly it’s just Reeves helping to keep a bus from slowing down and triggering a terrorist’s bomb. And then almost the same thing but with a subway train.
One reason to recommend Speed, which I figure most of you have already seen, is for you to watch it while imagining Halle Berry in the role of Annie. She had been the first actress offered the female lead in the movie, but she declined (that summer she would co-star in The Flintstones instead). Judging by their first time working together in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Berry and Reeves probably would have had good chemistry in Speed, and maybe we would have seen them reunited for The Lake House 12 years later. Perhaps her career would have been totally different. Perhaps she winds up in Gravity and Bird Box. But then, also, what would have been Bullock’s breakout instead?
The Fisher King (1991)
I’ll make this one brief. I will always take any opportunity to recommend Terry Gilliam’s truly best movie, which like John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum follows some men who’ve lost their way as they navigate many unknown and ignored corners of New York City. But the main reason for me to recommend it this time is because the new John Wick movie features a scene in Grand Central Station, with two people trying to connect only to be obstructed by others in the Main Concourse. Only in Chapter 3, the character might have displayed some choreography were it not for the people in their way, while in The Fisher King, it’s a fantastical display of choreographed dance that is the obstacle.
The Warriors (1979)
In Walter Hill’s The Warriors, a street gang is framed for the assassination of a leader who has tried to unite all of New York City’s gangs together. Targeted by all the others after a hit is put out for them over the radio, the titular group flees the rally held up in the top of the Bronx and needs to get all the way back to their home turf out on Coney Island. Covering three full boroughs, it’s a long path to go with tons of people after you, whether traveled by subway or on foot. The Warriors is based on a novel inspired by the classic historical tale of Anabasis, which depicts an arduous retreat by the Greeks back home from Persia.
For the first act of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, it seems like John Wick is in the same situation as The Warriors. Like them, he has a hit put out on him, and he has to run south from upper Manhattan. Throughout the movie, we see him venture to Times Square, Chinatown, the Bowery, across a bridge into Brooklyn, and more as he avoids other hitmen, assassins, and gangs. But it’s never clear where he’s ultimately heading. He’s not going home. He manages to leave NYC and get to Africa on an apparently very fast ship (the trip should take about two weeks), and then he returns to the Big Apple. Maybe at least that first act should have taken John Wick near Coney Island, where Angelica Huston’s ballet could have been located in the Little Russia neighborhood of Brighton Beach.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Game of Death (1978)
There are two movies that seem to have inspired the casting of NBA star Boban Marjanović as an assassin. The 7’3″ basketball player gives John Wick a tough time during a fight sequence set in the New York Public Library Main Branch (surely the best scene shot there since the beginning of Ghostbusters), and the difference between the men’s sizes (Reeves is still fairly tall at 6’1″) was a nod to Richard Kiel in the James Bond movies The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the posthumously finished Bruce Lee movie Game of Death.
For Kiel, who iconically plays the metal-mouthed henchman Jaws, Stahelski told Entertainment Weekly: “I’m a big fan of finding really interesting people and performers and to train them in the martial arts. We have a very good company, 87/eleven, that specializes in martial arts choreography and training cast members to do stuff. So, I’m a big fan of the old James Bonds, like Moonraker, where you had the character Jaws, who was like seven feet, had the metal mouth. We wanted to do a little ode to that, so we were like, Okay, who do we find?” They found Marjanović, of course.
Even though Stahelski names Moonraker, I recommend the better earlier 007 flick The Spy Who Loved Me, which has a fight between Jaws and Bond in a tight space of sleeping compartment of a train. Tall guy, tight space, fight scene. Sounds like Stahelski’s discussion of the scene in another interview, in which he cites a certain kung fu movie as the inspiration. “Rather than use a regular-size stunt guy, we’re going to use the biggest stunt guy we can find,” he told The Observer. “Keanu won’t be able to get around him, and that’ll be funny to try to shoot — like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bruce Lee in Game of Death. We’re going to do that, but we’re going to put it in a tight space. We’re going to make it difficult for our camera team.”
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
The final installment of Leone’s loosely connected Dollars Trilogy and Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” character have been a big influence on the John Wick movies since the beginning. Spaghetti Westerns in general, really, but back when the first movie came out, Stahelski noted one link to this specific Leone film: “Look at Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly — there is so much back-story unsaid there,” he told Complex magazine. “We’re big fans of leaving it to your imagination. We just give you some gold coins, and then it’s, ‘Where do the gold coins come from?’ We’ll get to that. Have your imagination do some work there.”
In John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Stahelski added in an actual homage to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. When John Wick pieces together the perfect gun out of different pieces of various antique revolvers, that’s a direct lift from a classic scene in the Western when Eli Wallach’s character, Tuco, enters a gun store and, after not being happy with any of the revolvers available, similarly creates his own out of others’ parts — though they’re all interchangeable pieces from 1851 Colt Navys. The tribute is almost identical, including John Wick listening to the cylinder.
The Naked Prey (1965)
The idea of John Wick being given a head start, as first shown at the end of John Wick: Chapter 2 and then again at the start of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, is a convenient narrative device. Give the plot and its characters some suspenseful lead-up to the action to come. And it’s not that uncommon. While not given an official head start by anyone, The Warriors to get off and running from the chaotic opening before there’s a hit put out on them. And in The Naked Prey, a safari guide is given a running start before he’s pursued by African warriors who’ve killed the rest of his party but given him a bit of a chance to survive.
The premise, which is certainly itself inspired by The Most Dangerous Game, may sound more racist than it is, but as pointed out by film historian Stephen Prince on his commentary track on the film’s Criterion Collection release, director Cornel Wilde (who also stars as the hunted man) had an “ethnographic impulse” and an “interest in documenting the cultures, language, and music of the region,” which went against expected conventions of both Westerns and other adventure movies involving African tribes. The Naked Prey isn’t just about a white man trying escape black others. In fact, the tribesmen and warriors are more empathically and emotionally portrayed than Wilde’s character is. The director was also known to do everything he could not to hurt animals during the production.
I also recommend the 1971 film Punishment Park. The pseudo nonfiction film is about all Vietnam protestors, Communists, feminists, and other “risks to internal security” being sentenced to incarceration or the chance to survive on the run in the desert for three days. It’s a combination of John Wick’s excommunicado declaration and flight for his own safety as well as his trip into the Sahara to see if he can survive long enough to be found by a mysterious member of the High Table. It’s a crazy little cult film by Peter Watkins, who won an Oscar for the fairly fictional documentary The War Game.
When John Wick needs to escape persecution and certain death, where does he go? To Casablanca, of course. The Moroccan city is where you go for amnesty and/or safe passage, at least according to the classic movie named for the place and specifically for people fleeing the Nazis during World War II. Wick actually finds an old friend (Berry) there and then a guy (Jerome Flynn) who might be able to give him safe passage or asylum or possibly a reversal of his excommunicado status.
I’m not sure if Flynn is the equivalent of Rick, the Humphrey Bogart role in Casablanca who owns a cafe in the city and supplies refugees with travel visas, or if that’s the High Table member out in the desert played by Saïd Taghmaoui. Things get a little confusing in Flynn’s character’s place of operation when the dogs start sicking balls. Maybe it’s Berry’s character. Or Huston’s back in New York since she gives him passage. Either of them might as well have uttered a variation of Rick’s famous line: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, John Wick walks into mine.”
The General (1928)
As recognized in the intro, Buster Keaton is a big influence on Stahelski and his John Wick movies. The motorcycle chase from Sherlock Jr. is seen projected onto a building in John Wick: Chapter 2. Now, an iconic shot of Keaton from The General makes an appearance on a giant screen in Times Square at the beginning of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. I wish that was a normal thing in the real NYC location. One screen dedicated to silent films, which would be fine since you don’t (necessarily) need to hear them.
The General is not only arguably Keaton’s best movie (although Rob Hunter and I mutually have a preference for Steamboat Bill Jr. — we could have used some action on that boat to Casablanca, by the way), but it’s the perfect one of his features to pay homage to in the third John Wick movie because, like that and Speed, it doesn’t really have a chance for a pause in the plot. Most of the movie takes place aboard a locomotive giving chase and then given chase during the Civil War. Keaton plays a Southern engineer who becomes a hero of the Confederacy, but hey, as with John Wick, we don’t have to like or agree with the protagonist to appreciate their film.
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