Here comes John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum! Get your tickets here!
He’s stoic but suave, balletic with his brutality, and wearied by sadness while remaining feared by many. To the world’s assassins, he’s the boogeyman. To cinephiles, he’s the ideal anti-hero hitman. He’s John Wick. Across three films since 2014, the carnage-inflicting killer has left a trail of blood from New Jersey to New York to Rome to Casablanca and back, and a pile of bodies as well, with his every punch, kick and gunshot as expertly choreographed as it is lethally effective. As a result, it’s hardly surprising that John Wick has earned a cult following — onscreen, among his terrified and envious fellow murderers-for-hire; off-screen, with the adoring viewing public. As the man behind the character, Keanu Reeves is crucial to John Wick’s appeal, stepping into his alter ego’s shoes like he was always destined to wear them. Indeed, it’s not just how the beloved actor inhabits the part that makes an impact; it’s the fact that this is a role that the star seems born to play.
When the first John Wick hit cinemas, reteaming Keanu with his former stunt double Chad Stahelski, it couldn’t have come at a better juncture for a figure whose last franchise was a decade behind him. John Wick’s longevity depended on its success and popularity, of course, but the film instantly stood out after a series of disappointing roles for Keanu. For every interesting part in Thumbsucker, A Scanner Darkly and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, often in supporting roles, came a bland, terrible or misfiring affair such as The Lake House, The Day the Earth Stood Still and 47 Ronin. The time was right for Keanu to kick ass, ooze gravitas behind a blank stare and use his dialogue sparingly but piercingly; however John Wick felt right not just because Keanu was due for a win, but because the character felt like his next logic step.
It mightn’t seem like it initially, but Theodore ’Ted’ Logan could’ve grown up to become John Wick. If you can remain unflappable when you’re traveling through time in a telephone box filled with historical icons — not to mention to the afterlife and back — you can remain calm when violently dispensing with hordes of enemies. If you can steadfastly devote yourself to a seemingly impossible goal, such as co-leading a band whose music shapes a future society, then you can face death on a minute-by-minute basis. Of course, Ted didn’t ditch Bill to become a hitman, then retire, then avenge his puppy. We’ll find out what the past three decades have really held for the former San Dimas high school slacker and his best buddy when Bill & Ted Face the Music finally (finally!) reaches screens. But Ted’s serenity and perseverance lives on in every John Wick movie.
Goofiness suited Keanu in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, although it’s not a mode that John Wick shares. While the star was unleashing his comic side — and in Parenthood and I Love You to Death, too — he was also bolstering his action credentials. There’s no better film about a surfing FBI agent than the original Point Break, naturally, and Johnny Utah and John Wick’s determination, loyalty and adherence to a code are cut from the same cloth. You’d never see the latter fire bullets into the air as he wrestles with his complicated feelings, or flinch about jumping out of a plane, but both characters aren’t just dedicated; they’re dogged. Throw in Speed’s Jack Travern, with his bomb-defusing selflessness, and Keanu’s journey to becoming a steely assassin gets another step (and from the opposite side of the law as well).
There’s an arrogance to Keanu’s work in My Own Private Idaho; a sense of superiority that comes with his character Scott Favor’s privileged background, and with not only choosing to rebel from wealth and power, but having the luxury to be able to. It’s also a marker of always standing out, even when you’ve turned your back on everything you knew and taken to hustling on the streets to fit in. John Wick could never be called arrogant, but confidence and self-assurance are among his defining traits. Adaptability, aka discovering how to work any situation to his advantage, is too. And, all three John Wick films to date are filled with the same soulful stares that Keanu perfected under Gus Van Sant’s direction, remaining probing and poignant even when shared with the penetrating gaze of his My Own Private Idaho co-star River Phoenix.
From My Own Private Idaho’s modernization of the Bard, Keanu jumped into Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of a gothic horror classic. Before being branded ‘the boogeyman’ as John Wick, he attempted to vanquish a vampire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula — and it is pain, love and conflict that weds the two roles. Dracula’s Jonathan Harker wants nothing more than a happy life with his wife-to-be, and yet finds himself thrust into a realm of violence, vengeance and pining for the one he loves. That instantly sounds familiar now. Keanu’s other ‘90s-era dalliance with the unnatural, as a lawyer unwittingly selling his soul for success in The Devil’s Advocate, similarly charts innocence and happiness lost. Even better, when he’s not facing off against Al Pacino at his overly theatrical finest, he’s struggling to maintain his relationship with Charlize Theron, John Wick’s female counterpart thanks to Atomic Blonde.
It was on The Matrix that Keanu first crossed paths with Stahelski, beginning a working relationship that would extend to further stunt-doubling work on The Replacements, The Gift, the two Matrix sequels, Thumbsucker and Constantine — plus martial arts choreography on Man of Tai Chi. The trilogy’s importance as a predecessor for John Wick might be glaringly apparent, anointing Keanu’s Neo ‘the one’ in a world order ruthlessly calibrated against him, but blatancy and effectiveness can go hand-in-hand. Indeed, it was The Matrix that first placed Keanu’s unperturbed demeanor within a sleek, stylized domain, and saw him bounce so engagingly off an ensemble cast as well. When Laurence Fishburne joined the John Wick fold in Chapter 2, his presence just solidified a connection that was already there.
Other entries on Keanu’s resume may appear to fit the pattern, but fall short; consider them easy nudges rather than meaty predecessors. While the likes of Johnny Mnemonic and Chain Reaction are steeped in stylized action, they’re all flimsy, forgettable movies. The same can be said of Street Kings’ crime thrills and 47 Ronin’s martial arts drama. From Keanu’s more recent career, it’s his directorial debut Man of Tai Chi that offers the final piece in the puzzle, if only for the fast-flying fists that prove the film’s true highlight. The leap from its relentless fight scenes to John Wick’s is short; in fact, Man of Tai Chi is improved by the comparison.
The blissful composure of a partying teen, the unyielding dedication of two lawmen and the wiles of a hustler with means: thanks to Keanu’s filmography, they’re all part of John Wick. For the same reason, the heartbreak of a loving husband, the unflappable confidence of a man rising above the rest and the frenetic frays of a fighter are as well. John Wick, both the man and the movie, represent a culmination, which is why it feels like such a perfect fit for Keanu. Stare into the formidable figure’s solemn glare, and three decades of other characters also stare back.