John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is in theaters now and, if you love the first two John Wick movies, chances are you’ll enjoy yourself. GameSpot’s Michael Rougeau certainly did in his review of the film. It’s loaded with the kind of action and fight scenes that make the John Wick franchise so great, and there are some interesting new characters that expand this crazy world even further. That said, it’s not perfect. In fact, it’s staring down the barrel of a massive problem that could spoil the franchise if left unchecked. If you haven’t seen John Wick: Chapter 3 yet, stop reading now. This is your one and only spoiler warning.
The first John Wick is a practically perfect movie. It’s a revenge tale that sees Keanu Reeves at arguably the best he’s ever been, with fantastically choreographed fight scenes and an urgency to the story that leaves you tense and on the edge of your seat. It’s also self-contained. While there are hints of a larger world within the society of assassins introduced in the film–the High Table–the story is resolved, and it’s utterly satisfying as a single film.
Then Chapter 2 came along in 2017. The action and fighting fans loved was back, and the movie further expanded the world of the Continental Hotels. And it ended with a cliffhanger setting up an incredible third chapter with Wick facing off against the High Table in a final showdown. One way or another, it left us thinking John would find peace, either in defeating the High Table and riding into the sunset or in death to be reunited with his wife.
That doesn’t happen, though. Instead, after Chapter 3, nothing has really changed. John fought the High Table, dispatched of seemingly hundreds of assassins around the world, and still somehow ended Parabellum as the secret society’s most wanted man with a big price on his head–just like he was at the end of Chapter 2.
After waiting for what many of us thought would be the conclusion of the John Wick franchise–or at least to this storyline–the series is instead spinning its wheels in a way that keeps fans on the hook long enough to want to see the next part. If you’re looking for closure, you will have to wait until the filmmakers decide it will come–if they make that decision at all.
In essence, it’s like the middle episode of a TV show season. It’s that filler episode that doesn’t forward the story at all but gives just enough to make you want to stick with it This is something that’s all too common in the era of the cinematic universe.
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe running strong for over a decade at this point, it’s clear that every movie studio wants a never-ending franchise of its own. How can you blame them, given how massively it can pay off at the box office. And looking at the 2019 movie release schedule, there’s a number of franchise extensions still to come, from the expected–Toy Story 4–to the downright surprising–Shaft, a sequel to 2000’s Shaft. Of course, 2000’s Shaft is a sequel to 1973’s Shaft in Africa, even though it was marketed as a reboot of the property. And Shaft in Africa was the third film in the franchise at that point.
Meanwhile, a big-budget standalone movie isn’t necessarily something that happens all that often anymore. And even when it does, there’s usually some caveats. A director of Christopher Nolan’s stature can make something like Inception, while studios are finding financial success in remakes–A Star Is Born–and biopics–Bohemian Rhapsody.
By and large, though, theaters are filled with sequels and spin-offs. In some ways, film is becoming TV. Each movie is an episode of a larger story arc that will continue until an ending at some undetermined point in the future. While that might work in some cases, like with the MCU, which enjoys untold box office riches, not every franchise is so lucky.
Despite all of its fanfare, Universal’s “Dark Universe” lasted long enough for one Mummy film to fizzle at the box office and a single tweet to live forever in infamy. A third Kick-Ass movie was planned but never came to be. The Divergent film series, based on a popular series of young adult novels, saw its fourth and final movie canceled with the idea that it would be turned into a TV series, which was also dropped.
When everything is a cinematic universe, this is something that’s going to happen more and more often. While franchises like the MCU and Star Wars have built-in audiences that can help them thrive for years to come, can the same be said of the John Wick films?
As it stands, John Wick Chapter 3 makes a John Wick 4 a necessity. What’s more, it was announced in 2017 that a spin-off film centered on a young female assassin was being developed. And, of course, there’s also a TV show; Starz is developing The Continental, a series set in the Los Angeles location of the franchise’s infamous assassin hotel.
So when is enough enough? The John Wick franchise is continuing to grow, with no end in sight. And while, on the one hand, that’s very exciting, it’s also troubling. Not everything needs to be turned into a franchise. Some things work best when presented as a one-and-done. Even a simple trilogy is rare these days. That’s not possible for the John Wick series anymore. With more movies and a TV show in various stages of development, we’re going to be exploring this world of assassins for years to come.
When each new film in a series simply sets up the next one instead of having any kind of actual ending, the franchise runs the risk of fizzling out before the story can actually be completed. Hopefully, this franchise will wrap up its story arc before it wears out its welcome with audiences. After all, even Reeves himself knows how quickly the tide can turn. The Matrix, like John Wick, is pretty much a perfect movie. However, The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions are anything but. Don’t let John Wick become the next Neo. Keanu doesn’t deserve that, and neither does the audience.
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Author: Chris E. Hayner