Assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has been singled out for committing the act of murder, not that unusual for a professional killer, but he murdered the wrong person in the wrong location, and now every other assassin is out to get him. He has ten minutes to get his act together and work out a method of gaining the upper hand, so heads off to the New York Public Library where he tracks down a particular book of Russian fairy tales and takes the talismans hidden inside, pausing briefly to kiss the photograph of his late wife that was there also. But as he turns to continue on his way, a massive Russian is blocking his path, and he doesn't care that John has some time left...
The John Wick series was notable for each instalment doing better at the box office than the one before as more and more audiences caught up with them. Make no mistake, the first was a decent-sized hit, but Reeves' post-Matrix career renaissance where his legendary generosity and all-round nice personality made the public warm to him as never before, reaching Tom Hanks or Judi Dench levels of admiration. And this for an actor nobody really rated for his thespian abilities, yet something interesting was happening with this newfound respect, a realisation of precisely how dedicated he was to his craft, especially his action movies, that was genuinely endearing.
You might observe that Chapter 3 was business as before, yet with each part director Chad Stahelski consciously upped the ante and made it harder for his lead character to make it through to the end. What it did not really do was capitalise on the great cliffhanger ending of Chapter 2, where it appeared the whole planet would be out to get our man, and it was accurate to say it built up to an ending that was more a transition to Chapter 4 than cliffhanger as before, but the stuff in between remained wholly impressive, not least because you could marvel that a man of Reeves' age - in his fifties for this franchise - was able to get up to such incredible physicality, albeit with stuntman help.
Nevertheless, if that was not him riding that motorbike besieged with evildoers, then he did make sure he was conducting almost all the fight scenes himself in one capacity or another, and it was easy to appreciate his utter professionalism, especially as Stahelski was well aware of how to render his star at his most charismatic. This was no one-man show, however, as he was supported by a cast who were no spring chickens themselves, sort of tying this in with the post-Taken action movies where an ageing lead would get up to all sorts, but usually saving a kidnap victim. What was pleasing here was there were no kidnappings at all, and the story was still sleek enough to succeed on its own terms: take note, other creators of action flicks, that cliché was no longer a must-have for your opus, as this illustrated.
There was a sense of history here enhanced by that cast, with Halle Berry joining to prove it was not just the boys who got to work out for this type of role, the girls could do it just as well (if anything, she was as dedicated as Reeves, though maybe she had more to, well, prove, after all), and Ian McShane returning as the owner of The Continental hotel which is supposed to be neutral ground, so naturally is the setting for mayhem. But as the chase on horseback paid tribute to the Western genre that came before action thrillers, and the ballet dancers were a nod to the choreography of combat that made these films a pleasure to watch for their sheer energy, there were more specific references to set this in its place, a touch of Sergio Leone here, a climax echoing Enter the Dragon there, and so forth. Even the essential surrealism of the conceit offered up a reference to cult classic television series The Prisoner, but as long as you accepted the story was as stylised as possible to keep things moving from fight to fight, you would get on famously with this. Music by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard.