Join me as I rank and review every John Wick film to date, from the vengeance-fuelled beginning of Chapter 1 to the bloody end of Chapter 4!
SPOILER WARNING! I DISCUSS JOHN WICK 4 SPOILERS IN THIS!
4. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
2019, Directed By Chad Stahelski
Easily the weakest of the four movies in my eyes, Parabellum fails due to one simple reason: it fails to deliver on Chapter 2‘s set-up. The ending of that film promised a film about John Wick trying to survive an endless gauntlet of assassins, alone against the world and in a desperate bid for survival. And that is what the film is about… for the first act!
To be fair, the first act is incredible too, as Wick is stalked and pursued, the dreaded clocks counting down to the moment the hunt is allowed to begin, with that astonishing library fight being the pinnacle. However, this plot ends up on the sideline, and the film instead elects to go the far less exciting route of ‘John Wick vs. The High Table,’ which, while cool, was not what this movie needed, and something that should’ve been saved for Chapter 4 (which it was…).
Ultimately, the action is well directed, which is a given, but the disappointing execution, weak villains and supporting characters (easily the poorest in the franchise), and general feel of just ‘been there, done that’ with the whole film lets it down a bit. It’s not a bad film by any means, but it’s undoubtedly the least interesting in the series.
Best Moment: The library fight. Serious David vs. Goliath energy. A raw, desperate intensity should’ve been the tone for the entire film.
3. John Wick
2014, Directed By Chad Stahelski
The film that started it all. The film came out of absolutely bloody nowhere, and took the world by storm. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you John Wick, a satisfyingly simple revenge flick with action directed so well it collectively left movie fans’ jaws dropped onto the floor around the world. Hell, some say they’re still there…
While I feel like this and Chapter 2 are pretty much interchangeable in quality, one defining factor separates them: simplicity. If you want a good old-fashioned action flick with no strings attached, this film is for you. While I prefer a more complex narrative myself (which is why I gravitate towards the sequel), there’s no denying this is still a damn extraordinary film.
While the overly sappy and poorly executed prologue is a bit of a drag, the film is incredible once the Baba Yaga comes out to play. Wick gives the Terminator a run for his money, with Keanu displaying an intense physical presence (which has deteriorated as the films have gone on) that makes him all the more terrifying and realistic as this genuine threat.
No scene encapsulates this more than the club scene, which is easily the film’s highlight for me, and indeed shows the film’s action at its best. While there is a narrative, it clearly exists to serve the action, as opposed to the other way around, which doesn’t bother me too much, given that Keanu’s performance isn’t exactly anything to write home about.
It’s fun, simple, and to the point, and it teases the cool worldbuilding we’d get to see far more of in the sequels. Overall, a certified solid flick.
Best Moment: The club fight. Wick goes full terminator, and the tension and atmosphere are at an all-time high.
2. John Wick: Chapter 2
2017, Directed By Chad Stahelski
John Wick 2 took everything about the first film and expanded on it massively, and while not every aspect of that works (a lot of the dialogue-heavy scenes are, to put it politely, rather dull), the world-building is so epic. I have no choice but to respect it.
Suppose the first film gave us a glimpse into the world of Wick with the Continental Hotel. In that case, it offers us complete insight, with access into where the assassins go to get geared up, the networks that keep them informed, and of course, information on the mysterious High Table.
While the action set pieces aren’t perhaps as intense as the first film, they are certainly more inventive, with the goofily charming silencer battle and the downright awesome hall of mirrors action towards the end. However, what elevates the film is its jaw-dropping ending: Wick breaks the high-table rules in a moment of violence and flip-turns his life upside-down, setting every assassin in the world on him and unleashing consequences that would haunt him til the very end…
Best Moment: The Hall of Mirrors fight scene. It’s a visual work of genius and a proper display of photographic mastery.
1. John Wick: Chapter 4
2023, Directed By Chad Stahelski
Let me make this clear: I enjoy the other three films. I do. But this? This was on a whole different damn level. The sheer craftsmanship present in this movie from beginning to end was insane, and the result is a contender for the most incredible action movie of all time.
Every fight scene is immaculate on both a visual and choreography level. The stakes always feel high, and seeing how Wick and his many allies (or enemies because they are the same thing in this franchise) overcome each obstacle is deeply satisfying. To pick a favorite would be near impossible. However, clear standouts include the brutal club showdown, the terrifying highway battle, the showdown at the Osaka continental, and, of course, the top-down sequence which collectively blew everyone’s minds.
A special sequence must go out to the visuals, especially the lighting. Except for the oddly digital finale, every scene looks beautiful, straying away from the dull grey of the early films to fully embrace a beautiful palette that allows every fight to remain fully stimulating on every level. Seriously, it’s a bloody beautiful movie.
The side characters are also indeed the best in the series; Donnie Yen’s Caine is a blind badass with a wit that’s just as sharp, Bill Skarsgard’s well-dressed Marquis chews every scene he’s in with glee, and Shamier Anderson’s Mr. Nobody says a lot with a little.
There’s also a grand sense of finality to it. As the end grows ever closer, you get the feeling that this is John’s last show, and the immortal, unkillable Baba Yaga, who survives drops and bashes like no one else on this planet, begins to feel mortal, and trust me, in these films, that’s a hell of a feat.
Best Moment: Any of the action sequences. Seriously. Any of them. They are all perfect.
It’s always strange to follow a character you care about, one who has always overcome the impossible right to the bloody end. Be it the 10th Doctor’s bittersweet farewell at The End Of Time, or James Bond’s acceptance of his mortality in No Time To Die.
While John Wick may not be as emotionally grounded as other characters, he (and this franchise) still means a lot to many different people, including those who made it, and I always bear that in mind with my criticisms. These films are labors of love and hard work, and have reinvented the action genre forever. For that, I will always be grateful.