Everything You Need to Know About ‘John Wick’ Before Seeing ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’

Photo: ‘John Wick’ 

John Wick: Chapter 4’ has been released in theaters and many who have and haven’t watched the films are making plans to catch the action-thriller on the big screen. Placed amongst the top in every action-movie ranking list, the ‘John Wick’ series has become a global action-thriller phenomenon putting action-superstar Keanu Reeves in a discreet world of hitmen and assassins.  The Keanu Reeves-led series that began in 2014 captured the world’s attention with its stylish neo-noir cinematography and intense practical action sequences. Growing its fanbase from the first film, which garnered $86 million globally, to the third film, which ended its theatrical run with a worldwide gross of $327.3 million in 2019, the fourth installment expects to supersede the third film’s place at the top of the box office ranking in the franchise. 

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Averaging a two-hour runtime per film, the three films follow John Wick on a cumulative five hours and fifty-four minutes of vengeance and survival in the underground world of criminals and assassins. From the time of the first release in 2014 to the release of the third film in 2019, only a couple of weeks have gone by in the time within the films’ plotlines. But with the decade of screenwriting that has gone into the films, there is lots of story development that have unfolded throughout the short span in the world of ‘John Wick’. 

‘John Wick’ Begins Because of a Dog

For those who have not indulged in the glory of the ‘John Wick’ franchise, the series kicks off because of the death of the protagonist’s dog. The first film, released in 2014, introduces John Wick, a former assassin who has left his violent past behind to live a peaceful life with his wife. However, when his wife passes away from an illness, John receives a final gift from her, a dog to keep him company in her absence. One day, the retired assassin makes a stop at a gas station and encounters Iosef, the son of a Russian gangster. Iosef, played by Alfie Allen from ‘Games of Thrones’ and ‘Jojo Rabbit’, fails to intimidate Wick into giving him his vintage sports car. In an act of revenge for Wick’s disobedience, Iosef and his gang break into Wick’s home that night, steal his car, and kill his dog. John sets out on a violent mission of revenge, using his lethal skills to take down the entire criminal organization responsible. The dog was the last connection he had to his wife, and the act of killing the dog pushed John Wick to seek revenge.

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Ending his retirement, Wick is met with many former colleagues on his revenge mission. Some notable fellow assassins are Ms. Perkins, played by Adrianne Palicki from ‘The Orville’, and Marcus, an extremely skilled sniper who is played by the revered Hollywood A-lister Willem Dafoe. The ‘John Wick’ movies are filled with memorable characters, from the titular hitman to his allies and enemies. These characters are well-written and well-acted, adding depth and nuance to the films. The vast array of characters also adds to the shrouded world of assassins living among the normal world. The ‘John Wick’ movies have created a rich, complex world of assassins and criminal underworlds that has captured viewers’ imaginations. The films have a strong attention to detail, with intricate world-building that rewards repeat viewings.

The Complex World of Assassins Involves Rules Enforced with Death

As simple as a franchise revolving around a massive underground world of hitmen and hitwomen sounds, ‘John Wick’ creates much more complexity to the world in order to avoid chaos. There are many rules that John Wick and other criminals under the governing of The High Table must follow. The High Table is a council of powerful crime lords who govern the world of assassins. They issue orders and punishments for those who break the rules. One of the major rules revolves around a frequent setting in the films, the Continental Hotel. The Continental Hotel is a neutral territory that serves as a safe haven for assassins. No “business” can be conducted on hotel grounds, and any violence on hotel property is strictly prohibited. This was seen as strictly enforced at the end of the first film when Ms. Perkins met her demise at the order of the High Table due to her murdering a guest at the Continental Hotel. 

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Another major plot point of the ‘John Wick’ series is his status of “excommunicado” as of his assassination of Iosef, the son of Viggo Tarasov, who was a member of the High Table. An assassin who breaks the rules of the Continental and the High Table is declared “excommunicado” and loses all privileges as an assassin. This includes access to services and resources, as well as protection from other assassins. In subsequent movies, John Wick’s actions continue to violate the rules of the Continental and the High Table. A bounty is placed on his head, and he is hunted by other assassins as he tries to stay alive and complete his revenge mission. 

Wick’s Revenge Brings him Back into the Inescapable World of the High Table

In the second film, John is pulled back into the world of assassins when he is forced to honor a debt he owes to an Italian crime lord named Santino D’Antonio, who has a “marker” on Wick. An assassin can use a Marker to demand a favor from another assassin. The favor must be fulfilled without question, or the assassin who fails to fulfill the Marker will be declared “excommunicado” and lose their privileges as an assassin. After Wick completes the job, Santino double-crosses him and puts a bounty on his head, which initiates Wick’s second plotline, defending himself from assassins from all over the world trying to claim the number on his head. The third film follows right after the end of the second film, with John being declared “excommunicado” from the world of assassins and hunted by the High Table, the organization that governs their world. John travels to Casablanca to seek the help of a former ally, Sofia Al-Azwar played by Halle Berry

At the end of ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’, John was in a precarious situation, having been declared “excommunicado” and being hunted by numerous assassins. He was taken to see the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne from ’Boyz n the Hood’), a powerful underworld figure who offered to help him in his quest for revenge. ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ will most likely continue this storyline between John and the Bowery King, and progress their efforts in taking down the High Table. The film will feature Keanu Reeves returning as the titular character and Chad Stahelski, the director of the first three films, returning to direct. Rina Sawayama will also star in the fourth film as an ally of John Wick. 

By Nino Vongphachanh

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