I Like to Watch | John Wick Chapter 3 — Parabellum
In preparation for John Wick Chapter 3 — Parabellum, I downloaded the two previous chapters and re-watched them.
Aside from my obvious enjoyment of the story of an ex-assassin, known by the Russian mob as Babayaga (The Bogeyman) and spoken of in whispers of his legendary focus, determination, and will, mourning his dead wife and being gifted by her beyond the grave a puppy only to be thrust back into the game by a Russian mobster’s son, I found myself conflicted in two specific ways.
First, I do not like guns in principle or practice but I love watching Keanu Reeves shoot countless and faceless thugs in the head. Second, Reeves is 54 years old and, as a man of a certain age, it feels like the Hollywood stars of my youth are passing slowly into a place of irrelevance, like Stallone (whom I love) refusing to simply retire before one more Rocky, or Rambo, or Expendables.
These two conflicting emotional dilemmas make the viewing of what, on its surface, is a shoot-em-up action set-piece somehow more profound (and isn’t that the best way to experience art?).
The gun thing is complicated. In all three John Wick films, Reeves kills hundreds of people. Yes, they are bad guys. Yes, he’s on a mission of revenge and survival. Yes, there is some fun and intricate world-building going on. All of it is fantasy and the stunt work and fight choreography are nothing less than extraordinary. Yet the hero of the story shoots hundreds of people in the head, kills them with books, knifes, pencils, his bare hands. There is more bloodshed and ruthless murder in these three films than in any movie made about WWII or Viet Nam.
I’m finding it difficult to reconcile my full-throated enjoyment of this when sitting in a theater only a few miles from Mandalay Bay, the site of America’s worst mass-shooting in a country known to be nothing if not the gun closet of the globe.
Is it all just toxic masculinity disguised as entertainment? As I sat in the theater during the third installment, the audience reacted with a perverse glee at the most violent and over-the-top killings with guffaws and exclamations. I joined them, laughing at the outrageousness of Halle Berry’s dogs going for the balls of at least 30 different extras followed by her double-tap headshots and the spray of movie blood and brains. I can’t help but wonder why it’s so fun to witness, in fantasy form, the brutality on display. Like the early Romans who thrilled at slaves being gutted by wild animals as entertainment, I cheer the carnage without hesitation then go online and lobby for gun control and grieve those shot down in schools.
Layered on top of this is the realization that Keanu, as young as he appears, is the age of a grandfather.
In Polar, Mads Mikkelsen plays a retired assassin who looks and feels his age: 50. In that film it is obvious that he is my age as he seems more tired and ready for a nap. He certainly kills plenty of people but there is a bit of weariness as if he goes in for the kill and then wants nothing more than to sit down and nurse both his stab wounds and the fact that his lower back hurts from sleeping the night before. If I were a retired assassin, my mattress would be my greatest nemesis.
John Wick, like Ethan Hunt and Scott Lang, is getting long in the tooth but isn’t quite showing it yet.
In fact, all of my screen favorites are hitting Grandpa status: Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Denzel Washington, Robert Downey, Jr., George Clooney. They’re all aging well but they are aging nonetheless. As I watch Keanu leap from buildings I am amazed at the cinema magic and also caught in the disbelief that his increasingly brittle ankles could handle that shit without a nod to the unexpected pain of fragility settling in. Christ, Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon was fifty and his tagline was “I’m getting too old for this.”
Beyond the age thing I am also struck by time passing my generation far more rapidly than I suppose makes me comfortable. I feel it swooping past in my interactions concerning politics and culture but the sense of being left behind didn’t strike fully until I watched John Wick Chapter 3. There are adults in the workforce today that weren’t even born when Rocky Balboa first fought Apollo Creed or when Luke met Ben Kenobi. I work with people who weren’t more than three years old when Keanu was The One in The Matrix.
I like being in my fifties. A lot. The household joke is that I’ve been waiting for my fifties for the last thirty years. I’m proud that I’ve lasted as long as I have and I’m quick to tout my age. Perhaps it is that the non-stop caffeine and nicotine have left me more youthfully preserved than many of my contemporaries (although not to bizarre level of, say, Paul Rudd). Since my early forties I am a certified gym rat. That track started out about vanity but now it’s far more about simply being in the kind of shape that allows me to stay on my feet for long periods and lift a heavy box or two without passing out.
I suppose the wisdom of the moment is to, like Keanu and his killer alter ego, keep moving forward, taking the hits and shaking them off, getting up each time I get knocked down. The world will pass me by, younger folk will replace me in a host of ways but, if I refuse to let age (or a bizarre underground league of super assassins) take me out too quickly, there might just be a Dylan Thomas thing going on.
Also, despite my reservations about the fucked psychology of someone adamantly non-violent reveling in the Ballet of Bloodshed, I loved the movie and I can’t wait for the fourth chapter.