In the Wachowski’s The Matrix, a “reprogrammed” Keanu Reeves looks at Laurence Fishburne and utters in amazement, “I know kung fu.” Fast-forward to Chad Stahelski’s John Wick and Reeves proves to know far more than simple kung fu. The John Wick franchise’s frenzied but fluid assassination choreography is the only current American equivalent to Indonesia’s newfound onslaught of A+ foreign action cinema, movies like Gareth Evans’ The Raid and The Raid 2, or Timo Tjahjanto’s Headshot and The Night Comes For Us. Actors who’ve popularized martial arts forms such as Pencak Silat will punch and kick circles around American-bred bruisers, as showcased when Iko Uwais made Mark Wahlberg look like a grunt-and-mumble chump in Mile 22. But the character of John Wick commands his brand of stateside grapple-and-gunplay (Reeves is proficient in jiu-jitsu, judo, and more). No expendable point-and-shoot action blueprints here.
In honor of the underworld boogeyman who’s logged more headshots than my younger cousin over his entire Fortnite career, let’s take a look at John Wick’s ten greatest kills so far. Hopefully, it’s a list that’ll immediately require an update after John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum releases May 17th.
1. Ms. Perkins’ Membership Is Revoked (‘John Wick’)
If there’s one constant the John Wick movies hammer home, it’s to respect The Continental. Never, under any circumstances, should violent business be conducted within the hallowed hotel confines. Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) breaks this golden rule, which prompts a visit from Winston (Ian McShane) and four armed accomplices. They approach Ms. Perkins, boxing her in, as Winston informs her that she’s no longer a card-carrying member of The Continental. Weapons raise and Ms. Perkins falls to the ground. In, out, on with life – such a straightforward but significant note that sets the tone for the larger assassin universe of the John Wick franchise.
9. Marcus (‘John Wick’)
Willem Dafoe’s exit from John Wick is a mercenary’s honorable demise. His character, Marcus, ignores a contract on John Wick’s head that would have saved a crime boss’ son. The price he pays? A late night visit worth bruises, iced knuckles, and way more bullets than required to kill a man. But the lesson in it all? Marcus still goes out on his own terms. One of the more brutal glimpses of violence in John Wick’s universe that makes you question what loyalty is even worth these days.
8. Babysitter Duties (‘John Wick’)
The aforementioned Ms. Perkins, who’s eyeing a contract on John Wick’s head, ignores The Continental’s rules when she busts into Wick’s room and the two duke it out. She ends up bloody, almost dead, but Wick shows mercy by handing her off to another guest staying down the hall. Too bad Harry (Clarke Peters) doesn’t fit Ms. Perkins’ handcuffs to her properly, which means his slippery hostage is able to slide the metal rings off and kill Harry with a few silenced pistol shots to the head through a muffling pillow held in place.
7. Not So Safe House (‘John Wick’)
Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) is the idiot who steals John Wick’s car and kills his dog, because apparently, that’s how the sons of Russian crime bosses act. After provoking the assassin nicknamed “Baba Yaga” thanks to him being the boogeyman even other assassins fear, Iosef holes up in the Tarasov safehouse. Guards everywhere, sniper scopes watching, while his buddy plays a first-person shooter video game with noise-canceling headphones on. Iosef becomes more frustrated with his clueless friend, so John Wick decides to help Iosef out by blasting the zoned-in gamer with a sniper round from countless yards away. Points for editing the cuts of video game screens with Wick’s safehouse arrival.
6. Big Man Won’t Go Down (‘John Wick: Chapter 2’)
One of the random assassins John Wick encounters when Santino D’Antonio offers his contract is a sumo-sized mass of meanness who starts by clotheslining the injured Wick. John tries multiple takedowns, including a kick to the groin, but that only leads to Wick being tossed through standing decorative plate glass. Wick’s eventually able to hop on big daddy’s back after a few shots to the gut, lodges a couple more bullets in his upper back, and then finally another in the dome. Surely no man could still counter, but nope, “Sumo Assassin” (played by retired Japanese sumo Yama) tries to get back up once more – and takes one final bullet to the head.
5. Seriously, ‘Car Fu’ Is A Thing (‘John Wick: Chapter 2’)
Wick’s use of automobiles is but one of many weaponizations that baffles the mind, as he’s able to speed around and whip cars like hammers. In one particular instance, Random Henchman #38 is limp-running away from Wick, who’s driving a now beat-up muscle car. Wick punches into reverse and starts trailing the bozo. Once close enough, Wick pulls a 180-degree turn and body checks the henchbro into a standing steel beam like the henchbro’s strapped to a rocket – all with his ride’s frontside. It’s so incredibly cool, and just one of many ways that Reeves’ jack of all trades killer can deal out death.
4. Necks Don’t Bend That Way (‘John Wick’)
Walking into an 8am Fantastic Fest screening of John Wick, I had no way of knowing the asskickery that was about to unfold. The minute Keanu’s house first comes under attack by Tarasov’s goons, it became clear that John Wick is no man to be tested. He goes about defeating thug after thug, but the kill that stands out in this sequence happens when an unnamed invader finds himself atop Wick’s kitchen island, kicking frantically in defense. Wick positions the man laying upright, his head dangling over the surface’s ledge. With one swift motion he brings his fist down on the hitman’s head and snaps it completely back, along with every shred of my nerves. From that point, I knew John Wick would bring the pain.
3. Gianna Betrayed (‘John Wick: Chapter 2’)
To fulfill his “marker” debt to Santino D’Antonio, John Wick is instructed to kill his requestor’s sister so that Santino can take her place at the High Table (the ruling council of the assassin underworld). Wick flies to Rome and interrupts Gianna’s coronation ceremony, confronting the lavishly-dressed socialite as she’s about to enter her spa-sized bathtub. Gianna knows why John’s there and decides to take her own life by slitting her wrists, but Wick fulfills his end of Santino’s request by landing one shot in the dying woman’s head. It’s a mercy kill, but so artfully crafted from candles flickering around the stone bathing chamber to Wick and Gianna’s banter to the final overhead shot of Gianna’s body turning crystal blue waters a deep shade of red. One of the most meaningful deaths in the entire John Wick franchise thus far.
2. Ares Dies A Mortal Death (‘John Wick: Chapter 2’)
Ruby Rose’s mute bodyguard to Santino D’Antonio gives Wick a run for his money on numerous occasions until finally becoming another kill list statistic. Why is it so memorable? Aside from the mirrored art installation museum setting (“Reflections Of The Soul”) and apart from the knife-swipe beatdown between Wick and Ares, it’s the face Rose makes as John Wick slides a diamond-shaped dagger – currently stuck through her hand – deeper and deeper into her heart. Ares’ eyes bulge a most furious size, staring at the Baba Yaga and signing the words “Be seeing you…” as she lays propped against a wall, dying. Ares goes down fighting and Rose takes her lumps like an action megastar, but it’s that parting gaze that seals the deal.
1. The Disappearing Pencil (‘John Wick: Chapter 2’)
In either an intentional or accidental homage to The Dark Knight, John Wick shows two assassins in a public subway terminal his own version of the Joker’s infamous “magic trick.” It’s also a callback to the first movie, when Viggo Tarasov explained to his clueless son that John Wick once killed three men with a pencil. It’s squeamishly brutal and so merciless, and will continue to impress/upset me every time I watch John Wick: Chapter 2.
The brutal kill happens right after Santino D’Antonio posts a lucrative bounty on Wick’s head and the master assassin finds himself fighting off a new challenger everywhere he turns. Two contract killers double-team Wick but get handily defeated when Wick aerates their skulls with a sharpened pencil. First as Wick stabs Killer #1 in the face, slams his head on a counter sideways, and stabs the pencil into his ear – pushing down slowly and driving it deeper. Then to Killer #2, who gets one stab to the throat area, then Wick holds the eraser side of the pencil against a wall as he forcefully pushes his adversary’s head back into the pointy stake. Should have just stuck to your crossword puzzle, Killer #1!
John Wick: Chapter 3 is in theaters this week. Get your tickets here.