15 Underrated Moments In The John Wick Series
The John Wick series is one of the most highly hyped-up action franchises out there. It takes its spot alongside other great action films, such as Mission Impossible and The Fast and Furious. Filled with extraordinary fight choreography and massive shoot-outs; combined with its deep storytelling of love and revenge. The titular character, John Wick, is played by none other than legendary actor: Keanu Reeves, who fans have associated this role to be his definitive one.
Such a collection is worthy of taking a deeper look. As such, we will be discussing 15 moments from the John Wick films that deserve more love from the fans. These moments are in no way ranked from best or worse; they are moments that we believe to be underappreciated.
WARNING: the following list will contain spoilers for John Wick, John Wick: Chapter 2, and John Wick: Parabellum.
The Thrill Of The Past – John Wick 1
In John Wick 1, John has just lost his wife and received Daisy as her final gift. As the first morning with Daisy begins, John decides to take the dog out with the other love of his life – His ’69 Ford Mustang Boss 429.
We know from Helen’s final words that John deeply loves his car, and we see that take form when John drives the car to do loops on an airport runway. For all the car-lovers out there, nothing is more fulfilling than seeing John drive top speeds and drift into a complete U-turn over and over again… but this isn’t what makes this scene underrated.
During the final lap towards a line of trucks, we see a glimpse of a determination on John before he screams out and brakes. If you look again, you notice that John was driving exactly down the middle instead of the side to drift; as well as how close the car got to crash. This scene is special because it suggests two things.
The first is that John is pumped full of adrenaline and that his recklessness subconsciously starts growing… or shall we say returning? John has seen a lot of action in the past as a former Hitman; to get out of that life isn’t easy, and this scene encapsulates how close he was to regaining that thrill in his past. John screams in anguish because he realises that he was relapsing back into that life, and just manages to snap out of it.
The second suggestion is that he felt suicidal. John greatly mourns for his wife and tries to blow off steam with his car; but with each drift getting closer to danger, you can see how close it was for him to just end it there.
Either way, this scene sets up a vulnerability to John before we even see him in action, and we see how close he is to just breaking.
Winston’s First Appearance
Winston is one of the most prominent and important characters in the series, next to John himself. As owner and manager of the New York City Continental Hotel (for which John frequents), Winston has a history with John himself; making his first appearance a short but very interesting one.
In the first film, John meets with Winston in the basement bar room to greet him and gain information on Losef Tarasov. One can notice that when Winston is curious about John’s latest injuries, the latter replies with “Rusty, I guess” but not before trying to contain a smile. From that small interaction, we can instantly see that John is able to let his guard down around Winston.
From this scene, we can also see that Winston is the only character to be wary of John’s return. Whilst others are surprised and happy to see John back into the fold, Winston instead offers some warnings as to the consequences of stepping back into his former life; claiming that: “You dip so much as a pinky back into this pond, you may well find something reaches out and drags you back into its depths”. We also see that Winston breaks a rule himself. Winston states that “No business can be conducted on these premises” yet he gives John the location of Losef secretly.
It greatly summarises Winston’s relationship with John in the first and second film. When rewatching this scene, you can see the foreshadowing of John’s future tragedy and how Winston’s bending of the rules for John will lead to consequences.
Infiltrating The Red Circle
The Red Circle Shoot-out is one of the greatest action scenes in this film and the franchise. However, this isn’t the underrated scene; instead, we’ll be talking about the moment that just leads before it.
With the location of Losef, John makes his way into the Red Circle; intimidating an old acquaintance, drowning Victor, and silently dispatching the guards. This scene deserves more recognition because it becomes the centre point where Baba Yaga starts to come out, and John starts to fade.
We first see this manifestation as John interrogates Victor; viciously kicking his groan and choking him with his own towel. Even after getting his information, John opts not to give Victor a swift death and instead brutally drowns him in the sink; holding his arm there for a few moments even after Victor falls to the floor dead.
Now the beauty of the next part really highlights John’s tragedy with his return to Baba Yaga. As John sneaks and silently assassinates various guards, he manages to catch one attempting to break free and stares into him soullessly as he plunges his knife into him. His expression is empty and emotionless at that moment, and the lighting on his face emphasises this darkness when it changes from a calming blue to a demonic red (see above).
In the background, Kaleida’s Think is the song playing; which adds an emotional tone to this moment. The song’s lyrics signify the memory of Helen acting as a tie to John’s humanity just as he is now losing it; an oxymoronic scene that tugs on our hearts when we see John’s struggle between peace and vengeance.
“I Go Out On My Own”
Marcus (played by the one and only William Dafoe) is one of the most underrated characters in the series. Despite only appearing in the first film, Marcus has literally become John’s saving grace multiple times during the movie. However, no one comes to save Marcus.
After being caught by Ms Perkins working with John, Marcus is brutally tortured by Viggo for his betrayal. In a painful display of torment, we are forced to watch this badass about to be taken out on Viggo’s terms… or so we think.
Despite being beaten and stabbed in the leg, Marcus responds to that statement with one of his own: “No, my good sir. I go out on my own”. With a display of vigour, Marcus lives up to his title of “one of the old guard” and manages to take out two henchmen before being shot – finally getting the last laugh.
Dafoe has said that that “Marcus is an assassin on a very high level. It’s clear that he and [John] have a history, and he’s something of a mentor to him”. From the man who helped train John Wick, we expect nothing less than for him to go out fighting, especially for his age.
Marcus’s theme, Killing Strangers, also plays one last time. Acting as a testament to the fact that, in his final moments, he chose to fight against the world for a friend.
The Story Of John Wick Revisited – John Wick 2
We all know the tale of Baba Yaga – a man of focus, commitment, and sheer will. Did you know he once killed 3 men in a bar with a pencil?
In Chapter 2, fans will instantly recognise the call-back to the first film, as Abram Tarasov recites the same words his brother said about John’s legend (albeit awe-struck and more ‘fucks’). This call-back is the type of writing that makes you want to jump out of your seat, but that isn’t the reason why this scene is underrated.
Whilst Chapter 1 was about John returning to wreak vengeance, Chapter 2 is about John being haunted by his legend. Abram sets up the introduction to the film with a reminder of the story of Baba Yaga, claiming that “the stories you hear about this man if nothing else has been watered down”.
This revisiting of the story sets up the inescapable legend of John; that no matter how far he runs, he can never escape his past and the fear/admiration that the entire underworld has for him.
The scene ends up a beautiful shot of John facing the camera; half his face covered in darkness. Like the infiltration of the Red Circle, the lighting perfectly highlights the duality of John – his struggle between the legend and the retired life.
After having his car totalled, his body repeatedly run over and exhausted from taking out several henchmen, it’s time to confront the big boss man himself.
Abram is literally shitting himself (an Oscar-winning performance from Peter Stormare) and Baba Yaga is coming for him. With no escape and no way out, Abram prepares for the fate his brother and nephew received… but it never comes. John enters the office, pours himself and Abram a drink, and responds in Russian with “Peace”. Abram’s response to whether a man like John can find peace is replied with “Why not?”.The beauty of this scene is that it truly ends in peace. If you’re like me on my first viewing you were expecting John to smash the glass on his head or counter attack a betrayal from Abram, however, it doesn’t end that way.
The scene perfectly summarises who John Wick is as a character – a man who wants to live in peace. He’s killed two members of the Tarasov family but all he wants now is his car back and no repercussions from the syndicate. For all extensive purposes, this should’ve been John’s happy ending – time to go home, bury his past and spend time with his new dog. But as Santino says later: “No one gets out and comes back without repercussions”.
The car just barely manages to limp its way back home. And is in need of serious repairs. Of course, there’s only one man up for the job… Aurelio.
Whilst playing ball with the dog, John receives a visitor in the form of Aurelio, the same mechanic in the first film that punched Losef and lent John a ride. John Leguizamo nails the wise-cracking Aurelio in this scene as he exclaims a list of serious faults with the Mustang before stating “I could fix this”.
The scene always is a nice change of pace from the action and seriousness of the film with some light-hearted banter. You can really see that John is at ease and is comfortable around Aurelio to show his retired side. Aurelio also delivers one of the greatest lines in the series…
“Alright. It’ll be ready Christmas… 2030”.
We’re holding you to that Aurelio.
The Slave of His Legend
His house destroyed and the rules reminded, John goes to hear out Santino’s proposition. After learning that he has to kill Gianna D’Antonio, John heads to retrieve his backup equipment from a safety deposit box.
As John opens the false bottom of the box, we see a gun, a passport, and some underworld currency. John’s response to seeing this… a large scream of anguish and rage. Keanu nails the slow building of emotion in John so much that we feel that pain instilling into us. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot escape his legend.
Another beautiful part of this moment comes next. As John goes to leave, he hears a voice call from behind him saying in another language:
“Happy Hunting, Mr Wick”.
The instant his name is called, you see John freeze up before he turns to face a bunch of people who know his past. He gives a subtle nod and walks away. This part perfectly adds to the tragedy of John’s legend; he can’t escape his past because his name, skill and influence are widely known in every part of the underworld. He cannot disappear where there is nowhere and no one to hide from. The haunting melody that plays soon after is just the icing on the cake as John slowly acknowledges the realisation and goes to fulfil the purpose he is enslaved to do.
The Darker D’Antonio
To be free from the marker, John is tasked by Santino D’Antonio to kill his sister, Gianna. When D’Antonio Sr. died, he willed his seat on the High Table to Gianna. And Santino (being the spoilt child that he is) decides that it would be better if he had that seat. However menacing Santino appears, he pales in comparison to his sister Gianna who looks innocent at first glance. That is, until you see her delicate negotiations.
During her coronation, Gianna puts on a smile and good spirits to her guests, apart from one Mr Akoni. The latter wishes to discuss some problems that he has about the former’s decisions. We see a fierce power dynamic radiate from Gianna when she justifies the stealing of Mr Akoni’s territories as being given them. When Mr Akoni claims that this was because of threats, Gianna responds with an intensely dark response:
“Semantics. Besides, that blade you speak of was meant for their children. They were only meant to watch”.
This scene doesn’t get credit enough for how it portrays Gianna as a fearless and ruthless figure in the Camorra. We can see how she earned her position on the High Table – as opposed to the whiny cowardice her brother shows. Gianna is an underrated character in the series, and moments like these can really highlight an entire character in a single scene. It’s a shame we won’t get the chance to see Claudia Gerini play this character again as she perfectly nailed this scene and this character.
Be Seeing You, John Wick
After narrowly escaping a vengeful Cassian and making it to the safe refuge at the Continental Roma, John shares a drink with his hunter and old associate. After a brief chit-chat about John’s orders and Cassian’s need to kill him, the latter leaves after paying for drinks (because, professional courtesy). John is then left alone to drink by himself… or is he?
The camera pans to another figure who’s been watching this interaction the whole time: Santino’s bodyguard, Ares. Here Ruby Rose shines with a small humorous interaction where Ares taunts John in sign language patronisingly. As John goes to leave, Ares lets him know that she’ll be the one to get him first; ending with “Be Seeing You, John Wick”. John’s reaction – he signs back with “Not if I see you first”.
This moment is great for many different reasons. One: This scene makes Ares look really cool! From what we gathered before Ares didn’t have a single speaking line so naturally, we would assume she is a woman of few words. Then we see the sign language kick in, and can’t help but think about how badass it is that we have a mute assassin antagonist in the universe of John Wick – a literal silent but deadly hitman.
Second: It’s awesome to see some representation and awesome depiction of sign language in the film. The film utilises its trademark fancy subtitles on the screen from the first film alongside Ares’s and John’s signing.
Third: A silent exchange. John just survived a gunfight, a brawl, and now a battle of words. Ares attempts to intimidate John with her own language, demoralising him by stating a reminder that she’s after him too. But John using sign language back at her fearlessly is a big ‘No U’ moment that ends up getting results, as Ares releases a sigh after John leaves.
Remnants Of A Old Life
“No wife. No life. No home. Vengeance is all you have”
Santino’s words ring true, for John has lost everything and has been consumed with revenge. As John finally gains his retribution, he returns home – only to find himself in the echoes of a life he lost.
He surveys the damaged remains of his destroyed mansion – now rubble and ash – and desperately starts seeking out mementoes of happier times. The room he shared with Helen – destroyed. The frame of them being happy – destroyed.
The tragedy follows as John sits down and stares at his shaking hands in anguish; he truly believes that he destroys everything he touches. The music adds to this powerful scene; as the haunting melody plays over a distraught man who fought to keep his peaceful life, only to lose it all.
John finds little solace in sifting through the dirt and finding the silver daisy bracelet he gifted to his wife; holding it close to his heart and clinging to it for however long he can. This is a beautiful portrayal of John’s vulnerable side; showing that even for someone as tough as him, he relies on the memory of his loved one for comfort.
The scene ends with a snap back to reality as Charon appears. The director inputs a great nod to Greek Mythology as Charon (much like his mythological counterpart) appears to take John back to the Underworld for his sentence, which John accepts.
The Wild West – John Wick 3
This is one of my personal favourite moments of Parabellum. John is chased by a bunch of assassins looking to collect his bounty, and he eventually finds himself in an antique weapon gallery.
John looks around for a suitable weapon and finds an old-styled revolver that he can use, but finds that he cannot load a .44 calibre into it. In homage to Tuco assembling his perfect revolver from others in The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly (1966) John uses a combination of other restricted revolvers to un-restrict and make a working weapon.
Obviously, the first one he grabbed did not fit the .44 calibre he wanted to use. If you look closely the original gun he grabbed was a “cap and powder” revolver which takes a very long time to load. The second revolver was the same era revolver but the right calibre (.44) he then grabs the 3rd revolver which was more modern swapped the cylinder and hammer then checked for pin alignment.
This exhibits John’s tinkering expertise and adaptability. It’s no wonder why the underworld respect and fear him so greatly; he can kill with a pencil, a book, and now a gallery of un-fireable antique guns.
This scene also masters a great level of tension and anxiety to the audience. The camera constantly switches from the perspectives of John crafting his weapon to the assassins chasing him. It does this in such a suspenseful way that we can’t help but scream at John to hurry the hell up.
John manages to keep his cool the entire time, and there is a fulfilment to hearing the individual clicks of the cylinder until… success! The western music that plays after is satisfying when John goes full outlaw and lands a 180 head-shot; buying him enough time and sending a deceptive warning that he’s armed.
“An Orphan Of Your Tribe”
Little was known of the man called John Wick. Save for his legends, connections and his retired life. John Wick: Parabellum sheds some backstory for our favourite hitman when John heads to The Tarkovsky Theatre to see his adoptive mother, The Director.
John goes to present his ticket to the Director, who dismisses and scolds him for his actions; claiming that she is bound to the high table like everyone else. Keanu masterfully nails this scene and the facial expressions of John’s despair; as John has the face of a child who has just been discarded from his family.
John tearfully states back:
“I am Jardani Jovonovich. I am a child of the Belarus. An orphan of your tribe… You are bound to help me… You are bound and I am owed!”
In this beautifully upsetting scene, we see a broken down John who just wants to continue living, but is now running out of options. Indeed that is exactly what is going on here. John cannot even find assistance or refuge in a place that was home to him.
We also get to see yet another person who raised John throughout his entire life. Previously we knew that Marcus and Winston have mentored or supported John during his years, but the Director is actually someone who raised him as a young man. A later scene reveals various other men training in combat similar to John’s fighting style; which the director asks John if they are fond memories. It raises a thought; if John was raised in the same way as these other men, then will we eventually see another Baba Yaga? Or is John doomed to be the only one of his calibre?
The Fanboy Revealed
In one of the most hilarious parts of Parabellum, we take a look at the ‘real’ Zero. Throughout the film, Zero and his assassins have been portrayed as ruthless and cunning – acting as the right hand of The Adjudicator. But when we see Zero alone with John in The Continental it all changes.
Zero moves closer to the legendary hitman, and much like what any of us would do if we met Keanu or John, he starts fanboying the living hell in front of him. Zero starts blabbering about how he’s a huge fan, and yet we can’t help but enjoy both Zero’s attempt to get his idol’s attention and John’s utterly confused and disturbed look of ‘what the hell?’.
We also start realising that the entirety of Zero’s actions in the film was purely just looking and being badass to impress Baba Yaga. For example, Zero’s first encounter with John was preparing a knife fight before being interrupted by a line of school children; Zero’s reaction “I wouldn’t have stopped” is a failed attempt to impress John considering he did stop.
Zero does the whole villainy “We’re the same, you and I” speech; to which John (busy being showered affection by his dog) practically wants to slowly back away from this fanboy. Even Zero’s loud and proud exclamation in Japanese about being a “master[s] of death” like John is swept away.
It’s a great moment that defines Zero as a character and represents our nerdiness and probably our reaction if we ever encountered Keanu. Mark Dacascos himself was a massive fan of the films and Keanu’s legendary kindness before he signed on; so we’d like to imagine that Zero is basically the hitman incarnation of Mark.
Asia Kate Dillion plays The Adjudicator, an agent of the High Table whose mission is to investigate, evaluate and deliver a verdict on crimes against the High Table and the Assassin underworld.
Throughout the film, The Adjudicator visits Winston, The Bowery King and The Director to give them their sentence, before enlisting Zero to deliver harsher punishments to those that refused. However, there is one scene that stands out: The deconsecrating of the Continental NYC.
As John contemplates killing Winston to live, The Adjudicator arrives at this moment and Their composure is legendary. Despite confronting two armed and dangerous members that have broken the rules, They continue Their directive and offers the two a chance to regain their fealty.
As John and Winston refuse their orders, The Adjudicator simply turns around (still acknowledging that they could shoot Them in the back) and demonstrates the power of the High Table with a simple phone call.
The Adjudicator calls administration and with only a few words makes the Haven that is the Continental an open hunting ground. They also summon various waves of High Table Emissaries; showing just why The High Table rule the underworld. The Adjudicator throughout this entire scene maintains an entirely fearless and feared presence that concerns even John Wick, making Them one of the greatest villains in the series.
Asia Kate Dillion gives us a beautiful yet chilling delivery of the line:
“Your lives are now forfeit. High Table Emissaries will be joining you presently to see the removal of your souls from the property”
We honestly cannot wait to see more lines and performances like these in the sequels should The Adjudicator return.
Final Thoughts On The John Wick Series
And that’s our list! In honestly, it was incredibly fun to re-watch the films from an analytical point of view. As a massive fanboy of the series (much like Zero), it was great to pick apart the more underappreciated moments in the films, the parts where the writers, director, and the actors really nailed the more subtle parts of the film which value more love.
Limiting this list to 15 moments was painful as there were too many moments that went unloved. So we ask you: what do you think is an incredibly underrated moment in the series? Can you add any more insight to the ones on the list? And do you reckon Chapter 4 and 5 will have many great, subtle moments such as these?
“Be seeing you”