John Wick Moments That Went Too Far

The John Wick movies thrive on maximalism. It's their secret weapon. Released in 2014, the original "John Wick" appeared to be a revenge thriller built from spare and familiar elements. Instead, director and former "Matrix" stuntman Chad Stahelski, uncredited director David Leitch, and writer Derek Kolstad unleashed a sprawling underground of hitmen, John Alberto Leguizamo running a chop shop, and an underworld-only hotel that forbids assassinations on-site. "John Wick" took its world-building and stylistic excesses farther than unsuspecting audiences could guess. As a result, it was a smash at the box office. It's little wonder that "John Wick: Chapter 2" and "John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum" followed suit, financially and artistically.

Given that, let's look at the "John Wick" movie moments that deliberately took things too far and shifted the needle for the films they occurred in and for action cinema in general. The maximalism of "John Wick" is no longer the exception. It's the standard.

Daisy gets murdered (John Wick)

The inciting incident of "John Wick" is a dealbreaker for its audience. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) doesn't take revenge on the Tarasov crime family because they killed his wife (she's already passed from a terminal illness) or his mentor, Marcus (whom they hire to kill Wick). Wick goes full Baba Yaga on the Tarasovs because they kill his beagle puppy, Daisy. "John Wick" is the antithesis of and a challenge to those who cannot tolerate animal death in art. For many, it goes too far. It's also an incredible storytelling decision.

Daisy is no mere dog. She's a gift from Wick's terminally ill wife, Helen (Bridget Moynahan), his last living link to her memory and a totem through which to grieve and love again. In retrospect, the opening passages of "John Wick" are ludicrously subdued for this franchise. There's a world in which John Wick goes the way of Jackson Briggs from Channing Tatum's "Dog" and heals his heart through an animal-human bond. Sadly, it's not to be. Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) shifts Daisy off this mortal coil and John Wick is working again.

Given how wild the "John Wick" movies become, ending Daisy's life is a smart catalyst. It's a moment that goes too far for many audience members, but it also opens the door to a world of extreme (and extremely cathartic) action set pieces. It's the first instance in which "too far" is actually "just right" for this franchise.

The Red Circle (John Wick)

For the first two-thirds of its run time, "John Wick" is a good action movie. The action setpieces are tightly choreographed. The cinematography, courtesy of Jonathan Sela ("Deadpool 2"), is naturalistic and evocatively stylish. "Wick" feels like it will be a solid but minor entry in Keanu Reeves' blockbuster canon. Then Wick goes to The Red Circle.

The Red Circle is the Tarasov crime family's stronghold. It is the epitome of sleek sleaze, a paradise of fluorescent neon and blue hues that is one part spa, one part nightclub. From the second Wick arrives there, the visual language of "John Wick" kicks up a notch. So does the violence. Wick eliminates two Tarasov goons in a lavish bathroom by stabbing one in the ear and drowning the other in a shallow sink before snapping his neck. The film is suddenly going farther and harder. It's the tip of the iceberg. As lovely techno music booms, Wick heads into The Red Circle's bathhouses, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. However, things don't go "too far" (in the best sense) until a half-naked Iosef flees onto The Red Circle's dance floor. There, intricate and brutal gunplay occurs while clubgoers keep dancing, only fleeing after the moment when the film levels up in every sense with Wick eliminating a horde of identically dressed bodyguards. He shoots one through a railing. He uses judo to take down another while changing his gun cartridge. By the time this scene reaches its conclusion, "John Wick" is another strain of action movie entirely. "Too far" is its new normal.

Marcus gets killed (John Wick)

It is insane that a character played by Willam Dafoe is dead in the "John Wick" universe because it's hard to imagine an actor more suited to an underground of cryptography-happy assassins than Dafoe. Dafoe brings gravitas to everything. His famously exaggerated features and deep reserves of talent are an asset to any franchise (look at the MCU and DCEU for proof). Dafoe is an actor the "Wick" franchise should be building towards utilizing. Instead, he's already come and left it.

Dafoe plays Marcus, John's sort-of mentor and an embodiment of the underground's old guard. He is murdered by Viggo Tarasov (the late Michael Nyqvist) and, on paper, the killing is a savvy storytelling decision. Tarasov ending Marcus' life confirms his standing as the film's main villain, a title his son Iosef holds at the movie's outset. The particularly brutal beatdown of Marcus that leaves Viggo icing his ripped-open knuckles and Marcus with a knife in his leg before slugs pierce his chest suggests the world as John has known it is over. That's all good. Simultaneously, the death of Marcus feels like salt in John's wounds. It does not (and cannot) carry the weight of Daisy's slaughter in the film's first reel. This is a moment when "John Wick" adding to its body count dulls its emotional impact, even if the impetus to do so is sound.

Wick runs over a goon and shoots him through the roof (John Wick)

The John Wick movies are growing more expansive and so is their violence. A moment of carnage described in the first "John Wick" is staged in "John Wick: Chapter 2," and in "John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum." Horses, books, and old-timey revolvers are viable weapons. Escalation is inevitable in any film series, and the "Wick" movies have become gleefully large and stylistically strange. One action beat in "John Wick" hints at where the franchise is heading and it's a doozy.

Wick, driving a Dodge Charger, is pursued by Viggo Tarasov and Viggo's right hand, Avi (Dean Winters), in heavy-duty SUVs. If that weren't enough, there are also goons on the ground trying to riddle John with bullets. At one point, a horde of these street-level enforcers appears to have Wick's car cornered. Wick backs the vehicle straight into them. He hits one unfortunate bad guy who tumbles onto the vehicle. For safety's sake, John whips out his pistol and shoots the guy through the roof of his car while still driving it in reverse.

This kill is undeniably excessive. It's also ingenious. In Guy Ritchie's equally excellent modern action film, "Wrath of Man," Andy Garcia's Agent King says they should let Jason Statham's crime boss H "paint." Even violence can be artistic. With this wildly creative burst of gunplay, "John Wick" confirms its aiming for Picasso or Monet-worthy action.

Entering the subway (John Wick: Chapter 2)

The extended cavalcade of action that occurs when John Wick enters the Westville World Trade Center in "John Wick: Chapter 2" begins with a violinist street performer. This is incredibly fitting. The barrage of beatdowns Chad Stahelski then stages is so eccentric and extreme that it's symphonic. Symphonies have movements and so does the Westville set piece. The best symphonies have stretches of music that burn themselves into memories — so does the Westville set piece. 

Wick killing a man with a pencil is as memorable as any action cinema moment from the last 20 years. That's also true of his and Common's gun duel while headed towards the subway. Against the bone-white backdrop of Westville WTC's austere hallways, Wick and Cassian (Common) shoot at one another. No one notices because both utilize silencers. The scene is simultaneously jaw-dropping and hysterical. Yes, New Yorkers are jaded, but they're not "shrug at a mall-set gun battle" jaded. This implication is a bridge too far that works because "John Wick: Chapter Two" works best when it's playing over its skis. That vibe carries into a subway train knife fight that begins once most of the car has emptied and crucially, not all of it. When this ecstatic sequence of action ends, the remaining passengers hysterically bolt, and Cassian is prepared to live the rest of his life with a knife sticking out of his chest. That's more Tchaikovsky-level garish bombast than anything the Russian composer ever wrote.

Wick switches weapons (John Wick: Chapter 2)

Keanu Reeves did extensive weapons training for his role in the "John Wick" films. The proof is online. The proof is also on screen in the catacombs shootout from "John Wick Chapter 2," which features a series of gun ballets so absurdly precise that Reeves would have to be a weapons expert to execute them. John is fighting for his life in a series of underground catacombs, assassins closing in from all sides. He uses a sniper rifle to fend them off. When it runs out of ammo, he throws it at an unsuspecting mark and then whips out a pistol to finish him. That's not enough. Wick runs to a nearby alcove where he's stashed a shotgun and ammo belt. He then proceeds to double-barrel his way to freedom.

To be clear, Wick uses three different weapons in approximately 30 seconds. He does so with maximum efficiency. Few action heroes in cinema history have been so brutal with such brevity, but "John Wick Chapter 2" barely registers John's accomplishment. Survival is more important than style. The film's priorities qualify as a rationalization of the ludicrous, proof that "John Wick Chapter 2" has pushed the envelope farther than audiences were ready for. They're on the ride and Reeves, with all his skill, is in the driver's seat.

'Somebody please get this man a gun.' (John Wick: Chapter 2)

The "John Wick" films aren't renowned for their acting. Action scenes are the franchise's priority. That said, the "John Wick" films aren't lacking in memorable performances. As the extensive underground Wick navigates grows wider and stranger, so too do the characters that populate it, all of whom offer talented performers the chance to cut their teeth on meaty roles. Lance Riddick is iconic as The Contential's manager, Charon. Jason Mantzoukas got to play an informant memorably named "The Tick Tock Man." But the MVP of the "John Wick" films is Laurence Fishburne, whose Bowery King is one of the actor's best-ever characters.

"John Wick: Chapter 2" winkingly reunites Fishburne and Reeves, tapping the livewire chemistry which made "The Matrix" films crackle but letting both actors flex different thespian muscles. Where Fishburne's Morpheus was enigmatic and sleek, the "Bowery King" is gleefully batty and menacing. Accordingly, Fishburne chooses to chew the scenery in a way no "Wick" actor has before. He elongates every vowel of the phrase, "Seven million dollars is a lot of money, Mr. Wick." His grin puts the Cheshire Cat to shame. And in the performance's piece de resistance, he rolls his eyes into the back of his head and moans, "Somebody please get this man a gun."

This line reading is so ridiculous that it approaches campiness. The movie can hold it. Fishburne goes too far for naturalism but proves the "John Wick" movies have never needed naturalistic performances.

Death by literature (John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum)

As a performer, basketball player, and human being, Boban Marjanovic is the epitome of "too far." The seven-foot-four-inch 34-year-old Serbian and current Houston Rocket is capable of dunking without ever leaving the ground. During his tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers, he had a web series with Tobias Harris titled "Bobi and Tobi." Once, for ESPN, the two searched for dinosaurs in Hawaii. There has never been anyone so simultaneously quirky and extreme as Marjanovic, which is why his role as an assassin makes so much sense in "John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum." "Quirky" and "extreme" are the franchise's cornerstones.

That said, Marjanovic's imposing gait begs the question: How on Earth does the six-foot-one-inch Keanu Reeves best someone much taller than him in hand-to-hand combat? The answer is "a library." Reeves and Marjanovic throw down in the New York Public Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, utilizing all sorts of ancient tomes as they do. In one particularly brutal stretch of their brawl, Wick shoves a book into Earnest's mouth then palm slaps it forward. That would defeat a mere mortal. Earnest isn't one. Wick has to go farther. He lays the book on the table and slams Earnest's neck onto it with such force that it snaps.

This is going way too far on multiple levels. It also makes perfect sense. It's the way a character played by Marjanovic should be defeated, even if it wouldn't work in reality. Too far is just right.

Eye stabbing (John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum)

The antique store throwdown in "John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum" is a contender for this century's best action scene. Accordingly, it's full of awe-inspiring "too far" moments. Wick throws a knife into a goon who pulls that knife out of himself and tosses it back. At one point, Wick throws successive knives into an assailant's hand, shoulder and forehead like he's tossing darts at the pub. These beats are simply appetizers for the knife fight sequence's main course. Having already disposed of at least a dozen enemies, Wick battles two employing ancient and rusty blades. One of them receives a dagger in the skull that Wick slams hammer-like downward. The other ends up in a headlock. The headlock's just the start. Wick takes a knife, and in an unbroken shot, slowly shoves the blade into his opponent's open eye. It doesn't even matter that immediately after this, Wick tosses an axe across the room to finish someone off. The eye is the pinnacle. The axe is its coda.

As outlandish as all this is, the antique store fight is proof that "John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum" is a masterpiece of calibration. The knife-in-eye moment is objectively too far, and yet, it is the perfect peak for every beat that's preceded it. If the scene ended any other way, it might be a disappointment. Instead, "Parabellum" pays off the tone it sets up and the action it promises. It's more appropriate than it is too far.

Horse kicks an assassin to death (John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum)

The "John Wick" franchise has only left New York City, yet it almost seems like a travelogue. Each movie has found inventive, memorable locations in which to stage its action, and the latter two almost revel in revealing a slightly warped Manhattan. Case in point: Horse stables aren't the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to New York City or action movies, but "John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum" employs both for a "too far" moment that must be seen to be believed.

Some of the assailants pursuing Wick track him to a stable. Wick is hoping to procure a ride, and the goons are determined to stop him. Hoping to complete his task without scaring the steeds he's surrounded by, Wick positions his enemy by one horse's rear and slaps it. The horse kicks, crumpling the man in an instant.

At the risk of being hyperbolic, action cinema has produced hundreds of awe-inspiring moments. The horse kick death is in the top 20. This moment goes so far that it winds up being logical in the context of the franchise. Of course, John Wick would use a horse to kill someone. Duh. Shame on his opponent for assuming he was safe in an environment that's mostly filled with hay. John Wick could probably kill someone with hay, too, but the horse kick is more efficient. It's righteous, extreme, and a bar setter for all of "Parabellum."

Wick vanishes (John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum)

In the first "John Wick," Wick is compared to the Baba Yaga, a nightmarish figure from Slavic folklore. It's a nickname he earned because of his foes' inability to kill him. In "John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum," however, Wick does something legitimately mythic. He vanishes.

While facing down Zero (Mark Dacascos) and other assailants in New York City's Grand Central Terminal, Wick waits for a crowd to move in front of him. When they do, he disappears. The film doesn't offer a shot of him emerging from the crowd moments later, having blended in briefly. It doesn't explain the moment, well, ever. From Wick's vanishing on, the ability to disappear is a part of the "John Wick" universe — at least if you're a master assassin.

This moment is both the "John Wick" movies going too far and honoring the askew universe they're set in. John is a key cog in New York City's hitman underground. Accordingly, he is versed in its customs. "John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum" establishes that Wick is a warrior worthy of fanboy reverence (Zero, his primary antagonist, all but worships the ground he walks on). It makes sense that Wick can do things almost no one else can, so he disappears. "Parabellum" later makes it clear that other top assassins can do this, too, further establishing the relative logic of the moment. Even the Baba Yaga would be impressed.

Dogs go haywire (John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum)

A YouTube video released by Lekhanh Productions refers to a scene from "John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum" as "dog fu." It is an apt description. During a Morroco-set showdown between Berrada (Jerome Flynn), John Wick, and Sofia (Halle Berry), Sofia's bulletproof vest-wearing Belgian Malinois hounds take down an untold number of bad guys. They leap onto tables and flip into other bad guys, ripping into their prone bodies. These events occur amid rapid gunfire and martial arts-style takedowns.

More than any other entry on this list, Sofia's dogs getting in on the action epitomizes the "John Wick" movies going too far and how audiences expect that of them now. "Dog fu" sounds like a punchline from a spoof of action movies, but "John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum" lends the concept legitimacy. It does so through practical effects, human and animal stunt performers, and inventive combat unlike anything put on screen before. For the "John Wick" films, "too far" is a catalyst to ignite creative imagination. That's why, for all their brutality, the "John Wick" films spark joy. The "dog fu" sequence in Morroco pushes the franchise past the point of parody and into a world where the rules are the franchise's alone to write.