The John Wick saga is one of the finest examples of how modern action movies have evolved over the decades. The Matrix was a pivotal turning point for the rejuvenation of well-crafted Hollywood action with superb practical effects, excellent fight choreography and daring stunt work. John Wick embodies all of these traits but more importantly, creates some of the most fascinating world-building we’ve ever seen in the action genre. Here’s a rundown of the entire story of John Wick leading up to John Wick: Chapter 4 this March.
Before we dive into each movie and its plots, some crucial world-building first needs to be established. John Wick isn’t just a series of generic action movies about a stoic badass killing people in creative ways. It boasts a meticulously crafted world of assassins hidden in plain sight – those that operate under a unified secret organisation that works from the shadows, yet has its own set of stringent laws that govern an “order of assassins.” Let us explain.
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The World of Assassins
The John Wick movies take place in our world but hidden from public knowledge is the existence of an order of assassins. It’s believed that assassins originated from Arabia as hashishi, a derogatory term for Nizaris meaning “eater of hashish”. This would later evolve to hashashin meaning relentless killer, later becoming assassins to the world.
The Continental, a chain of hotels around the world of John Wick, is neutral territory for high-end criminals and professional killers. The Continental serves the world of assassins under the High Table, a council of twelve prolific crime lords that govern criminal organisations around the globe. The High Table and its various organisations have so much power that even law enforcement allows the criminal underworld to operate freely without intervention.
The Continental has its own form of untraceable currency in gold coins that act as payment methods for criminals and killers. The High Table also has a group of Adjudicators responsible for maintaining order in The Continental’s global chains. The criminal underworld of John Wick is basically a large-scaled web of organised crime
Prelude: The Baba Yaga
Our story begins with a boy named Jardani Jovonovich born in Belarus. Orphaned as a child, Jardani would be taken in by the Tarasov Russian Mafia and raised as an assassin. Jardani would grow to become one of the most notorious assassins in the world, deeply feared for his renowned skills and reputation for his brutal proficiency. Later adopting the name John Wick, he would go on to blaze a trail in the criminal underworld, earning him the nickname “Baba Yaga” – the boogeyman, or rather, the man you call to kill the boogeyman.
After a life of serving the High Table and The Continental, John finds a way to get out of his profession. After performing an “impossible task” for crime boss Santino D’Antonio, the brother of High Table crime lord Gianna D’Antonio, John is able to retire and marry his wife, Helen. Unfortunately, Helen would later contract a fatal disease and pass way.
Chapter 1: Man’s Best Friend
The story of the first John Wick movie picks up after the death of Helen. John is mourning her death, living a retired life from being an assassin. He receives a last present from his late wife in the form of a puppy, which John quickly grows attached to. After an altercation with some thugs at a gas station, the thugs break into John’s house, kill his puppy and steal his prized car.
One of the thugs turn out to be Iosef, the spoiled son of Viggo Tarasov, the boss of the same Russian mafia that trained John. Iosef was unaware of this information but Viggo fearfully knew John would retaliate – and he does.
John once again uses his expertise as an assassin, determined to kill Iosef and bring down Viggo who quickly puts a $2 million bounty on his head. Despite the Russian mafia’s best efforts, John is able to quickly and efficiently dispose of any opposition. Returning to New York’s Continental, John meets its owner and old friend Winston who welcomes him back into the fray, though John is adamant that he’s still retired.
John eventually gets his revenge against Iosef but is forced to kill Viggo in the process, which attracts a lot of attention from the world of assassins. The legendary Baba Yaga is back and not everyone is thrilled about it.
Chapter 2: A Blood Oath
Sometime later, John is visited by Santino D’Antonio in his home. Hearing of John’s recent escapades, Santino tries to convince John to honour a blood oath (the same one that allowed him to retire) and perform one more task for him. The blood oath is literally sworn by a marker medallion containing John’s bloody fingerprint, which must then be honoured according to the High Table’s code. John refuses, which leads Santino to destroy John’s house and leave him with almost nothing.
With no place to turn, John reluctantly accepts Santino’s task to kill his sister Gianna D’Antonio in Italy so that Santino can claim her spot in the High Table. John does exactly as he’s told, allowing Santino to claim his late sister’s position of power. However, once he returns to New York, he discovers that Santino has put a massive bounty of $7 million on his head. John fends off several assassins including his old friend and assassin, Cassian.
John is on a vengeful rampage to kill Santino and now being blacklisted from The Continental, he seeks help with an underground crime boss known as the Bowery King. John’s new alliance with the King allows him to close his gap on Santino who has fled to New York’s Continental. Despite Winston’s warnings that killing on Continental ground is prohibited, John puts a bullet in Santino’s head and is excommunicated from the organisation forever.
Chapter 3: Excommunicado
The story of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum picks up directly after the events of the last movie. John, now excommunicated from the Continental, is on the run with an enormous bounty on his head. This message is relayed to the entire underworld, so John has no choice but to fight off other assassins out to kill him. A High Table Adjudicator is sent to the New York Continental’s Winston and Bowery King, informing them that they have seven days to resign from their positions for helping the fugitive John Wick.
John gets safe passage to Casablanca through the Ruska Roma crime syndicate and meets Sofia, an old friend who also swore a marker medallion’s blood oath with John. Honouring her marker, Sofia agrees to help John get to the “Elder”, the only person in the world who has higher authority than the High Table. After fighting their way out of Casablanca, Sofia drops John off in the desert and is told to walk in a certain direction until he can’t walk anymore. Only then will the Elder find him.
John collapses in the desert but is brought to the Elder, who agrees to forgive John of his transgressions as long as he kills Winston and swears to serve the High Table for the rest of his life. John severs his ring finger and gives his wedding ring to the Elder.
John returns to New York’s Continental but refuses to kill Winston. The furious Adjudicator removes the neutral status of The Continental, allowing assassins to close in on them. John protects Winston and kills the invading assailants. Cornered on The Continental’s rooftop, the Adjudicator witnesses Winston shoot John who violently plummets to his “death” off the side of the building. It turns out that John survived the fall and was taken in by the Bowery King. The two agree to join forces against the High Table.
The story continues when John Wick: Chapter 4 releases in cinemas on 24 March 2023.