With the third installment of the John Wick franchise continuing to see solid returns at the box office and a fourth installment already announced, it seems clear that the Keanu Reeves' action vehicle is bringing something to the moviegoing audience that they've lacked in this era of high-budget blockbusters and CGI-infused epics. I've gone on record in the past saying that I believe the secret to Wick's success is in its approach to violence; melding realism with whimsy in a uniquely American fashion and producing this nation's first legitimate response to the Brit's premiere assassin franchise, James Bond.
What makes Reeves' Wick Bond-like where other successful American franchises have fallen short (culturally speaking) isn't in its similarities to the spy-franchise, but rather in its willingness to depart so openly from it. While American heroes like Jason Bourne, Jack Ryan, and even Ethan Hunt seem to emulate Bond's style and approach to varying degrees, Wick diverges from the expected and leans hard into a stylized alternate reality where firefights require grappling skills and the homeless man you gave your change to might actually be a trained assassin hiding his Rolex from your view.
Trained combatants masquerading as homeless men is a common urban legend that may have legitimate roots in some British SAS operations.
This departure from what we've come to expect could have been enough to make the Wick-flicks into a Matrix-like fantasy franchise, but it's where and how these films choose to anchor themselves in reality that makes Wick's fight scenes so jarring. Every time you start to think you're watching another superhero movie, the Wick series brings you back to earth with a powerful thud, grounding its over-the-top violence in reality, even when the circumstances are anything but realistic.
One scene in "John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum" perfectly captures this combination of gritty realism and seemingly surreal violence in a brief but dramatic fight between the titular Wick and one of the countless assassins he's forced to dispatch along the path to redemption. As the two wrestle with one another, they fall into an indoor pool, creating separation and offering each an opportunity to level their weapons at one another.
About as effective as this.
(Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Levi Schultz)
With both Wick and his opponent still submerged under the water, the goon opens fire, releasing three rounds into the pool that, in any other film, would have hit Wick square in the chest. Instead, however, the rounds immediately begin to flutter off course, reacting to the dense water separating the two men in what is perhaps the most realistic example of water's effect on traveling rounds I've ever seen depicted in film.
Wick then closes the distance between the two of them, pressing the muzzle of his weapon right into the neck of his opponent and firing, killing the bad guy and allowing Wick a precious moment to regroup.
While movies may show bullets whizzing through the water (often with the hero dodging them as he swims away), the truth is, water is about 800 times denser than air and has a huge effect on the trajectory and energy of a round. As the bullet strikes the water, its kinetic energy immediately begins to dissipate against the resistance of the thicker medium, allowing that drag to send it fluttering off course, and usually, rendering the bullet near enough to inert to make it no threat to any nearby assassins.
"John Wick: Chapter 3" is the first movie I've ever seen so clearly demonstrate water's effect on a bullet's path without taking the time to handhold the audience to explain the physics behind it. Instead, Wick simply shows the action as it would unfold and moves on, respecting the viewer enough to assume that you'll get it--even if it's something you've never seen on screen before.
As demonstrated by Mythbusters in an episode called "Bulletproof Water" that aired in July of 2005, just about anything you shoot at the water short of a .50 caliber round or a 12 gauge slug will disintegrate in less than three feet when fired into water. If you trust your math enough, you can even devise a rig that lets you shoot 5.56mm rounds at yourself like physicist Andreas Wahl did to prove the point, but I'm inclined to take Wick's word for it on this one.
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