After gunning down a member of the High Table — the shadowy international assassin’s guild — legendary hit man John Wick finds himself stripped of the organization’s protective services. Now stuck with a $14 million bounty on his head, Wick must fight his way through the streets of New York as he becomes the target of the world’s most ruthless killers.
John Wick films, for all their excesses, do something interesting: They take this hyper-horrible underworld and shellac it with a veneer of quasi-religious bureaucracy.
Despite overseeing a sprawling crime network built on circumventing societal law, the High Table has plenty of rules of its own. And when the underground criminal association is discussed, it’s often in the same reverent, fearful tones that folks might’ve spoken of the Catholic Church during the Inquisition.
And certain crime enclaves, such as the Continental Hotel in New York, are treated almost like churches—places of refuge and sanctuary, where no “business” can be conducted. The organization’s language also makes generous use of religious terms to stress its spiritual tang as well as its twisted sense of morality and honor.
And when John seeks to return to serve the High Table, his “ticket” is an Eastern Cross (which, unlike our more familiar Latin cross, has a slanted beam toward the bottom). Before his quest, someone takes that cross and uses it as a branding iron—burning an inverted cross on John’s back.
A woman tells Wick that his journey back to paradise “begins in hell,” perhaps a reference to Dante’s Inferno. (All of the John Wick films occasionally seem to lift references from Dante’s work.) We hear rumination on the very word “assassin” and its roots: The speaker believes that it actually references those who are “faithful and who abide by their beliefs.”
John’s nickname, Baba Yaga, comes from Russian folklore, where she’s a bogeywoman of some renown. (John Wick: Chapter 3 is the second movie I’ve reviewed in 2019 name-checking Ms. Yaga, in fact; a more literal interpretation was found in Hellboy.)
In the Continental, the concierge is called Charon: In Greek mythology, Charon serves as a boatman ferrying souls from the land of the living to the land of the dead, and he demands a coin as payment. (Interestingly, specially made coins and tokens are used in payment throughout the Wick movies, as well.) Various scenes featuring hotel boilers or metal smelters seem intended to stress that John is in some metaphorical hellscape.
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