John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is not in the business of taking prisoners. And neither, it seems, is the production design team of this riotous, relentless third installment of the John Wick franchise. It’s not just the violence that’s excessive. Pretty much every frame is a flying kick to the senses.
Like both of its predecessors “Parabellum” features quite a lot of people being shot. Action filmmaking is one of the purest forms of cinema that exists, and fight choreography can be as graceful, intricate, and demanding as ballet. On a level of pure craft, then, the movie is unquestionably great action filmmaking.
Directed once again by stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski, “Chapter 3” begins precisely where “Chapter 2” left off. John Wick, the once-retired assassin spurred back into action by the death of his puppy, has been declared “excommunicado” by the High Table — the leadership of the shadowy secret society of killers to which he once belonged — as punishment for committing a killing in the Continental Hotel, the assassin world’s designated safe space. This means that he has a $14 million bounty on his head, and hundreds of his fellow contract killers are eager to claim the prize.
The franchise that received the career of Keanu Reeves has plenty of impressive stunts. It’s hard to single out one but we’ll have to settle for the roof to fall in. As the movie is approaching the end, Wick falls from a roof and all the way to the ground.
As he is falling, his body twists and turns as he gets tossed between the balconies of adjacent buildings. Surprisingly, he survives all this. The scene wasn’t entirely fake, it was made possible – like many of the film’s daring scenes – via a combination of stunts, special effects, and visual effects.
“The stunt team initially wanted to do the whole thing fully in-camera,”
“But at some point they realized that for the height Chad wanted, it was going to be too high to do safely.”
– Recalls Parabellum production visual effects supervisor Rob Nederhorst.
The stuntman’s costume was fitted with well-cushioned rubber pads to neutralize the impact of the fall. Reeves’ stunt double Jackson Spidell performed the stunt. The first section had him ending up in a mock fire escape, but one of the first takes, the crew noticed him landing hard.
“His back went like *this*,” says Nederhorst, miming a snapping action. “Even Chad who is a hardened stunt guy went ‘Oh boy’, and he exited the tent we watching the footage in and immediately went to make sure his guy was OK. But Jackson got up and goes, ‘Everything’s fine, how was that?’”
– Rob Nederhorst
The second part of the fall had the performer hit up against the fire escape, then slam a covering above some air-conditioning units, before falling on the ground (luckily, a stunt pad stood in for the ground). The two parts would be stitched together by Method, including with the aid of some digital double work.
Stitching the actual fall elements was of course only half of Method’s challenge. It also had to insert the bluescreen footage and its digital double into an alleyway. This was a significant digital build, based on multiple lidar and photogrammetry scans of alleys in New York and one in particular in Los Angeles.