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The most paused moments in the John Wick franchise

At the turn of the 21st century, Keanu Reeves helped to redefine action movies with The Matrix trilogy, and 14 years later, he did it again with John Wick. With three movies — and counting — full of frantic, bone-crushing action and strange rules and rituals that govern a shadowy society of assassins, the story of a very angry man and his very good dog has left audiences gasping for breath.

So is it any wonder that we want to hit the pause button every now and then? Not only do we occasionally need a moment to catch up with all the brutal fight scenes, but the details of the assassins and their world often move so quickly that we're drawn back to them again and again, trying to piece together the way it all works. From the inky indication of John's violent past to the shots that are just plain cool, here are the most paused moments in the John Wick franchise.

John Wick's back tattoo

We all knew going into the first John Wick film that things would get violent, whether it was seeing the trailers before or being warned by friends that we shouldn't get too attached to the dog that showed up in the first act. What we didn't know was just exactly how this seemingly good-natured guy learned how to beat a dude to death with a book or kill three men in a bar fight with a pencil.

But we got our first glimpse of his dark side shortly after Theon Greyjoy made what was arguably the worst decision that anyone has ever made in the history of deciding and killed John's beloved dog for giggles, and John decided that yeah, he was coming back. Before he set out for the Continental, John got ready for action with a nice shower, revealing that this quiet suburban widower had a full back tattoo that was somehow even more ominous than the box of guns and gold coins.

While there are a few notable elements to the tattoo, the most eye-catching one by far is the block lettering across the shoulders — Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat, which is the famous Latin phrase "fortune favors the brave." Of course, the entire scene is very shadowy and goes by pretty quickly, so unless you have both a familiarity with Latin phrasing and some good eyesight, you're going to want to pause it to take in the full effect. Once you do, you'll see how accurate it is for the rampage you're about to see. John will have some pretty good luck by going directly at his targets like a wrecking ball, while the guy who picked on an adorable puppy and then spent the rest of the movie running away is going to have some pretty rough time of things, even if it's pretty hard to blame that on luck.

That cool guy walkaway

The fight scenes of the John Wick movies are often hailed as being some of the best in modern cinema and justifiably so. As good as they are, though, they're not the only thing about these movies that deserve a little praise, and one of the elements that's often overshadowed is just how beautifully shot these films are. Scenes like the cyberpunk neon-lit club shootout in John Wick or the surreal hall of mirrors shootout in Chapter 2 are genuinely beautiful, and they give the franchise a bit of character that puts them on a very different level from the average shoot-em-up.

So for those of you in the audience that were looking for a new desktop background or phone lock screen, John Wick provides a wide variety of choices. One of our favorites? The shot of John walking away in slow motion from a burning pile of money after he takes on a church that's a front for Viggo Tarasov's criminal operations.

The "Cool Guy Walkaway" has a long and proud tradition in action movies, showing up in everything from Iron Man to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and it even inspired a song by the Lonely Island. John's version doesn't involve an explosion — although a burning pile of cash has its own intensity — but it makes up for it in pure style. The slow motion, the shadows falling across Reeves' face, the flames coming up from behind our hero as he descends deeper into his own personal hell, it's all pretty awesome, and well worth hammering that pause button to get your screenshot just right.

I'm thinkin' I'm back!

Thanks to the roles that have defined his career over the past 30 years, Keanu Reeves isn't always thought of as the most emotive actor. You want the goofy spaciness of Ted "Theodore" Logan or the zen quietude of Neo from The Matrix, he's your guy. If you want someone who's going to deliver a performance that's full of emotion and energy, well, he might not be your first call.

John Wick, however, shows us that's not always the case. Sure, John has the same quiet intensity that Reeves has brought to plenty of his other roles, and his understated reactions make a lot of the movie's more comedic moments work — for example, when that nervous cop says, "You, uh, workin' again, John?" — but that just makes it better when he finally snaps. And snap he does. The scene where John has his first face-to-face confrontation with Viggo is one of the most iconic moments of the entire franchise, with that half-growling, half-shouting delivery of, "Yeah, I'm thinkin' I'm back." It's a moment so cool it was featured in the trailer, and it makes the whole scene incredibly memorable.

It also makes it worth pausing, for a couple of reasons. For one, we rarely get to see Reeves in a full-on rage, and seeing that here makes it pretty easy to believe those rumors that Wick is actually a supernatural creature capable of terrible things. As for the other, well, considering that this scene builds to Reeves shouting, "You can either hand over your son, or you can die screaming alongside him," you might need to take that pause just to calm down. It's a good scene.

Puppy pause

If you're the kind of viewer who needs to check out DoesTheDogDie.com before you settle in for a night of cinema, John Wick probably isn't the ideal piece of entertainment. The heartbreaking death of a canine friend is, after all, the inciting incident for the film, and it happens pretty early on.

That said, there's actually a whole lot here for dog-lovers to enjoy. The most obvious is that the entire rest of the film is devoted to watching a guy make sure that everyone even remotely involved with being mean to his puppy gets got to a truly cartoonish extreme. More than that, though, is the ending, where his long, violent journey — which turns out to be the first step in an even longer and more violent one — brings him to someone else who needs a little help.

The scene of John in the veterinary hospital, desperate to do what he can for his own wounds and finding someone else who seems to just be waiting around to die, is an emotional climax that most dramatic films about relationships should be jealous of. Of course, this time around, the "someone" is a pit bull who's scheduled to be put to sleep, but the emotional connection is there, and the scene where John lets his nameless new best friend out of his cage is worth a pause, if only because it's one of the best shots of the dog that we get in the entire movie. It's not that we needed to confirm that this dog is, in fact, a good boy, but it's nice to get a look and know for sure.

The Markers are definitely worth a look

The first film really told us only what we needed to know about the shadowy world of assassins and their preferred hotels, but John Wick: Chapter 2 kicks that into high gear. We go a whole lot deeper into the meaning of those mysterious gold coins, and we find out that they're not the only elaborate trinkets that assassins are trading with each other. Now, we have the markers.

We learn about them more in Chapter 3, but here, we see that they're essentially a physical representation of a favor owed to someone who did you a solid and expects something in return. While they're small enough to fit in a pocket, they carry a considerable weight. If someone has your marker, you cannot refuse their request, no matter what it is, lest you bring the wrath of the entire assassin world down on your head. Rather than just scribbling down an IOU to keep track of who paid for pizza last time, though, the assassins, with their typical penchant for drama, have hidden needles in these medallions so they can formally seal their favors with bloody thumbprints.

Even more than the coins, the markers embody the compelling design sensibility behind the artifacts of John's murderous world, and they make us wish there was a John Wick art book so that we could see them in detail. As it stands, we'll have to make do with pausing the few close-up shots that we get, diving into the details — like the filigreed skull at the center of the marker's design — that just go by too fast on the screen.

Fine art in the world of John Wick

For a movie that's primarily about Keanu Reeves finding exciting new ways to do a murder, a whole lot of John Wick: Chapter 2 takes place in and around museums. In particular, the villainous Santino seems fond of surrounding himself with fine art, which has the nice side effect of providing us with some suitably dramatic shots and giving John Wick even more of its signature style.

That's not the only reason for all the art, though. Next time you're watching, give the pause button a workout and take a close look. If you do (and we did), you might be able to figure out a little bit of the symbolism that the films are playing with. Take, for instance, the scene where John meets up with Santino, agreeing to the favor his marker is demanding. The two of them are seated in front of Giovanni Fattori's La Battaglia di Custoza, an 1880 painting depicting a battle from the Third Italian War of Independence 14 years prior. Despite outnumbering their enemies 120,000 to 80,000, the Italian army was forced to retreat, leaving behind thousands of prisoners. Maybe we're reading too much into it, but Santino parking himself in front of a painting about how overwhelming numbers aren't always going to result in a victory — while sitting next to John Wick — might have some thematic resonance here.

Another great example comes in the shot of Santino betraying John and taking out a $7 million contract on him, in which he's standing in front of Antonio Canova's sculpture Ercole e Lica, depicting Hercules throwing his servant Lichas into the ocean to his death. The reason? Lichas betrayed him, delivering the tunic dipped in the poisonous blood of the Hydra — although he had himself been manipulated into doing it by Nessus. Perhaps if Santino had paid a little more attention to his surroundings and noticed the statue of compounding betrayals resulting in someone getting yeeted to their doom, he wouldn't have taken that contract out after all.

John Wick's battle in the hall of mirrors

Saying that the John Wick films have some great fight scenes is understating things quite a bit. These movies are essentially about six hours of crazy battles interspersed with people loving dogs and hating other people. If you're looking for the true visual highlights, though, they don't get a whole lot better than the hall of mirrors fight in John Wick: Chapter 2.

We're not sure why Santino even has a hall of mirrors in which to have a prolonged gunfight/MMA throwdown, but since the prevailing concern for the Wickiverse's interior designers seems to be "how cool would it be to get stabbed in here," that doesn't really matter. What matters is that we get some of the best visuals in the series, from the battle between John and the bodyguard played by future Batwoman Ruby Rose to the kaleidoscopic fights where John and his opponent are surrounded by infinite reflections of their brutal fistfight. Not since The Matrix Revolutions have we been as excited to see Keanu Reeves duking it out with infinite identical opponents, and let's be real, this one's better.

The entire sequence is about seven minutes of pure adrenaline, and virtually every shot is worth pausing to take it all in. Who says gratuitous violence can't be absolutely beautiful?

Knife to meet you

John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, despite the ever-lengthening and somewhat unwieldy title, is not a movie that wastes a lot of time. Seven minutes into that film, John is beating a gigantic dude to death with a book in the middle of the New York Public Library, and it doesn't really slow down from there. About 15 minutes after that, he's fighting people while riding a horse through midtown Manhattan. It's a wild ride.

The library fight isn't the kind of scene you pause, though, even if it is one that you'll watch over and over again. The fight scene that follows, however, is one that'll have you hammering on the button to freeze-frame it, if only to see how they managed to pull off those effects without actually killing anyone. When a group of assassins corners John in some kind of museum warehouse full of antique knives that someone has kept incredibly sharp — arguably the worst possible place on the planet that you could corner John Wick — we get some knife-throwing that goes past brutal and into hilarious. One poor dude gets pincushioned a full five times (and his ill-fated buddy gets four), which seems a bit excessive, even by John Wick standards.

This one demands to be paused for a couple of reasons. First, as grim as it might be, it's pretty fun to tally up the number of knives that John manages to huck at his opponents in the span of about 40 seconds (19, if you're curious). The other reason? Well, we definitely would've heard about it if Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves stabbed a bunch of dudes on set one day, so we're about 90% sure that all those knives sticking out of people were special effects. They're pretty convincing, though, even if you manage to catch them with a well-timed pause.

Punching the ticket and pressing pause

In the same way that our first glimpse of John's tattoo in the first film requires pressing pause to get a good look at it, the scene in Parabellum that finds John arriving at the Tarkovsky Theater in hopes of escaping the bounty on his head demands the same. For one thing, there's the ballerina that we see as John arrives who has a similar tattoo, right down to the Latin across her shoulders, proving that while he might be the most unstoppable graduate from the Director's training program, he's not the only one. It's an even more important scene to pause now that we know that this tattooed ballerina assassin (or ballerinassassin, as we like to call her) will be starring in her own spin-off movie

The trip backstage is also full of worldbuilding that goes by just a little too quickly for obsessive fans. The other ballerinas suffering for their art, the group practicing jiu-jitsu, and even the paintings lining the Director's cozy study are all crying out for more attention. The big one, though, is the golden rosary that John hands over, a "ticket" being taken by the Director that's then used to brand him with an inverted cross, right on his tattoo.

Of all the moments that show us the secret societies in John Wick, this is the one that feels the most insular. Everyone involved knows exactly what's going on, what's being demanded, and what the price will be. As much as we like digging through the background for details, this is one that we like to slow down just so that we can try piecing it all together.

Giving the finger

John's meeting with the Elder, a mysterious assassin king who lives in the desert outside Casablanca while dreaming up elaborate displays of fealty, doesn't exactly go well. Sure, John gets what he wants (his excommunicado status eliminated), but that only lasts for about 20 minutes before he's back on the High Table's bad side, and he also has to pay a pretty significant price.

If you've seen the movie, you absolutely remember this scene — it's somehow way more memorable than when he uses a horse as a murder weapon, and that's saying something. If you haven't seen it, well, let's just say that John takes off his wedding ring ... the hard way. Even by the standards of violence that we've already seen in these movies, it's both intense and unexpected, partly because it's John doing something to himself rather than to someone else. It turns out that the only person in these movies who can really take on John Wick is John Wick.

So whether it's your first time watching Chapter 3 or your 40th, you're probably going to want to take a quick break right before it happens and take a deep breath, maybe get yourself a glass of water, and mentally prepare. Just have that button ready for when John slides his hand across that tablet with the chisel on it. You'll thank us later.