When John Wick was first announced it wasn’t that clear that the franchise would be anything special. After all, Keanu Reeves had made plenty of action films before that of varying quality, and elderly action hero coming back for revenge isn’t a unique idea by an stretch of the imagination. It honestly looked like a fun, little low-budget action movie that people might mention in passing now again and as a cool movie. Flixist didn’t even review the first movie, an oversight I will eternally regret.
What was delivered was one of the most stylish action films in years, with a flowing, kinetic direction that set it above its counterparts and used Reeve’s impressive action skills to deliver action sequences and fights the likes of we hadn’t seen. Not just that, but the film constructed a world that was so cool and interesting that you couldn’t help but want to see more. The first movie gave you a glimpse into a world of assassins and crime that seemed just utterly cool. The second film expanded on that (and on the body count). It was more of everything, for better or worse.
The third film, John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum? Is it up to the same quality and awesome of the first two? As our often monosyllabic and monotone hero would say in pitch-perfect understatement: yea.
John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum
Director: Chad Stahelski
Release Date: May 17, 2019
Parabellum, which means “prepare for war” in Latin, picks up minutes after John Wick: Chapter 2 ended. We find John Wick (legally obligated to write his whole name) stumbling through the streets of New York with his faithful dog and only an hour left before he is excommunicated by the High Table and becomes fair game to every assassin in the world. The goals of the previous films — kill everyone — now turned simply into survive until he can figure out a way to save his life — by killing everyone. I mean the plot really doesn’t make much sense, but there’s a slim chance that he can talk some of the folks who make all the assassin rules into not killing him so he goes to Cassablanca and enlists the aid of Sofia (Halle Berry) and her two badass dogs. Guns, lots of guns, ensue.
Parabellum has the best action and fight sequences I’ve seen in Western cinema in a long time. Unlike Chapter 2 most of the cast that Wick goes up against are trained fighters, including plenty of top grade talent harvested from The Raid films. This sets the action apart in a way that Chapter 2 suffered, and elevates the creative and dynamic fight sequences to an entirely new level. Of course, it helps that Reeves is just so damn good at this kung fu stuff. Not having to cut around stunt doubles, CGI, and slow movement adds a visceral edge to these films that is hard to find anywhere else. But you already knew that from the first two films so let me just say that Parabellum is something even more than those.
It helps a lot that director Chad Stahelski seems to have found his footing now that he’s directed two films on his own. His direction this time around is cleaner, crisper, and less disorienting so the fight sequences all feel powerful. They’re also choreographed better than most dances you see, and each one has a unique gimmick that you’ve never seen before. A battle in a narrow hallway of an antique weapon museum is nothing short of breathtaking, and the final 30-minute long action sequences is just one straight up action thesis. I wasn’t sure if Stahelski was the right choice to keep this franchise moving forward but now there is no doubt in my mind that he can handle it. Hell, even when he goes full CGI, like in the bike action sequence at times, it’s still stellar. I can’t begin to tell you just how blown away you’ll be by every moment.
Reeves is, of course, exactly what he needs to be throughout the film, delivering fight sequences that few other Western actors could even begin to attempt and deadpanning through it all. The only real addition to the cast otherwise is Halle Berry, who plays more of an extended cameo role than anything else, but delivers none the less. It’s clear that she’s not quite at the level of gun play and fisticuffs the Reeves is, but their extended action sequence together is a balletic duet of guns, fists, and dogs biting guys in the crotch — to the point that you get a little tired of watching guys get bitten in the crotch by dogs. Excessive doesn’t begin to define the violence in this movie, and I could easily see it wearing down some viewers, but others will love it.
The screenplay is clunky at times, which is a shame since the first two films were actually pretty solid in that regard, but Reeves delivers every line with such commitment that it hardly matters. It’s also not that important because there are long stretches of this movie with basically no talking. The screenplay probably just said something like “They fight. You got this. John Wick kills people.” and then the screenwriters just assume another 10-15 minutes of movie was taken up and they could start writing words again. That’s a good thing, of course. We come to John Wick to see John Wick kill people, and he does, and its awesome, and you’re going to love every minute of it.
There are some massive plot holes in this movie, but it’s hard to pick at them. The entire concept of John Wick is to set up fight sequences and that means plot holes, not the least of which is why no one shoots John Wick in he head the moment they see him. This is John-fucking-Wick, everyone knows him, everyone knows he killed three guys in a bar with a fucking pencil. The moment you see John Wick, especially now that he has a $14 million bounty on his head, you shoot him. Obviously, not just shooting the hero is a flaw in any action movie but, man, do they suck at it in this one.
I will say that the world feels a little less stable as it expands its mythos thanks to these logical inconsistencies, and while it doesn’t make the movie worse I hope they tie things a bit more tightly for the sequel and TV show. One of the best parts of John Wick is the alternate reality it takes place in. The Continental and its rules, the respect between assassins, the secret coins passed between those in the know. It’s just all so damn cool, and I hope the can keep it together. The world definitely expands even more this time around, and it’s hard to say if it was just too much or simply the fact that they’re building this as a franchise now not just a trilogy. I think it’s the latter, and that makes the movie all the cooler.
Honestly, I’ve spent far too much time analyzing this movie when all that really needs to be said is that it is amazing. It seems improbable that they’ll ever be able to top this movie, but I could have said that about the last two as well and they did. John Wick is an action force, delivering creative and interesting fights we just aren’t seeing anywhere else in Western (and maybe even Eastern) cinema.