John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, 2019.
Directed by Chad Stahelski.
Starring Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Anjelica Huston, Saïd Taghmaoui, Mark Dacascos, Lance Reddick, Jerome Flynn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tiger Hu Chen, Asia Kate Dillon, and Jason Mantzoukas.
Super-assassin John Wick is on the run after killing a member of the international assassin’s guild, and with a $14 million price tag on his head – he is the target of hit men and women everywhere.
Just like its predecessor, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum immediately begins where the overarching story left off, even more fittingly this time as Chapter 2 not only ended on a high note but concluded leaving audiences somehow salivating for more. I called it one of the greatest American action movies of the decade and I still stand by that statement (naturally, the movie was also one of my favorites of 2017), so considering that director and co-writer Chad Stahelski (alongside returning writer and characters creator Derek Kolstad, and new script inclusions Chris Collins and Marc Abrams) has once again upped the ante in terms of insane balls-through-the-wall gun-fu and bone-snapping, cartilage-tearing fisticuffs, it’s only fair to now designate the John Wick franchise as the greatest action saga of the century so far (only The Raid compares, and with this third entry, the crown is really up for debate).
With the walls closing in on Mr. Wick (and by walls, I mean pretty much anyone that knows how to pick up a weapon and is aware of the centrical international assassins guild), the now excommunicado Baba Yaga tensely (place extra emphasis on that word, as these movies conjure up more suspense in their first five minutes than most movies can over an entire narrative, which is all the more impressive here considering the overpowered, godlike combat abilities of the titular assassin that essentially tell us he’s never really in danger until possibly the climax) heads to the library. An unorthodox place to go when there’s a $14 million price tag as a reward for your death, but A: John has a few favors/tokens stored away for a rainy day such as this one and B: breaks a guy’s neck by throat-punching him with a book. This is roughly 3 minutes into the movie. It is also quickly followed by a battle inside of an armory/museum that leads to a barn where horses assist John Wick in disposing of no-name assassins way in over their head, try as they might for all of that life-changing green. Logically, the final payoff to this explosive opening (as if there weren’t already enough brutal payoffs) is a horseback chase through the streets of New York City.
Yes, there are face-melting sequences 10-minutes in (and about 100 times over throughout the 130-minute running time), but attention should be drawn to the fact that the action and choreography here is so ambitiously and skillfully crafted that we don’t even question how we get to these various fighting playgrounds. You just accept everything as is because the movie is so relentlessly exhilarating.
I lost count 20-minutes in but let’s say 150 people die in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Now, people generally kick the bucket from the same methods (gunshots, stab wounds, snapped necks, vehicular slaughter, Belgian Malinois ripping off testicles, horse kicks to the fucking face, KURT ANGLE OLYMPIC SLAMMING DUDES THROUGH A GLASS FUCKING FLOOR, his methods are endless!), but the cinematography, countless martial arts moves, enemy alterations and upgrades (there’s a scene where everyone gunning for John Wick is decked out head to toe in super armor, meaning he has to adjust his own techniques by either getting close for fatal cranium shots beneath the helmet or wailing away on them with bullet sponges until they finally pierce flesh), and little touches (comedic or bloody, sometimes a combination of the two), but the direction ensures that the unprecedented carnage feels fresh. New locales such as Casablanca and aesthetically vibrant stages such as a hall of mirrors filled with colorful LED screens only enhance the above, as does some more ominous music from returning composer Tyler Bates along with some epic classical music prefacing climactic let all hell break loose finales.
It’s a given, the set pieces are outstanding and possibly top what we saw in Chapter 2 (at the very least, they are even), but it’s also pleasant to report that the world-building and backstory to Mr. Wick continue to remain a vital presence where required. Angelica Huston plays a jaded no fucks given ballet aficionado (her character is basically similar to herself in the recent major interview she was a part of spanning her career and life), Halle Berry plays a fiercely badass assassin (although her aforementioned Belgian Malinois steal the movie from both death-dealers) that has a connection to John Wick (thankfully, nothing romantic), and Mark Dacascos makes for a fine primary combat villain as someone more interested in battling the legend out of respect and seeking an unforgettable confrontation rather than the massive bounty. There are also some South Korean assassins tearing their way through New York City, teasing some fast-paced hand-to-hand fighting that Keanu Reeves is absolutely capable of keeping up with.
The point is, those first 15 minutes I briefly glossed over are only a sample of what’s to come, and some more intriguing faces are added (one of the franchise’s greatest strengths is that it treats every individual as someone worth getting to know, regardless of what side they are on) while familiar ones return (Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne, in particular, are prominent presences). However, Asia Kate Dillon is the most important character addition, playing The Adjudicator, essentially dealing with the fallout of all the rules broken in Chapter 2. There are consequences for every action, and to a degree, most people certainly won’t expect from a crazy action flick that also is self-aware of its silliness (rather than going for cheesy one-liners, this series and Chapter 3 especially often find ways to remind us how ludicrous everything happening is).
Not all of the expanding touches work, as there’s a mysterious elder with power above all that is not given nearly enough time to make any lasting impression, and the trajectory of the narrative as a whole goes somewhere but also could qualify as filler. These movies are top-notch, but if they keep stretching out the story, well, that’s not going to do any good. There is something as too much of a good thing, so it might be seriously best to consider wrapping things up within two more movies at the most.
It’s also perfectly fine to accept that the series is in good hands; nearly every time I became worried or started to look for faults, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum provided more than enough excitement and firmly stayed strong narratively. Put it this way, if George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road was the legendary filmmaker showing youngsters how it’s done, this is Chad Stahelski firing back. Much like Chapter 2, Chapter 3 leaves you begging for more. At this point, the John Wick movies are becoming a new drug, so go get your fix. Prepare for more than war, prepare for constant exhilarating anarchy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com