Director Chad Stahelski’s ongoing saga of John Wick movies have become a household name in a matter of less than 5 years, and for good reason. As it stands now, John Wick as a body of work is an interesting and fresh take on the action genre from a variety of cinematic viewpoints. When the first film came out in 2014, it became an instant classic with the infamous “puppy murder that launched a thousand bullets” setup as well as impressive fight scenes throughout. Throughout all of the movies, John has shown himself to be a protagonist that is in some ways familiar to what we would consider a “cold-blooded action hero,” and yet also makes intriguing decisions and is presented in an unprecedented way. But more on that later as we work our way through John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum and what it has to offer moviegoers. Overall, Parabellum can be described as a satisfying continuation in this series which ties aspects of his characterization and thematic elements from throughout the films together, as well as building foundations for the next upcoming sequel. It does have its fair share of issues (mostly ones carried over from its predecessors), but if you enjoyed the past two films, get ready for more of what you loved, this time bigger and better.
As the viewers all know by now, John Wick is an ex-assassin who lost his wife to illness, soon after also losing his car and the puppy left to him by his wife to a violent break-in by Russian mobsters. This is the event that sets our whole story into motion, leading to Wick’s constant insistence that he is still retired one second and then murdering dozens of people for revenge the next. This third movie picks up right where the second left off, with John and his new pup running away from the Continental hotel after becoming excommunicado after murdering his blackmailer Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) on neutral hotel grounds. Now, he must escape and find a way to get out of this dangerous situation as he is pursued by assassins and High Table workers that he may have once called friends, and do so with a hefty bounty placed on his head too.
Back at the Continental in NYC, everyone that helped John Wick escape is having to deal with the consequences dealt out by the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon). Unnamed, mysterious, and tolerating no nonsense, the Adjudicator was sent to enact the High Table’s will and take over the Continental, which they carry out with an iron fist as a formidable foe to all of Wick’s remaining friends like Charon (Lance Reddick), Winston (Ian McShane), and Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne). Throughout Wick’s journey to find sanctuary and remove the price on his head, he encounters many people from his past, giving the audience more of an idea of who he is and how he got into this whole mess in the first place. For example, we meet a woman from Wick’s youth named simply The Director (Anjelica Huston), the strict Russian woman who trained John and many other young people to be ruthless fighters, and Sofia (Halle Berry), the tough manager of the Moroccan Continental that owes John a debt and shares his affinity for dogs.
The story is solid for an action film, with plenty of interesting parts to keep an audience watching, but don’t go in expecting a complex, gripping narrative that will completely enthrall you. If you know John Wick movies, you know that they’re competent in plot, but it’s certainly not the main focus. On the flip side of the coin, if you go in looking for action and fight scenes that will pump you full of adrenaline and delight fans of the martial arts, then you are practically guaranteed a splendid time. Parabellum kicks everything in the violence department up a notch, and both the energy and gore are more intense than ever (have you ever wanted to see a man killed with nothing more than a single book? John Wick can now fill this void in your life, you’re welcome). In particular, the scene of Wick and Sofia fighting their way through an old Moroccan stronghold with the help of her two attack dogs seems to already be a fan favorite fight scene. The choreography of battles can be a bit tedious if you’re not a combat lover, but even people who have no knowledge of fighting can appreciate the fluidity and creativity that the actors bring to these scenes. Speaking of the actors, the cast becomes even more star-studded for this film and everyone gives a great performance as we’ve come to expect. Some standouts worth mentioning include Halle Berry with her fiery personality and dry wit, Asia Kate Dillon with their piercing stare and foreboding presence, and of course, Keanu Reeves, unsurprisingly impressing audiences again as our action protagonist.
This harkens back to the interesting part of John Wick as a character and how he is presented in his own movies. To call John Wick an action hero would feel wrong, since within his own films, Wick acts as more of a morally-grey antihero than a James Bond-esque womanizing action hero. He’s known as a boogeyman, but he also holds a slight mercy inside of his heart that peeks out when he’s fighting someone who he considers a friend or as a decent person. In previous films, he’s elected to spare characters such as Francis (Kevin Nash), Cassian (Common), Ares (Ruby Rose), and various others that he could have easily finished off. If he were another action hero, he probably would’ve done just so, and the film would have undoubtedly framed him as justified in doing so. But that’s what makes John Wick different and interesting: killing does mean something to him, and he will do it to those whom he believes deserve it, but that’s not everyone standing in his way. Doing this doesn’t make him a good person necessarily, but it does make him unique enough to talk about. And of course, this performance is made completely earnest and believable by the beloved Keanu Reeves, who is so talented that he can commit some exceedingly gruesome murders whilst still being viewed as sympathetic to the audience.
Overall, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum has a lot to offer audiences as long as they understand what to expect from it, which most people should by the third movie. The actors are all believable, the story stands well enough on its own, the fight sequences are phenomenally orchestrated if a bit drawn out, and the character of John Wick himself is an entertaining enigma. And with a sequel already greenlit for 2021, this is a series that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, especially since it seems to be retaining its cultural relevance so far. If you’re a fan, definitely go see it, and if you tried John Wick before but weren’t interested, you won’t have your mind changed here. On the other hand, if you somehow haven’t seen any movies of this series, I would recommend that you at least give them a chance to impress. Go take a night to watch the first two films for yourself, and then decide if you’re in with the John Wick hype and need to see Chapter 3, or if this is a wild ride that you’d prefer to pass on.
3.5 STARS (OUT OF FIVE)