JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM

This review contains some spoilers for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, so if you haven’t seen it yet, stop what you’re doing right now and get yourself down to the theater! But yeah, you’ve been warned.

It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of the John Wick films. In my opinion, they’re two of the finest action films of the 21st century, and possibly ever. They’re the epitome of what can be accomplished in the action movie genre when it’s accompanied by sheer, unadulterated love and effort. Director Chad Stahelski, screenwriter Derek Kolstad, and Keanu Reeves didn’t just create a modern action icon with Wick, but an entirely fleshed out fantastical universe for him and the other characters to inhabit. While nobody expected it to grow into a franchise, John Wick: Chapter 2 showed that this character and world can continue to be explored and still be just as exciting.  

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum picks up right where the last one left off. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is now excommunicado from the Continental organization, rendering his life forfeit and with a $14 million contract on his head. New York Continental Hotel owner Winston (Ian McShane) gave Wick a one hour head start, which is quickly running out. As Wick gathers all of his means of survival, which includes meeting up with some old allies, all of the top killers in the world go after a piece of the pie. Unfortunately for them, this idiotic decision ends with them being killed in various violent fashions. Looks like John is back… again. 

It didn’t take long for the John Wick franchise to define itself and give it its own unique identity amongst other movie franchises. Sure, these are essentially shoot-em-up movies, but they’re done with such surehanded and seemingly effortless style and grace. What you come to expect from a John Wick film is Keanu Reeves doing a whole bunch of stunts while shooting people in the head, all directed with clean, fluid camerawork to show off all of the choreography. John Wick: Chapter 2 upped the ante on the first film, and this film ups it even more, which was probably thought to be impossible. All of the action that occurs during the 2 hours is insanely off the charts and to be honest, this feels like the most violent film I’ve ever seen. It’s gratuitously over the top and if the pencil kills in Chapter 2 made you wince, prepare to cringe this time around. One thing I love in a movie is a good exploding head, and there are loads of heads that get blown apart in a spectacular fashion. Your absurdly strong body army means nothing when Wick has army piercing shotgun rounds. 

I, of course, expected a lot of gunplay and Reeves capping fools left and right, but there was also a heavy dose of some intense hand-to-hand and bladed weapon confrontations. There was some of that in the prior films, but there are two extended scenes of that here, and it’s all glorious. When you see Wick and a group of baddies run into a museum where they’re surrounded by glass cases of practically every bladed implement you can think of, you know you’re in for a good time. I even fanboyed out pretty hard when Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman of The Raid fame showed up and had a lengthy fight scene with Reeves. While Reeves isn’t as skilled in the martial arts side as these two were, I was tense the entire time watching them go at it. Not to mention that the two have such charisma, so they fit right into the world. Mark Dacascos as Zero made for a more than formidable final boss and excitingly climactic showdown. What I’ve always found impressive about these films is how well it defines the characters and world with so little information. Some of these side characters only have a few scenes and very little dialogue, but you feel like you know everything about them. We know these are all deadly killers, but all you need is one scene of Zero fawning over Wick to show there’s much more to this assassin than meets the eye. 

It totally feels like everybody involved in this production sat down in a big conference room and just brainstormed for days about what ridiculous action sequences they could do for this sequel. “Let’s have a fight in a library and he kills someone with a book!” “Oooh, how about a scene where he’s on a horse being chased by motorcycles!” “We can have a giant glass room filled with giant glass cases for people to be thrown into!” The possibilities just seem endless for these people, but each sequence is just as exciting as the next. Each action scene has a clear energy and pace to it, where it logically progresses from somewhat normal to just straight up absurd. Whenever an action sequence starts with just some punches or some gunshots, your brain just starts running, wondering how they’re going to ramp up the scene. 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a story here, but that’s also to be expected from the series. The original John Wick wasn’t just popular due to the kinetic action, but because it had far more emotional weight than the rest of its genre counterparts. Wick is a character you can actually empathize with and it makes his exploits just that much more exciting when you see him accomplish his goals. It’s not just awesome watching spin, flip around, and shoot bullets, but also because we want to see him do it. It helps that Reeves completely sells the character, even the heavy dramatic scenes where he has to act. It’s a testament to how actors just need the right project and direction, because Reeves starred in Replicas, one of the worst films of this year, and was laughably bad there. Here, he slips right back into Wick’s shoes and you feel that focus, determination, and sheer will. You can tell that all he wants is his wife or puppy back, but that’s never going to happen. He’ll always be the killer he’s meant to be. At first, I didn’t care for the Parabellum subtitle, but when Winston says that word, which turns out to be Latin for “prepare for war”, it all makes sense. It’s literally John Wick: Chapter 3 – Prepare for War

After the bonkers opening half-hour, the story does slow down as Wick travels to Casablanca to meet up with his old associate Sofia (Halle Berry) and set up some future plot elements. While the action does take a brief hiatus, the pace as it sets up the rest of the film still feels very deliberate and fluid, just like Wick himself. All of this just opens up more windows to look in on this criminal underworld, with only small bits of its history doled out with dialogue. You learn more about the High Table, the Elder who sits above the High Table, and even more insight to the politics behind the criminal underworld. This Casablanca section also fulfilled one of my dream scenarios I was hoping for in Chapter 2. There’s a video game series from a while back called Dead to Rights , which was a third-person shooter where you had a malamute partner. You had the ability to sick the dog on anybody you wanted and with Wick now having a giant pitbull, I was hoping we would see dog chomping action. Well, that adorable pitbull doesn’t get any action, which all go to Sofia’s German Shephard partners. Donning kevlar vests and all, these two dogs are the most loyal and fearless dogs you’ll ever see. As Wick and Sofia get into an lengthy gunfight with dozens of bad guys, Sofia will whistle or signal for a dog to run up and grab a guy’s arm, leg, jugular, or groin. It made be giggle each time seeing the dogs jump into frame to take a guy down, then Wick or Sofia coming in to finish the guy off with a headshot. I was especially impressed with Berry’s stuntwork and weapons handling, where you can clearly tell that she actually performed these feats. That John Wick School of Training sure does wonders, that’s for sure.

One thing I really adore about this series is the usage of the word “chapter” in the sequel titles. Since these films take place literally right after the previous one, this does really feel like the next chapter in this overarching story. I was expecting John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum to be the movie that would make the series the best trilogy ever, but surprisingly, it’s not a trilogy. I was expecting a bit of a finality to this installment, with John dying after taking down the High Table, or something to that effect, but nope. The High Table is still around and John is still alive, ready to kick some more ass and take no names… because they’ll all be dead. Because of my expectations, which were completely my fault, the ending felt a bit abrupt to me, but upon future viewings, which I plan to do very, very soon, I’m sure it’ll sit more right with me. Still, like the other two films, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum tells another complete story about a man who will never be able to have a normal life, no matter how bad he may want it, while opening the door for some new, exciting possibilities. While I would have been okay with the series ending here, if the future installments keep up this same level of quality and creativity, I’ll be there, ready to hoot and holler again. 

10/10

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