Review: John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

I say this without hesitation or shame, I am in love with Keanu Reeves. 

With John Wick 3, The Hollywood nice guy and action movie supremo director Chad Stahelski have teamed up again to craft something near a masterpiece. A delightfully visceral, frenetic, and breathtaking romp through a fantastical Assassin-era New York, it misses the mark of perfection by a mere whisker. An unapologetically violent and ferociously stylistic film that continues the franchises rush to claim the throne at the head of the action movie table.

I grew up with two genres of film: old black and white westerns and Chinese action. John Wick 3 blends these two together perfectly, resulting in a supremely confident and stylistic, neo noir tragedy. Picking up straight from Chapter 2, Wick is a man with his dog, whose only desire in life is to have peace and the chance to spend his time with his dog and remembering his late wife. But after breaking the rules on the sacred grounds of The Continental (A chain of hotels with an exclusive Assassin clientele), he is made ex-communicado and a $14 million worldwide open bounty is placed upon his head. With a paycheck this large all the assassins from New York to Casablanca are chomping at the bit to deliver his head to the high table. Mayhem ensues and Wick has no choice but to fight for his life …again. Favours are called in, relationships revisited, and kneecaps blasted.

The terrible two. One of the best things about Parabellum

John Wick 3 is an intricately woven and tightly presented tale of revenge and greed. But much like Game Of Thrones, its lore is bursting at the seams, introducing new characters every few scenes, only to use them as a method of exposition, albeit also a tantalising glimpse into the wider world of John Wick. Especially in the case of character The Elder whom Wick seems to consider important enough to risk his life to just be granted an audience. However, this plot line ended up anticlimactic. Characters aren’t exactly one dimensional, but are not given enough screen time or development. At points it felt like Stahelski was too eager to get back to the action. And, Keanu has fewer lines with each instalment.

Speaking of action, John Wick 3 isn’t short of set pieces, and they are spectacular. Halle Berry portrays Sofia, a figure from Wick’s past and the culminating set piece featuring her, Wick, her German Shepard, and a few dozen henchmen is one of the most impressive fights I’ve seen in any Western action film. Undeniably the beast-from-the-east showcases the best examples of stage combat and how to frame and deliver these encounters for the screen, but the John Wick franchise continues to give its spiritual Asian forefathers a run for their money. Shots are kept far and wide, cuts are kept to a minimum and focus is kept on allowing the audience to see the inventive combat and kills. Fights are fast paced and tight, and being framed with wide angle shots makes them all the more impressive, view any of the behind the scenes videos and it’s apparent that Reeves and Berry put their heart and effort into their respective roles. Berry in particular is a revelation, gracing the screen with vivacious aplomb, clearly having fun with Sofia. Absolutely shining during her set piece, it wouldn’t be hard for her to convince you that she’d been grappling and popping off headshots since a youngster. 

….And one of the best scenes.

At many instances during Parabellum I was reminded of video games. At times the flow was uncanny and reminiscent of the cutscene to exposition to set piece pacing of game design, and while there are no over-the-shoulder shots, during fights the camera on occasion tracked and focused on enemies. In particular, a fight towards the end of the film presented Wick with a very ‘how to kill the heavy’ puzzle (A ‘heavy’ being the term used for an enemy in a video game that presents the player with an added combat puzzle element e.g, and enemy with additional armour or health, or one that can only be killed using a specific technique). John Wick 3 is also a prime example of a film made for the cinema. While lacking in what makes a blockbuster sci-fi or a fantasy epic special, its impressive action and stylistic design makes for something that is exhilarating when watched on the big screen.

John Wick 3 fails in very few aspects but where it does fall short is enough to keep it from ascending the steps to the pinnacle of the genre. The franchise and its mythology treads a fine line between suspension of disbelief and fantastical nonsense: no one cares when he slices open a poor man’s neck in the middle of busy Grand Central Station. And don’t get me started on the whole “everyone is an assassin” thing. This aside, the film impresses on a technical level. I could sing the praises of its fight scenes all day long, and its pacing and editing is tight and clever. But it misses the mark on its narrative. As mentioned, new characters are far too hastily thrown away, frustratingly so. At times the film is borderline self-indulgent and the script becomes lazy with elements of the story and its ideas coming off as uninteresting. There’s a whole world of assassination simmering teasingly close to the surface, but the way this is written and presented makes me not care as much as I should. I fear this may quickly result in diminishing returns. I’d hate for John Wick to outstay his welcome.

John Which Chapter 3: Parabellum is fantastic. Unfortunately (and especially because it happens sparingly), at points its narrative is a jarring reminder that it’s not perfect – either it’s a tad too silly, or dull and uninspired, at times feeling rushed. Sadly this betrays its visceral and masterful action set pieces. Mark Dacascos, Halle Berry (who steals the show in all her scenes) and all of the supporting cast add greatly to the film’s sense of fun and confidence in its execution. Keanu continues his winning streak and for a man who runs and moves so stiffly performs some amazing fight scenes. Chad Stahelski has crafted a truly special franchise, allowing his actors’ hard work to shine in well shot and inventive set pieces. In years to come the tragedy of John Wick will be remembered as one of the greats of western action cinema. However, I have a niggling sense of impending doom. The series could quickly and easily become too much. John Wick has yet to lose his footing but and as much as I’ll miss him and his dog, I sincerely hope  he goes out on a well deserved high and his next outing, John Wick Chapter 4 will be his last.

4

Qualitative Review

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum delivers an exhilarating, vibrant, and wildly inventive action experience. Violent, funny, and thrilling in all the right places. Chad Stahelski showcases the hard work and pure skill of Keanu and co in a display of frenetic and masterful choreography. Repeat viewings a must.

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Editor In Chief at The Idle Critic, Cinematographer, husband, dreaming of a bygone era, caught in a Champagne Supernova, sometimes awake. - joseph@theidlecritic.co.uk