Rules and consequences. The two things that human beings abide by are mere stop signs that John Wick cruises right on past, at least lately.
In the new chapter of this action movie porn franchise, John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum, Keanu Reeves hard-to-kill assassin is on the run from his former colleagues, and pretty much every killer in the world. At the end of 2017’s Chapter 2, he killed a member of the High Table on Continental Grounds. Basically, he killed a made man, a Goodfella, without the consent of a higher party and did it at a large wedding.
This sets the tables for the franchise’s greatest adventure, because there are real stakes involved here. Unlike in the previous two films, where Wick was just gunning without having to do much running (except for a small sequence in Chapter 2), there’s a clock that ticks on this film the film some extra weight beneath the thrilling action.
Make no mistake, the action is the delight here. The juicy red part of the filet mignon of this series revolves around Wick using any means necessary to subdue and kill an opponent wishing to do the same to him. It could be a piece of classic Russian literature, a pencil, a sword, knife, multiple varieties of weapons, or his own Judo-powered fighting skills. Co-writer-director Chad Stahelski treats the world of Wick like a blank canvas, using Reeves like a premium paint brush that spreads a path of destruction that movies just didn’t experience before 2014’s debut film.
What sets the action, nicknamed Wick-Fu and Gun-Fu, is the way Stahelski sets up the camera and doesn’t call timeout. I am talking about panning out so you can see both actors throwing punches, firing kicks, and executing flips without the frenzied shake of the camera. 99% of action films stay close, confuse the viewer about who is where and who got hit, and enter the run-of-the-mill territory. Here, the camera keeps its distance, and the take goes on for a while. The effect can be exhausting, but the good kind. This is like needing two cigarettes AND waffles after sex.
A scene early on sets the tone. Wick is on the run from a group of killers, and finds temporary refuge in a room full of antique handguns and knives. Instead of fretting about being unable to match a gun with a bullet, Wick combines parts of multiple weapons to make a hybrid pistol that gets the job done. Then, he engages several combatants in a hallway with knives of all sizes, throwing some while avoiding others, all the while delivering deadly knockout blows with his fists, elbow, and knee.
The screenplay had four sets of hands of it, including the main series scribe, Derek Kolstad. Usually, so many laptop handoffs will give me pause, but I can see why it was needed here. With each John Wick movie, the universe expands, reaching across the globe to places like Italy in the last film. In Parabellum, Wick journeys to Morocco, teaming up with Halle Berry’s Sofia and seeking out help from whoever will give him room to catch his breath and stitch up his last wound.
One of the things that made Chapter 2 so great and powers Chapter 3 are the intricate details of the world Wick operates in, and how the interesting touches the filmmaker adds that sets the film apart from other flicks. Right when you think Wick is doomed, a door opens, but it comes with a cost. Whether it’s earning a ticket the hard way with Anjelica Huston’s ballet instructor/mafia boss or making a bigger sacrifice, Wick rolls with the punches and simply doesn’t stop.
All of this works so well due to the selfless dedication of Reeves to the character. Ladies and gentlemen, this kind of work is unparalleled. You just don’t see the actor do this much gun work, martial arts, and power a studio film that often, if at all. Reeves trained with the legendary stunt studio, 87Eleven, and you can see the work on screen. This isn’t an actor learning a couple moves; Reeves was trained like a stunt man for these films, and you can see it. The soon to be 55-year-old actor is on a whole new level here, pumping out stoic one liners and looking the part. Wick isn’t muscle bound of stuffed with protein; he’s simply a man apart from normalcy who truly has a unique set of skills. I can’t imagine any other actor playing this role so well.
Reeves also knows how to deliver the franchise’s much-needed tongue-in-cheek humor, which gets a double serving in Parabellum. It all started with the late Michael Nyquist’s “Oh” in the first film when told by John Leguizamo’s (who is missing in this chapter) “mechanic about the return of our anti-hero. That underlining of humor is served here by Wick’s new deadly adversary, Iron Chef veteran and bad to the bone martial artist, Mark Decascos. He looks like a character ripped from the Bruce Lee era of fighters, and gives the film’s climax a true Enter The Dragon tone.
Asia Kate Dillon (Showtime’s Billions) shows up as the Adjudicator, aka the one who is putting the screws to Wick as well as anyone who helped him escape or execute his plan in the last film, such as Winston (the wonderful Ian McShane), Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne, who turns any line into Shakespeare), and Lance Reddick’s Charon. The supporting cast all get chances for their moments, and the film props them up instead of merely using the different faces as filler while Wick reloads. These films are all about the little touches that set it apart.
Big props to Berry, who has been here and there for the past few years, for slaying her part. Playing a woman from John’s past who helps him out here, Berry gets to show off his action chops, including gunplay and fighting scenes. Still as beautiful and powerful as ever on screen, the Oscar winner is exactly what the franchise needed: some true female firepower that doesn’t just walk around and speak. Berry makes her time count, aided by her two deadly German Shephards.
Here’s the thing. When you go to the movies, you are demanding something different than you’ve seen before. That shouldn’t change no matter if it’s an original film, adaptation, reboot, or sequel. Show me something that I may think is familiar, but make it look and feel fresh. That is what Stahelski does with these films, which get better with each entry. You get the action, but delivered in a sophisticated format that no other film, not even the esteemed Mission: Impossible films, can match. These films are now setting the tone for future action movies, in the same manner The Matrix did 20 years ago. Reeves and Stahelski (who was the actor’s stunt double) are a part of both movements. That’s a highly impressive feat.
If people complain about the action, they were in the wrong movie to begin with. If the first two films didn’t give you an indication of the carnage to come, nothing else matters. There’s a scene with Russian ballet dancers in the early going of this film, and it serves as symbolism for what the franchise means. This is a true action ballet, with all flavors and tastes quenched by the time the credits roll. You’ll sit in your chair, exhale, and leave the theater wanting to learn a few moves.
I could tell you there are homages to Enter The Dragon and The Raid here, but honestly, John Wick is its own beast. It’s setting the tone, and unlike most franchises, gaining steam and reverence with each film. Yes, Parabellum leaves the door open for more John Wick adventures. And I am here for it. Once upon a time, I was a kid who grew up on action films. With people like Stahelski and Reeves putting a new coat of paint on the genre every two years, I’ll be the kid at the candy store with a full bucket of sweets.
Is John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum worth seeing? Yes.
Do you need to see the previous two films first? Yes.
Will the six hours be worth it? Yes and then some.
This is true artistry, folks. The kind that can’t be faked or recreated anywhere else. Stop what you are doing and get on the Wick train. You don’t want to see him angry.