John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum makes a firm case that John Wick is the greatest Time Crisis player ever. He never misses a shot, moving through violent scenario after violent scenario with ease, dispatching faceless goons with gusto. I can’t recall if the Time Crisis arcade games ever had a deep respect for dogs, but as reliable as ever, John Wick sure does.
It’s third time round for the world’s most adept assassin as John Wick is now excommunicado – assassin speak for persona non grata. Instead of legging it to the nearest Ecuadorian embassy, Wick launches himself onto the rain drenched streets of New York City, looking for a path to survival. If you missed the second John Wick flick, then rest assured that John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum gives you the study notes version of what’s going down, while at the same time ensuring that if you’re a newcomer, you’re not going to have a case of Endgame-itis and have no idea what on earth is going on.
The basic narrative – the world of assassin’s is out to kill John Wick as a bounty on his head gradually increases the longer he stays alive – is fine, routine action film stuff. But, as with John Wick 2, there’s a real desire from director Chad Stahelski to colour in the moments between the biffo and add some kind of context to what’s going on. So, this means shovelling on a wealth of world building, which in turn means that viewers are pleadingly requested to tolerate the talk in between the reason they slapped down hard earned dollars – well executed, bloody, balletic, action.
This is a mildly unfair criticism of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – the fact that the plot barrels along like a runaway freight train, dragging the ever beaten Wick from New York, to Casablanca, to the middle of the desert, and then back to New York again, allows for some nice, varied action set pieces. But, it also allows for grand tedium and middling dalliances into Wick’s Russian heritage. When the basic plot of John Wick involved a man seeking revenge for the death of his puppy is given a nod in this entry from a thug who says ‘all of this over a puppy’, well, one can’t help but wish that the ‘plot’ elements at play were a little more focused. The bells and whistles of this mystical ‘table’ of people who live by a set of rules, and trade lives with ancient coins, all sounds interesting and exciting, but when applied to a very basic concept (one that works brilliantly, mind you), it all starts to feel very extraneous. In between all the agro and stunning athletics, I yearned for a pared back narrative that threw out all the world building naff and simply stuck with a ‘John Wick VS the World’ thrust.
To continue the mildly unfair criticism (hey, it’s my unpaid job guys, go support my patreon, hit like, thanks for subscribing), the reason why I want to belabour the point of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’s tedious plot is that when the action is action-ing, this is a film that sits comfortably alongside Mad Max: Fury Road and Mission: Impossible – Fallout (these series sure do love their semi-colons and hyphens) as one of the finest modern action films. The first half hour or so is exhilarating, with rapidly escalating violence that will leave you vibrating in your seat. After a tussle in a library, Wick’s ‘Escape from New York’ leads him through the streets and to a stable, where in turn, he utilises all his skills, and the mighty rear ends of a few horses, to help off some generic thugs. This is the equivalent of Henry Cavill resetting his shoulders in the impactful bathroom battle in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, or that jaw dropping moment where a war boy jumps from one rollicking vehicle to another with explosive spears in hand in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Then, when Halle Berry’s dog loving assassin comes into play, the action ramps up even further, with a truly stunning sequence involving dogs and gunplay. Berry spent months training with the dogs for this sequence, building up a genuine relationship with them, and I’ll tell you with complete certainty – it shows. Given Stahelski’s stunt background, it’s expected that this is where the John Wick series shines the brightest. Action is legible, coherent, and clear. Each punch is felt with genuine impact, and in one gut thumping climactic shoot out, every shotgun blast is felt with thudding immediacy. No doubt about it – this is a film to see on your local cinemas best screen with the finest audio output.
For some, it may be an unfair comparison to hold the John Wick films up against Mad Max: Fury Road or Mission: Impossible – Fallout, but when there are so few films that employ real, hand to hand, brutal combat, in the way that the Wick films have done, then it feels like it’s not too much to ask of them to elevate the narrative threads a little bit. Sure, the supporting cast is great – it’s always welcome to see Anjelica Huston and Halle Berry given solid material to work with, and series regulars Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Lance Reddick are always fine, and Billions actor Asia Kate Dillon is a welcome addition too – but the narrative material they’re working with is all a little too wishy-washy. Sometimes simplicity is key. Sure, Mad Max: Fury Road is merely a road trip to nowhere and back again, but it’s what happens on the journey that makes it sing. For the John Wick series, the inclusion of off screen string pulling table sitting nefario’s needlessly complicates matters. It’s not as easy to bend this narrative into a breakneck action ride, given the core concept is one man against everyone, but it’s also up to the director and writers to not allow me to sit there in the quieter moments and contemplate exactly how John Wick is surviving the supreme beating that he’s endlessly receiving. Maybe Keanu Reeves really is a God.
I’m repeating myself now, and in turn, giving you a guided tour of what the ‘plot’ beats of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum feel like. This is mostly because I can’t really give you the vibe of what the action feels like in a written review, and I am certainly not athletic enough to make a YouTube video of me acting out why it’s so good. So, I’ll just say this again: when John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is firing on all cylinders, and the action is moving with all the propulsive energy of a space shuttle taking off, it is amongst the finest action films in modern history. When Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman from The Raid films appear, and thank John Wick for being able to fight against him, you get a grand appreciation of how loved the action in this series is. The respect and care given to the genre is paramount (as is clearly seen with nods to The Villainess and Enter the Dragon), and that in itself is something to be applauded.
Keanu Reeves has said that he’ll keep making these films as long as people keep going to see them, and besides keeping Reeves employed and making good movies, you should definitely head along and see John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum as soon as possible. Celebrating the art of stunt work that is executed to perfection, with perfectly choreographed fight sequences that hit your heart like a defibrillator, means that rewarding this kind of cinema with your dollars is your basic duty as a film goer. Support and celebrate this kind of cinema.
Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Lance Reddick
Writers: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams, (based on characters by Derek Kolstad)