“John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” Movie Review


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     Up until the ending of “John Wick: Chapter 2”, I looked at both that film, as well as the first, as being capable of providing high level martial arts action, led by a game performance from Keanu Reeves, but also held back by a recycled narrative trope utilized many times over in lesser films.  But then director Chad Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad made a significant change in the overall narrative.  Something significantly more ambitious.  It was the moment where John Wick (Reeves) had just been given an hour before every hitman in the world would be attempting to kill him after he had broken the rules of his organization’s sacred code.  And there, as he walked amongst a crowd in New York, everyone froze and looked directly at him, letting the audience know the world building these filmmakers had been creating all along had finally become a cinematic reality.  That’s when I knew the “John Wick” franchise would be more than just a guy killing people because they shot his dog.  There was entire culture about to be revealed.

     Stahelski, a noted stunt performer who among his credits includes taking over for the late Brandon Lee after his tragic death on the set of “The Crow”, now sits confidently in the director’s chair, having upped the ante significantly in the last installment with a superior blend of brutal martial arts action and stunt work combined with the kind of Gun Ballet made famous by John Woo’s late 80s and early 90s films like “The Killer” and “Hard Boiled”.  Of course Stahelski has at his disposal superior technology in the way of CGI, plus a game stunt team that includes notable martial artists Tiger Chen (“Triple Threat”) and “The Raid 2” vets Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian.  To say these guys are pros would be an understatement, but the fact Keanu Reeves performs these fight sequences in camera without the help of a quick cut editing style means the 54 year old star can more than hold his own when appearing next to the very best.

     “John Wick 3: Parabellum” (Latin for Prepare for War) picks up immediately following the events of the second installment where Wick has one hour before becoming Excommunicado for killing his nemesis Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) on the grounds of the Continental Hotel.  The lore here says the Continental is a safe haven for the hitmen organization and it is a crime punishable by death to conduct business on its premise.  And with Wick knowing he has minutes before the $14 million contract on his life goes live, he looks to call in a few favors from people indebted to him in order to survive and potentially be reinstated.

     The filmmakers begin the film by staging a series of jaw dropping fight sequences and action set pieces that serve as a clear indication to the audience that this third chapter seeks to outdo anything the previous films accomplished.  This isn’t to say these scenes are as farfetched as something you would see in a “Fast and Furious” film, but the sheer brutality and violence on display is sure to make you gasp as knives are slowly forced through people’s eyes, heads are blown off with potent armor piecing shotgun blasts, and everyday items like hard cover books are utilized as leverage to snap someone’s neck.  I’ll put it this way.  In the world of the John Wick films, no lives matter.

     The homage factor is strong throughout “Parabellum”, where Stahelski pays tribute to some of the most memorable fight sequences and action scenes of the past 40 plus years.  It’s a method that may seem unoriginal, but when the filmmakers are able to inject modern techniques (both from a production and martial arts standpoint), the results can make a positive impact on the overall reception of the film by people who will recognize where the inspirations for these scenes came from.  The instant Boban Marjanovic, a seven footer who is currently a reserve center for the Philadelphia 76ers, appears on screen with cruel intentions, I was immediately reminded of Bruce Lee’s one on one battle with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1978’s “Game of Death” where the ramifications of the extreme height and strength difference had to be dealt with by fighting dirty.  Later, fans of James Cameron’s “True Lies” will appreciate John Wick’s method of transportation while attempting to elude a gang of motorcycle assassins.

     Beyond the impeccably choreographed stunt work and gun play, “Parabellum” seeks to build on the universe of which the first two films only scratched the surface.  We learn there is a hierarchy that operates world wide when the overseeing body, known as the High Table, sends a person known only as The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to punish those who helped John Wick escape.  This includes his buddy and Continental Hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane) and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), but also a character known as The Director (Angelica Huston) whose underground organization gives us a glimpse of Wick’s origins and the manner in which he may have developed his lethal skill set.

     All of this leads Wick to Morocco where he seeks out Sofia (Halle Berry), another one of those people in his past who owe him big, and an eventual trek to find the High Table and beg for his crime to be forgiven.  With all of these characters being introduced and the film ending in a manner which guarantees a fourth installment, there is no question Stahelski and his screenwriters feel as though the story is only beginning.  There is endless territory to explore in this world.  

     As for “Parabellum”, the third act results in a predictable showdown between Wick and a series of adversaries led by a hitman called Zero (Mark Dacascos), though the stage where it takes place high within the Continental Hotel is one of the most creative and colorful movie sets I have seen.  The dialogue between these two is hilarious given the constant ribbing as to who is the best, even after a fight has been won.  But the film remains clever throughout and even more so in the last few minutes when you believe the story will go one direction, but then zigzags to another.  And with most of the main players still with a heart beat, the mayhem that will define the next chapter in this series is practically unimaginable.  GRADE: B+