Who would have thought back in 2014 that a meager budgeted action flick about a hitman avenging his dog’s death would turn into a hugely popular neo-noir franchise complete with its own growing mythology and cast of characters? I know I didn’t but I sure have enjoyed the crazy ride.
“John Wick” was a lot of fun. 2017’s follow-up was wilder and added a ton to what we can call the John Wick Universe. Now we get “John Wick: Chapter 3 – “Parabellum” and it takes everything from the previous two movies and ramps it up crazy levels. And trust me, I say that as the highest compliment.
“Parabellum” (which is Latin for “Prepare for War”) begins with the action dialed to 10. Keanu Reeves returns as the title character and right out of the gate he’s on the run in downtown Manhattan. After breaking some established underworld rules through an unsanctioned killing (see Chapter 2), John Wick is declared “excommunicado” by the ruling High Table. For those uninitiated in John Wick Universe vocabulary, this means he is officially persona non grata and has all of his underworld rights and privileges revoked. No one can help him on penalty of death and a $14 million bounty is placed on his head.
The open contract makes John Wick an immediate target for gangs, assassins, and bounty hunters. Former stuntman and returning director Chad Stahelski wastes no time diving into his steady diet of bullets, blades, and blood. The action is relentless but at the same time exhilarating, intense, brutal, and wickedly choreographed. Obviously there is no Oscar category for fight choreography but if their was this would be your frontrunner.
Smartly, “Parabellum” never ever takes itself seriously. I mean in the opening few minutes a man gets beat to death with a library book of all things. And John riding horseback through downtown New York City traffic is…well, you know. So the movie knows exactly what it is. And not only is it completely self-aware, but it fully embraces its over-the-top absurdity.
Several new characters appear who help build the mythology. A devious and mysterious person known only as the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) gives more insight into the clandestine High Table. Halle Berry crushes it playing Sofia, a dog-loving former associate of John’s who’s also really good at killing. And Anjelica Huston shows up as the cryptic Director, a woman of immeasurable clout.
Then you have the returning pieces. The wonderful Ian McShane is back as Winston, the owner/operator of the Continental Hotel. Lawrence Fishburne returns as the seemingly good-hearted crime lord The Bowery King. And can I just say I love Lance Reddick as Charon, the Continental’s concierge. He’s always great behind the front desk, but Chapter 3 let’s him roll up his sleeves and really get to work.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit to finding the big final fight just a hair exhausting. I think it’s because by that time we had seen everything in the film’s arsenal. Over-the-shoulder flips, sliced limbs, bloody headshots, people tossed through panes of glass, among so much more. But that doesn’t mean the ending doesn’t satisfy. Quite the opposite. I love where “Parabellum” lands and it clearly has its sights on a Chapter 4.
So the John Wick franchise entered Chapter 3 in high gear and left it screaming towards the next installment in overdrive. “Parabellum” is an old-school action-lover’s dream with a body count that easily rivals anything put up by Schwarzenegger or Stallone in the 1980’s. Yet it’s loaded with style and character. It has an ever-present but often subtle sense of humor and Keanu Reeves has charisma to spare. It left me hungry for more and judging by the box office I’m not alone.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS