Film Review: “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”

“John Wick 3” executes yet another bizarre and high-brow action-thriller.  

Previously in “John Wick: Chapter 2,” the cutthroat ex-mercenary — along with his scruffy pooch — is left dashing for his life across Central Park. Having killed an adversary on the sacred grounds of the Continental Hotel (a strictly murder-free sanctuary for this world’s abnormally large number of hitmen and women), he is penalized “excommunicado,” which strips all his black market privileges and tacks a hefty $14-million bounty on his head. With the stakes stacked this high, what will he do next?

Smash-cut to this third installment, “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum,” which immediately jumps into providing adrenaline-pumping answers as our feared assassin and puppy-lover, John Wick (Keanu Reeves), locks and loads, bracing for the imminent bounty-hunting mayhem that will rain hellfire against him.

Known for its crisp-cut action, the series has once again pulled off jaw-dropping fight sequences.The first few hand-to-hand combats leave the audience in squirms and hoots of fervor whenever John pummels his rivals with a satisfying blow, solid kick to the groin, bone-crushing neck snap, or piercing knife to the skull. From straddling horses to riding motorbikes, Reeves performs a bulk of his own action scenes. His relentless spirit and polished physicality bleed off the screen, adding a layer of authenticity, commitment, and quality to the film. Intentionally mirroring early ballet scenes, the bare-knuckled brawls also follow a musicality and encapsulate both grueling and refined sides of intense and beautiful choreography, getting the audience to catch their breath too.

Apart from the close-range showdowns, the gun warfare is also emblematic of the film’s ultra-violent theme of parabellum. Though the bullet-blazing shoot-outs are shot impressively, they seem to pale in comparison to the intricately composed scuffles. After a while, we start to become desensitized to John’s precise yet protracted aiming. Nonetheless, the violence is always creative, much like a kinetic video-game. Its grisliness is so hyper-stylized and exaggerated that it simply feels fun to wince and cheer out loud for the indestructible one-man army.

Surprisingly, John isn’t the expected lone soldier in this sequel. In fact, a dangerous comrade and mutual dog-lover, Sofia (Halle Berry) teams up — reluctantly and curtly — with her old pal in return of a favor. After the two end up antagonizing a powerful figure and his faceless henchmen, we see their synergetic battle royale. Within the brutal raid, the fierce duo becomes an unstoppable force, wielding strong firepower and two fluffy-tailed, war-trained canines to tear down their opponents. Additionally, long-time fans of the franchise finally see the notable concierge, Charon of the Continental (Lance Reddick), get his hands dirty and bloody, as he charges in with John on a (literally) mind-blowing killing spree.

Introducing more of John’s old colleagues, the movie further expands his backstory and the rigid, dog-eat-dog system of the Wick cinematic universe. We learn of John’s mysterious past and that he descends from a Russian boot-camp hidden within a florid and cleverly referenced “Tarkovsky” theater. Led by a poised and stringent woman called the Director (Anjelica Huston), the conservatory trains a hard-edged youth to become the next round of deadly assassins. Among new faces, there are more mononymous nemeses, like the methodical Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), who administers the High Table of powerful crime-lords, and an overzealous assassin named Zero (Mark Dacascos), who simultaneously admires and wishes to defeat the idolized John Wick. Without seeing the preceding films, first-time viewers can find the plot of “John Wick 3” to be byzantine and incomplete, but the sleek mien of the characters, biting humor of the script, and rich world-building are enough to be transfixing.

Another mesmerizing feature of the John Wick franchise is the delectable visuals, which seem to doubtlessly top the overarching narrative. The movie dresses New York City in lush and garish colors to accent the elegant cityscape with a juxtaposing savagery. The saturated neon palette and hard-lined shadows immerse us in the off-kilt, neo-noir reality, one that is also saturated with clandestine killers at every thinkable corner. This time, the film also whisks us out of the fluorescent city and into the dusty Sahara and rustic Casablanca, which connects the boundless contract killers within this insane underworld.

Ending on a cliffhanger, this threequel seems to promise a fourth chapter, but it makes me wonder whether this cinematic oeuvre will succinctly conclude or be hopelessly dragged out. Nevertheless, this series keeps upping the ante and the body count, creating next-level action and extensive plotline for us to anticipate. Smart and classy, “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum” is a prime-time summer movie and will have viewers extolling in happy brouhaha.


Grade: A-
Director: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon
Release Date: May 17, 2019

Image courtesy of Rolling Stone.

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