John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Directed by Chad Stahelski
Starring Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Anjelica Huston
Reber’s Rating: B+
As the saying goes, if you want peace – prepare for war. Sure, other characters throughout action film history have uttered the phrase time and again. Hell, the mantra is the creed in which Marvel Comics character Frank Castle/The Punisher operates across three films and the two-season Netflix action drama. As we’ve come to learn across three chapters of a franchise that almost never was, John Wick isn’t about making peace. He’s more the opposite in fact. Keanu Reeves officially has three of these films under his belt, tying the timeless Matrix Trilogy of yesteryear. Never mind the fact those films released in 1999 and 2003. The difference? John Wick could own Neo’s hide and eat him for breakfast without breaking much of a sweat.
Time has somehow passed slowly in the Wick universe, just a span of a few weeks idling by across the last five years. In the 2014 original Wick went on a rampage when his puppy was murdered and his beautiful Mustang stolen. In the 2017 sequel Wick doubles the body count as he crosses the globe honoring a blood debt to a now-member of the High Table. Now here we are in 2019, Wick now triples the bodies left in his wake. In any other action franchise our hero would be dragging his own carcass across the finish line. Believe you me, even John McClane lacks Wick’s huevos. After going home and allowing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum to permeate my brain I found myself wondering if this franchise serves as a one-two-three sucker punch that will go down not only as one of the genre’s most beloved, but maybe best thanks to its outrageous and barbous set pieces.
The name of the game in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is that every action an individual takes will have a finite set of consequences. We all served when we’re asked to serve, knowing that down the line the bill always comes due. For our returning cast of characters, their actions from Chapter 2 face them head on. No matter the choices they make now or even in their past, the mysterious High Table keeps tabs on everyone. Consequences lead to repercussions. Some aren’t as violent as you’d make them to be. You are served and asked to serve for the greater good of all. For being an intense action film, Chapter 3 – Parabellum builds the plot around the ramifications of one’s actions and how your reaction to a scenario can lead you down differing paths. You can either accept responsibility or dismiss the response from others.
John Wick: Chapter 2 established a deeper mythos, unveiling more into the Continental Hotels and their rules overseen by an overreaching assemblage leading the network of assassins. Chapter 3 – Parabellum takes the mythology to the next level. The curtain is pulled back to understand why all of the crime families and assassins abide by the High Table’s governing. We start to understand more why the High Table makes the rules, why those “under the Table” follow The Elder’s decree, and why those fear The Adjudicator’s presence. Seeing the reach of the High Table is global, not just in major cities, is an eye opener in itself. Not only do we peek more into the world of the High Table, we’re treated more to Wick’s backstory too. We get layers pulled back into his past, and not just the past with the Tarasov Family from the first film. Fleshing out Wick’s history makes him more of a sympathetic soul, raised to be Baba Yaga with a soft spot under his hardened shell. Wick isn’t just a heartless hitman and Parabellum manages to bring fresh perspective into his life.
Director Chad Stahelski may have composed a beautiful sonnet of destruction in Chapter 2 but has saved his best work for Chapter 3, orchestrating a full concerto of chaos and mayhem that never misses a beat or wallop. Unlike the Matrix films which, looking back, were painfully choreographed maybe too perfectly to raise the tension, the John Wick films lean on the fast-paced never-miss-a-beat yet breathtakingly glorious action sequences. Hearing the same grunting noises grows old across three films – I mean, there are other noises other than “AH” and “UH” – but the illusion of the contact each hit should make, the solid impact buoyed by impeccable sound editing, creates brutal fight sequences. Stahelski’s 87Eleven Productions specializes in making actors and actresses look like trained stunt professionals. I have to say, three films in, Reeves could probably make a run as a true-to-life hitman. If he’s having fun kicking ass and doing his own stunts, then we’re all enjoying the show.
Though he left the likes of Ruby Rose and Common alive in the conclusion of John Wick: Chapter 2 (“Be seeing you” is often the quote Wick utters, his most adored catchphrase), neither return in this immediate follow-up. Instead Wick paints the streets and walls red with faceless baddies, their mere purpose to take their punishment harshly. At one point Reeves finds himself facing off against a monstrous brute, current Philadelphia 76ers center Boban Marjanovic, a blink-but-won’t-miss-it cameo that makes for fun fluffy fisticuffs. Jason Mantzoukas, who provides yucks on Netflix’s gut-busting Big Mouth, serves as the right-hand for the returning Laurence Fishburne, now sitting happily as the Bowery King. The newest face to spar with Reeves is Mark Dacascos, a long-time action genre vet who is an able equal to Reeves’ Wick. Dacascos has long been overlooked for his ability to carry a villainous turn, aside from Jet Li’s Cradle 2 The Grave, and to see him grace the big screen again is glorious.
If anything, Keanu Reeves finds himself upstaged by the always-impressive Halle Berry. Now there’s a woman I would not wish to piss off, neither her or her two Belgian Malinois. Though her role is marginal yet at a pivotal point of the plot, Berry’s glam Sofia stuns as a former assassin who owes Wick a debt. She may run the Moroccan Continental, a fine equal to Ian McShane’s Winston and Franco Nero’s Julius, yet her tolerance for having her buttons pushed is barely existent. Rub her the wrong way, she’ll unleash the dogs of war.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum isn’t a summer blockbuster. If you sit down to watch this delightful and bone-breaking sequel thinking this is Avengers: Endgame, go find the exit. The John Wick films are modestly-budgeted films that are not just only showcasing the best stunt work in the industry presently but creating a vivid world run by a creed and a code on the streets. Reeves has gone on record saying as long as audiences want Wick, he’ll keep coming back. With long as the gunplay and free-for-fall combat continue to set our senses ablaze, I’m all for more of John Wick. The story may not be as entertaining as Chapter 2 but the action set pieces stand out as some of the best in the genre.