John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum
The third time is still the charm in this action-packed assassin franchise, with Keanu Reeves and his former stunt double-turned-director doing what they do best.
May 16, 2019
Cinematic beauty comes in many forms, and the John Wick franchise perfects one of them. The term 'balletic' couldn't better describe the series' hypnotic action sequences, with its array of frenetic fights and carnage-dripping set pieces all meticulously choreographed like complex dance routines. In fact, when ballerinas actually pirouette across the screen in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, they seem bland in comparison. As 2014's John Wick and 2017's John Wick: Chapter 2 proved, murderous mayhem has rarely looked as stunning as it does in this ultra-violent saga. Whether its eponymous assassin is unleashing his fury with fists, firearms or knives (or, in the latest flick, killing one enemy with a book and dispatching others by wielding a horse as a weapon) the result is simply exhilarating to watch.
As played with the steely stoicism that Keanu Reeves wears oh-so-well, John Wick finds many other ways to eradicate his adversaries in Parabellum. Motorcycles aren't just for riding, belts don't only hold up pants, and attack dogs, swords and axes all come in handy. With the movie energetically picking up where the last film left off (mere moments afterwards, to be exact), the retired triggerman isn't short on opportunities to unleash his deadly flair. In the first flick, he was lured back to the hitman life after his car was stolen and his puppy killed, while the second chapter chronicled the savage fallout not only from his vengeance, but from his determination to stay retired. Now, after breaking the assassin code, there's a $14 million bounty on his head — and dear Jonathan, as his friend and hotelier Winston (Ian McShane) calls him, has been cut off from the slick facilities and tools of his underworld profession.
With its name meaning 'prepare for war' in Latin, Parabellum follows John's kill-or-be-killed quest, pitting the supremely skilled hitman against the rest of the world's contract murderers. To the surprise of no one, copious amounts of bloodshed results. The story ponders loyalty, purpose and honour, however the details don't overly matter, with returning screenwriter Derek Kolstad and his three co-writers throwing everything they can at their anti-hero. That includes old acquaintances (Anjelica Huston and Halle Berry), difficult head honchos (Jerome Flynn and Saïd Taghmaoui), a fanboy foe (Mark Dacascos) and an adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) tasked with punishing John's misdeeds — as well as the return of Reeves' Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne as the king of New York's gun-toting homeless population. They're all grist for the mill; with more characters and conflicts comes more excuses for the franchise's trademark visual displays.
Every actor should hope that their former stunt double becomes a director, because it's turning out swimmingly for Reeves and Chad Stahelski. Like its predecessors, Parabellum blends a martial arts movie's dizzying moves with a shoot 'em up thriller's murky mood, and the ex-Matrix stuntman turned filmmaker delivers both superbly. The climactic showdown throws a few blows too many, as does the 132-minute flick itself, but that's a minor complaint after such an enjoyable onslaught of brutal brawls mixed with brooding glares. Set in dazzling glass surroundings, the film's final confrontation also demonstrates something that the John Wick series doesn't always get enough credit for: its sumptuous production design.
Battles that unfurl like performances, placed in spaces that look like art — it's still a winning combination, with Stahelski expertly assisted by two-time franchise cinematographer Dan Laustsen and production designer Kevin Kavanaugh, as well as three-time stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio. John Wick's commitment to fleshing out the rules and requirements of the assassin life has always gone hand-in-hand with its action and aesthetics, too, building an involving world that's both sleekly stylised and lived-in. Of course, all of that sheen and fury would mean nothing without the right person at its centre. Gifted a role that ranks alongside Theodore 'Ted' Logan, Johnny Utah and Neo in the iconic stakes, Reeves continues to be the series' not-at-all-secret weapon. Parabellum's painstakingly staged frays are a sight to behold, but they prove all the more powerful when paired with its star's piercing stare and calm demeanour. It's a part that Reeves could play forever; here's hoping that he does.