Thank God (or maybe more appropriately the Devil) for John Wick.
In a cinematic landscape where most action we see is computer generated gods with unlimited power leveling cities with a clenched fist or decimating half of all life with the snap of their fingers, there needs to be a John Wick. Not that there’s anything wrong with these others. I cried and cheered at several moments during Avengers:Endgame and anxiously await getting my kaiju on with the upcoming Godzilla. There’s plenty of room in this old cinema loving heart for pomp and spectacle of that variety. Within that same heart though beats an even greater appreciation for realism. There’s a desire that exists amidst these films of full on characters built with wonder and might to see another kind of film that takes a regular guy surviving against all sorts of impossible odds and being the ultimate bad ass with a heart of gold in the process. John Wick gave us this. Now, with it’s second sequel, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, continues to give us so much more.
John Wick 2 left us with our titular hero Mr. Wick (Keanu Reeves) breaking not only one of The Continental’s biggest rules, “No business conducted on hotel grounds”, but he broke said rule by killing a newly appointed member of The High Table. Despite his clear love and appreciation for John, this leaves The Continental’s manager Winston (Ian McShane) with no choice but to label John Wick “Excommunicado”, rendering him cut off from any and all facets of the hitman world that he’s always been able to utilize. 2 comes to an end with Winston giving John Wick an hour head start and John, adorable pup by his side, begins running. Cut to 30 minutes into that hour and this is where Chapter 3 kicks off, our hero Keanu and his latest loyal pup running in the rain together.
That initial shot of Keanu and the doggo running in the rain is honestly the calm collected breath we all need for what begins to unveil. Wick’s remaining 30 minutes wind down quick. Once he’s officially Excommunicado a 14 million dollar bounty is placed on him and every single killer from every nook and cranny of the world is on the hunt. The opening 30 – 40ish minutes are one unrelenting action sequence after another. In a normal film this would border on overkill but in the John Wick universe, carefully crafted and choreographed with former stunt man turned director Chad Stahelski at the helm, these sequences are high art by way of nuclear bloodbath. As John fights on and on the audience feels that wear and that tiredness along with him. There’s truly a visceral difference in violence that is all laid out to see and filled to the brim with real life people doing real life stunts. When a body hits the pavement you feel it. You also marvel at a near mid 50s Keanu who’s, three films deep, truly getting the beating of his life and somehow keeps on pushing.
Where the second film in the trilogy took some serious strides in building out the world of John Wick, Chapter 3 takes it’s time giving it deeper life and really dwelling in that world while continuing to increase its scope and scale. Wick’s journey of survival introduces new characters to the audience that each have their own history tied directly to John. Most notable of the new old additions to John’s life are Sofia (the incomparable Halle Berry) and The Director (Anjelica Huston). Both characters are not only integral to John’s history in various ways but are also essential in ensuring John is able to continue on this never-ending mission of survival. Another pivotal character that also opens up the world is The Adjudicator, portrayed with a steely presence by Asia Kate Dillon. Dillon has been sent by The High Table seeking answers from all those they deemed to have helped John despite his betrayal of their rules and code. Dillon, along with Huston and especially Berry, all bring their own nuance and style to each role and easily find themselves falling nicely into the John Wick universe as if they’d been there this whole time.
With Chapter 3 being Stahelski’s second solo directing effort (the first John Wick he shared directing duties with fellow stuntman turned director David Leitch) he continues to show not only a tremendous understanding of executing brilliantly choreographed action sequences but the cinematic scope of the films have also continued to grow to sometimes breathtaking heights. Teamed with Cinematographer Dan Laustsen (who was Director of Photography on John Wick 2), Stahelski brings to life a world that shifts from being bathed in neon and covered in glass to the absolute solitude and nothingness of the desert through a lens that works wonders in not only being cinematic eye candy but also visually tells the audience just how alone John Wick is in this world.
While Wick finds himself cut off from every ally and haven he’s known he does have a weird sort of celebrity about him throughout Chapter 3. No matter where he steps foot in the entire world people instantly recognize him (and in turn want to kill him). There’s several characters who seem downright giddy for the opportunity to fight John Wick, despite the fact that there’s piles and piles of massacred bodies in his wake. This is an interesting juxtaposition from the first John Wick film where folks know him as the “Baba Yaga” and he’s sort of spoken of in legend. Now he’s basically a famous face amongst the seedy underbelly of this universe. Whether intentional or not it adds another layer to the film addressing celebrity in the face of someone who simply just wants to be left alone.
It would be easy to say that John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum is simply more of the same. There’s a veritable buffet of headshots and dead bodies throughout it’s run time that the series has built it’s beloved reputation upon. For the more discerning viewer there’s a clear intention to not only entertain in new and inventive ways through the action sequences but also through the carefully crafted and executed set pieces and locales. While there’s a fair amount of new characters coming into the fold amongst the familiar faces, they all serve to make the story richer and help move it along organically and, most importantly, entertain along the way. At the center of it all is our hero, human serotonin Keanu Reeves. In the midst of the maiming and bludgeoning and broken bones and countless lost lives, there manages to be an emotional core at the heart of these movies and Keanu sells that emotion just as effortlessly as he reloads a gun against a soon-to-be dead assassin’s face. Three movies deep and I still find myself hungry for even more.
Five out of Five Nerdskulls. The highest of recommendations.
Check out the trailer for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
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