Released: May 2019
Director: Chad Stahelski
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Budget: $55 million
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Halle Berry, Mark Dacascos, and Asia Kate Dillon
On the run with a $14 million bounty on his head, former hitman John Wick (Reeves) must fight for his life against not only a city full of assassins looking to cash in but also his former masters, who will stop at nothing to kill him.
John Wick (Stahelski, 2014) was a surprise hit that both reinvigorated Keanu Reeves’ career and showcased, with brutal glee, that violent action movies can still be popular and profitable. In a world where action movies are often watered down affairs, John Wick opted for a smorgasbord of head shots, tightly choreographed fight scenes, and high-octane, no-nonsense brutality that was only further escalated in John Wick: Chapter 2 (ibid, 2017). While Chapter 2 had a few narrative flaws, it still upped the action and the fight scenes and anticipation was high when, at the end, Wick committed the ultimate sin by killing a member of the High Table on hallowed Continental grounds.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (which, if we’re honest, is one hell of a mouthful of a title) picks up only a few minutes after the end of Chapter 2, with John Wick desperately battling through his wounds and scores of assassins looking to collect the $14 million bounty in order to retrieve a few personal items to help him get the bounty off of his head.
With few friends left and few avenues to go down, Wick finds his life made all the more miserable when an Adjudicator (Dillon) visits his allies Winston (McShane) and the Bowery King (Fishburne) to punish them for helping Wick in Chapter 2. As part of this, she recruits the help of Zero (Dacascos) and his students to further compound the highly trained killers looking to collect on Wick’s bounty.
As with a lot of sequels, Parabellum chooses to expand its scope internationally; after battling through New York, Wick manages to secure passage to Casablanca and Wick also ends up traversing a harsh desert, helping to give the film (and its multi-layered world) a unique visual flair. Wick is forced to turn to Sofia (Berry) for help in trying to appeal to the Elder of the High Table and get his bounty lifted but, along the way, he must fight scores of assassins and killers in increasingly brutal fight scenes and action sequences. This is where the strength of Parabellum, and the John Wick franchise, lies; like its predecessors, Parabellum’s plot is incredibly simple, allowing the world and intricate network of assassins to be expanded even further while Wick uses any means necessary to stay alive.
Wick is a character who doesn’t mess around; if he has a means to kill someone, he’ll use it, and he’s more than capable of engaging bigger, or multiple, foes, even with his bare hands. Once he gets a firearm in his hands, though, he doesn’t hesitate to unload his trademark gut shot/head shot combination at every opportunity. Parabellum is largely padded out by lengthy fight scenes, some of which you could argue go on a little too long, but it honestly never gets old seeing Wick find new ways to bludgeon his enemies to death or adapt to new situations.
I am a massive fan of Keanu Reeves; I’ve enjoyed a lot of his movies and he’s an incredibly inspirational guy in real life too. Wick is a perfect character for his particular acting style, being soft spoken and direct; he doesn’t say too much and, when he does, generally opts for simple, short statements. Wick is generally cold and calculating in battle but is quick to rage and has a truly heartbreaking reason to stay alive. While it seems like he is set to undergo a dramatic character change mid-way through the movie, however, this plot point is suddenly and strangely dropped but the reward for this is some of the most brutal and exciting fight scenes put to film.
There isn’t too much to spoil here; John Wick beats a guy to death with a book, stabs another guy in the eye, and kills his way out of pretty much every situation he is in; however, the central plot revolves around Wick trying to appeal to the Elder of the High Table to have the bounty lifted and this is where some of Parabellum’s issues lie. Wick goes to great lengths, pushing himself to the point of death, to gain an audience with the Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui) and, in the end, is asked to do two things to get his bounty lifted: sever his ring finger and give up his wedding ring (and “his weakness”) and kill Winston, a man he considers a close friend. Wick, desperate to stay alive to remember his wife, doesn’t hesitate to do the former and it seems as though he is set to become the emotionless, remorseless Baba Yaga of legend but, when the time comes to kill Winston, Wick instead decides to spare his friend and fight alongside Charon (Lance Reddick) to defend the Continental.However, while they are able to route the Adjudicator’s army and Wick defeats Zero, Wick is seemingly betrayed by Winston in order for him to stay in the employ and favour of the High Table. Winston shoots Wick off the rooftop but Wick survives (thanks to his bulletproof suit and being John fuckin’ Wick) and is taken to the Bowery King, who was badly scarred by Zero earlier in the film, apparently setting the two up to fight against the High Table in a fourth movie. While it seems as though Winston knew Wick would survive and that his betrayal seems to have been planned, this turn right at the end of the film left me a little more confused than I expected to be. it seems that the conclusion is setting up Wick, Charon, Winston, and the Bowery King to join forces against the High Table and go to actual war but, instead of that or Wick degenerating into the ruthless killer he is said to have been, we’re left with an uncertain future for the inevitable fourth film, which is good for building anticipation but I think it might have landed better if it had been a bit more obvious that Winston hadn’t truly betrayed Wick.
If there’s one word you could use to sum up the John Wick franchise, it’s consistency (well, “brutality” would also work…); each movie is tightly choreographed and filmed, has some spectacular action scenes, and ups the ante in an effortless way. It’s quickly become a film franchise where it’s hard to pick a favourite, as each entry is just as good as the last; though John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum has some issues with its narrative choices, it more than makes up for it with its rich world and vicious fight sequences that make it a must-see for anyone who is a fan of action movies or wants to get into the genre.