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JOHN WICK 3: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM (2019) review

June 17, 2019

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written by: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams & Derek Kolstad
produced by: Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee
directed by: Chad Stahelski
rated: R (for pervasive strong violence, and some language)
runtime: 131 min.
U.S. release date: May 17, 2019

 

“It all started with a puppy….” a character states in the most recent John Wick movie, the bullet-riddled, blood-spattered, marvelously entertaining action series of a hit man coming out of retirement with a vengeance (and the subsequent fallout and consequences). I continue to be impressed with this series not just for its action but its ever-growing story and world-building. Go see John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. If you haven’t seen the first two, what’s wrong with you?!? Go watch them too!

After the unsanctioned killing of Santino D’Antonio in the Continental Hotel in New York City, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run and with a massive bounty of $14 million on his head. He has been excommunicated from the world of assassins and hit-men (and hit-women) with no time to spare if he’s to escape. Desperate to get out of the city, Wick calls on a marker from his bloody, checkered past, managing to get out of NYC mostly unscathed. On the run, Wick hopes to address the High Table – the governing body of this assassin world – and potentially, its most high-ranking member, the Elder. His trail starts in Casablanca with a mysterious woman, Sofia (Halle Berry), from his past, but nothing comes easy, especially with waves of killers and assassins hunting him down.

 

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Oh, how times flies with the John Wick series, Reeves first taking the role in 2014 and returning for the first sequel in 2017. I won’t just repeat old reviews, but I have to say, when I first heard the synopsis of the first movie, my first thought was at its best ‘meh.’ Well, I’ll eat my words. These movies are nuts, amazingly fun, entertaining, stylish, action-packed and creative. Sequels these days are too freaking lazy half the time, but not this series with Reeves and director Chad Stahelski constantly adding new touches and new layers, unraveling the world of the assassin with each passing scene, location, movie and new characters.

Following the conclusion of the Matrix trilogy in 2003, Reeves consistently starred in a variety of roles, but never anything truly memorable, truly iconic. And then came John Wick. How do you judge a character and the actor playing him? I always try and imagine someone else playing the role. With assassin extraordinaire John Wick….you can’t. It’s Reeves and Reeves alone. Wick is a man of few words, letting his multitude of weapons and killing instruments doing most of the talking. You don’t need a ton of dialogue though. It’s cool because we have seen John develop over these movies. His arc is fascinating. You’ve seen him go from revenge-seeking killer, to a man owned by his word and his code, to desperately on the run.

As for the look, Reeves’ Wick kills it. His immaculately-tailored suits, his jet black hair hanging just above his shoulders, his expertly trimmed beard, it all plays into the character. That visual look is essential.

 

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Rounding out the cast around Reeves are some impressive names, some returning and some new. The coolest man in the world, Ian McShane is a consistent scene-stealer as Winston, the owner of the Continental and an ally to John…sorta. McShane’s silky but gruff voice adds a depth to his dialogue that’s hard to explain, but it works. Also returning is Lance Riddick as Charon, the Continental’s concierge. Quasi SPOILERS but Charon is allowed to get out from behind the desk and tote a gun or two (YEEEEEESSSSSS!) Another welcome returnee is scenery-chewing Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King, ruling over his world of hitmen hobos and grifters.

I don’t wanna give much in the way of spoilers away and describe too much about the new characters, but they’re excellent, continuing to dig deeper into this world of the assassin. Berry is excellent as Sofia, a woman from John’s past (the backstory would probably be a memorable prequel), who is forced to work with John again. The best addition though is Mark Dacascos as Zero, a sword-wielding Japanese assassin with a squad of silent killers behind him. Reeves and Dacascos together provide some of the movie’s best moments, both in terms of action but also some criminally cool dialogue that can only happen in a guy’s guy action movie like this. Also look for Asia Kate Dillon, Angelica Houston, Said Taghmaoui and Jerome Flynn in essential supporting roles.

So…how about that action? Like the previous entries, a thesis paper about this series’ action spectacles would be easily doable. It’s not that the action is so cool, it’s that Stahelski, Reeves and the writers find new ways to take that action to the next level. My high point? Well, there’s two. One, a fight in a hallway of cabinets outfitted with knives. No spoilers, just sit back and watch this amazingly choreographed fight with Wick and a handful of killers. Two, Wick battling it out in a powered-down Continental with an army of armor-wearing enforcers. The action – and killing – is so beautifully choreographed, quick and lightning-paced but you always have a sense of what’s going on. It’s never too quick. Gun fights, sword fights, knife fights, chases on horseback, hand-to-hand combat, ‘Parabellum’ has it all.

 

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There’s an art to these scenes. Dimly lit but with pastel colors, the use of mirrors, rain-soaked scenes and sun-drenched scenes, you could sit back and just watch, just appreciate the action and ignore the story if you wanted. As far as action trilogies/series go, this is easily in the conversation as one of the best ever, if not THE best ever.

Again, this is a movie best appreciated going in clean. I recommend going in with as few spoilers as possible, so I won’t give away too much, but it’s the world-building abilities of the screenplay that impresses (again). When we first met John, you figured he was a hit man – and a good one – but there’s so much more. John Wick 2 pushed the door open on that world even more and Parabellum kicks in that door, tears it off the hinges and snaps it into a million pieces. We learn much more about this Assassins World and its code, its operation and its business, especially with Asia Kate Dillon’s Adjudicator, an agent from the High Table sent to fix the high-arcing problems John has created. Oh, that High Table, they’re in for some fun. The theme that works so well here, ‘your actions always have consequences.’

I can’t recommend these movies enough. In the same way the Harry Potter and Lord of the Ring series transports you to another world, so does John Wick, albeit a world of automatic weapons, armies of disposable villains and horrifying ways to die. You better go see/watch this one. John Wick 4 has already been announced. I. Can’t. Wait.

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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