As far as gratuitously violent films go, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum turns every mess into high art.
John Wick franchise has a clear shot of what it’s gunning for: to be the best summer action release in 2019. Picking up precisely where Chapter 2 left off, Parabellum finds its eponymous assassin declared as an “excommunicado” by the High Table as punishment for killing a mafia boss inside The Continental grounds – the assassin world’s designated safe space. In layman terms, this means that John is a dead man walking with a bounty on his head – $14 million to be exact. This sets the stage for a frenetic Manhattan chase as countless killers try to take him out. Within a span of fifteen minutes, John demonstrates several improvised and absurd ways to murder someone – through the use of a book, a horse and a belt. As a general rule, watching John Wick dispose his enemies without using a gun is a sight to behold.
The killing spree stretches to a 2-hour mark and by then, the violence becomes desensitizing and you start to admire the neo-noir aesthetics in play. It’s not until a knife gets slowly jabbed to someone else’s eye that you are once again reminded how ultraviolent the film is. And that’s actually fine because we all know what we came here for. The brand of pain and suffering involved may not work within the confines of reality and logic, but Parabellum makes each headshot count by adding slight variations to its proceedings – a judo-style grapple, a samurai showdown, etc. There’s balletic grace and brute finesse in its gunplay and hand to hand combat. You have to give it to director David Stahelski and his production crew for consistently upgrading their production setpieces. This film is a testament to the need of having a ‘stunts category’ in Oscars.
The high praise also belongs to Keanu Reeves, who at the age of 54, solidifies his spot as one of the most bankable action heroes in Hollywood. Although the film desires for more introspection, Reeves musters emotional intensity in his performance best reflected by his exhausted facial features. Still maintaining his fighting shape, Keanu is simply born to play this role.
Aside from having a flat-out insane action choreography, Parabellum adds value to the franchise by expanding the mythology, opening John’s world to a complex underbelly of crime syndicates. It’s fascinating to see ruthless murderers abide on the Continental rules and social contracts formed through blood pacts and talismans. The more we spend time in this heightened reality, the more we couldn’t help but to get drawn deeper. As John finds himself in Morocco, he reconnects with his old friend Sophia (Halle Berry), who’s indebted to him and also happens to have a deep love for dogs. Berry and her highly-trained canines make a fine addition to the series by officially introducing “dog-fu” a.k.a. fighting bad guys with good boys. A special shoutout goes to the dogs’ personal trainers for doing an excellent job.
Back in New York, a lot of verbal jousting occur as High Table Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) also wants to punish everyone that helped John including his pal/Continental Manager Winston (Ian McShane), the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) and the Ballet Director (Anjelica Huston). Also hot on John’s tracks is the film’s secondary villain, Zero (Mark Dacascos) who serves as an unlikely comic relief as he happens to be a huge fan of John Wick.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum boasts one of the most brilliant and relentless action extravaganza in cinema. Like its predecessors, it never takes itself too seriously. Let us be reminded that John’s ‘existential quest’ all started from avenging his dead puppy. Since then, the franchise seems to be stuck in a cyclical storytelling of consistently pushing John to his cold blooded ways. But the plot is never the point. The film works best if its associated as a ballet act. It’s the choreography, the athleticism, the musicality and the visual aesthetics in motion that matters.
After all the skull-smashing, bone-cracking, dog-biting and gun-blazing, you might be exhausted from witnessing all the insanity involved. But just like its hero, action aficionados will always come for more. John Wick shows no sign of fatigue and neither are the fans of this franchise.
4.5 out of 5 stars