Movie Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum’ (Second Opinion)
Plot: After killing a member of the High Table, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has been declared excommunicado and a $14 million contract put on his head. Using his special set of skills, Wick must fight his way out of Manhattan and seek asylum elsewhere. However, with old friends like former assassin Sofia (Halle Berry) and new enemies like Japanese assassin Zero (Mark Dacascos) in the mix, John Wick may find personal safety a daunting position to attain.
Review: The John Wick franchise is truly one of the most unlikely IPs of the last decade. Originally slated for VOD release in 2014, the premise of the first John Wick movie sounds ridiculous on paper. And yet the film ended up a commercial and critical success, providing Keanu Reeves with his best starring vehicle since The Matrix. Three years later the principals involved would deliver arguably an even better film with John Wick: Chapter 2, one that ends on a gigantic cliffhanger that left audiences chomping at the bit for more.
So how does director Chad Stahelski’s third installment stack up against the previous two?
Pretty damn well actually.
Sleek, stylish, and with enough intense fight sequences to make even John Woo say “Holy shit!”, Parabellum expands on the previous chapters in the John Wick franchise while standing on its own as an excellent assassin action film. What separates John Wick from other action franchises that have lost steam over the years (*cough cough* Die Hard *cough cough*) is that the three main elements: writer, director, and star, have all managed to stay intact. There’s a distinct through line and connective tissue that unites Derek Kolstad’s screenplay, Stahelski’s direction, and Reeves’ performance in the best way possible.
What impresses me most about Parabellum is what an amazing eye Stahelski has for action. He truly elevates the fights, either gun or hand-to-hand, to a level that’s like ballet in its precision and beauty. Whether it’s John Wick fending off killers on a horse or taking out a giant in the New York Public Library with a book, it’s truly like a symphony and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the final showdown in this film employs classical music. Indeed I can’t stress enough how important music is in this franchise and this film in particular. Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s soundtrack is phenomenal, employing neo-classical, Moroccan, and Electro at various points. It complements Stahelski’s vision perfectly.
Speaking of visions, Stahelski’s film wouldn’t be nearly as successful if not for Dan Lausten’s brilliant cinematography. Whereas the first two John Wick films felt somewhat small in scale, Parabellum feels expansive and large. NYC in all its neon glamor comes alive, becoming a character in and of itself in the film. Yet we also get to go worldwide, as John Wick eventually travels to Casablanca, where the sandy dunes and vast wastes of the desert are rendered in full effect. Even the final confrontation between Zero and John at the NY Continental Hotel occurs in a museum-like glass structure that just oozes cool and contains some of the best shots of the entire movie.
As I previously stated, the first John Wick feels small in size, however with this second sequel, Derek Kolstad’s story begins to peel back the veil on Wick’s world. Rather than constant action (although there is plenty) there’s several scenes that just let the story breathe. We learn more about John Wick’s origins as well as the High Table and who sits above the High Table. There’s even a betrayal towards the end of the film that I did not see coming. Additionally, we discover other Continentals (hotels that provide a safe haven for assassins) exist and are treated to the one in Casablanca run by John’s old friend and ex-assassin Sofia. Halle Berry is excellent in the part of Sofia, a woman who owes a debt to John that he’s more than willing to cash in on. If anything I felt Berry could have been used more in the film, and it’s my sincere hope that she’ll show up in the next movie.
Parabellum occasionally falters when it comes to some of the newer characters. High Table member Berrada (Jerome Flynn from Game of Thrones) didn’t land with me as a villain due in no small part because his accent was horrendous. Also Said Taghmoui’s Elder, the only man above the High Table, wasn’t in the film enough to make an impression. Additionally, while Dacascos’ Zero was overall a cool assassin, he often ruins the moment by fanboying out too much over John Wick himself. I will say that Asia Kate Dillion’s role as the Adjudicator was particularly entertaining. Her cold and exacting demeanor perfectly blends into the world of John Wick.
Despite some of the new characters failing to impress, old favorites didn’t disappoint. Laurence Fishburne returns as the Bowery King and just exudes cool from every pore. Ditto Ian McShane as Winston the manager of the NYC Continental. Next to John, he’s easily my favorite character in the entire franchise. Running a close third however is Lance Reddick as Charon, the concierge at the Continental, who’s always available to supply your every need, including guns. Lots of guns. Charon even gets to get in on the action which was a welcome surprise.
The biggest bullet in the chamber however is of course Keanu Reeves. People often belittle Reeves by saying he’s a terrible actor. I disagree. Rather I would say he possesses a range. Expecting Reeves to be Daniel Day-Lewis is like expecting Denny’s food to somehow magically become gourmet cuisine. It ain’t gonna happen. And yet time and again Reeves has delivered some of the coolest characters to ever grace the silver screen. Johnny Utah. Jack Traven. Neo. Hell I’ll even throw Ted “Theodore” Logan in there. John Wick is another. Reeves commits to this character like no other, especially when it comes to the physical aspect, performing most of his own fight scenes. Reeves knows how beloved this character is to so many people and no matter the situation, he’s always giving 110%.
With a fourth chapter already slated for May 21, 2021, the John Wick train shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. The films, like the titular character himself, have become a force of nature, with a momentum that even the strongest bullet would be hard pressed to bring down. There’s definitely no action fatigue for this John Wick fan. Am I ready for a fourth installment? Well to quote the man himself in the very last line of the film:
My rating System:
0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum: 8.5/10