In the interest of complete transparency, I have to be honest here; I love John Wick. I love the character. I love the stripped down plot. I love the extraordinarily choreographed action sequences. I love the corny dialogue. I love the immediate awareness that, when facing up against John Wick, you’re probably screwed. In short, I love the simplicity and focus that allows the character to exist and thrive.
That simplicity is what led the first John Wick to be my second favorite action film of the last decade (just behind Mad Max Fury Road). The filmmakers stripped away all of the unnecessary bloat that many “pure” action movies carry, and made it all about the kicking of many, many asses. And it was awesome.
John Wick‘s premise is simple: a former assassin who had escaped from his violent past loses his wife to a disease, leaving him brokenhearted and aimless. His only solace comes in the form of his radical sports car and his wife’s final posthumous gift to him: a puppy. When a Russian thug takes a liking to his car, he breaks into Wick’s house, steals the car, and kills the puppy. This does not please John Wick.
From here, the film drops almost any illusion of depth or complexity and allows Keanu Reeves to shoot, stab, and punch his way through dozens of disposable bodies to exact his revenge. It’s simple, tight, and perfectly executed. There’s nothing to distract the audience from the star of the show: action.
The second film in the series retained the best parts of the first, but also spent an unfortunate amount of time trying to build up the world that existed only on the periphery in the original: the underground community of assassins. Even so, John Wick: Chapter 2 delivered in spades, and even managed to top many of the original’s best sequences.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, for better or for worse, represents a continuation of the trend its predecessor introduced. The action is still incredible, the set pieces are bigger and more impressive than ever, and a disconcerting portion of the film’s runtime is concerned with the universe in which John Wick operates.
It’s difficult to discuss the plot without spoiling Chapter 2, but if you’ve seen any of the trailers for Parabellum, then you already know that Wick is being hunted by every assassin on the planet, and must find some way to survive. His journey takes him from New York City to Morocco to the vast sand dunes that occupy the region known as Western Sahara (not the Sahara Desert, I recently learned).
As much as I understand the desire to continuously elevate the scale of films like this, the globetrotting adventure twist on the series does little for Chapter 3 other than muddle the plot, disrupt the pacing, and prevent the focus from staying laser-locked to what has always made the Wick films so enjoyable: simplicity in story and excellence in action.
That’s not to say that the action in Parabellum is lacking; it most certainly is not. Right from the start, the filmmakers make it known that this is going to be a wild ride. Chases on horseback, motorcycle fights with ninjas, and tons of headshot. The only gripes I have with the combat sequences are A) sometimes, due to the ambition of the choreography and the speed/scale of the fights themselves, a heavier reliance was put on digital effects this time around, and B) Chapter 3 puts a strong emphasis on knives and swords, meaning that many of the deaths were considerably more gruesome than in previous installments.
Performance wise, most everything is as you’d expect. Reeves is perpetually stone-faced and delivers his lines with as much Matrix corn as possible, all while owning each and every fight with ease. Laurence Fishburn overacts as much as he did in Chapter 2, but has considerably more to work with in this script. Ian McShane is still perfectly reserved as Winston, the manager of the Continental Hotel. Halle Berry delivers a forgettable performance while talking, but dominates the scenes where she starts displaying her formidable combat skills.
All in all, John Wick: Chapter 3 is another worthy member of the franchise. If you liked the previous films, odds are you’ll like this one. If not, then you’d be best served to stay away. Parabellum doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and it doesn’t have to. For my own part, I hope that the inevitable Chapter 4 sheds some of the dead weight that held 3 down, but whether or not my wish comes true, you can bet money on the fact that I’ll be there opening day to watch my favorite taciturn assassin do what he does best.