In only two movies, the John Wick franchise had gone from an edgy and stylish bullet flinger, to an artistic – virtually poetic, even – bonecrunching epic that’s become as much as a virtually unstoppable force as Keanu Reeves‘ impeccably composed hitman. Before Chapter 3 (laden with the unnecessary subtitle “Parabellum”) had even shot up a single frame of film, the enigmatic dog lover with a talent for impossibly slick murder was already a household name that became a shorthand description for the genre almost as much as John McClane, Dominic Toretto or Ethan Hunt – however, even after prevailing over countless thugs, certain death and even *checks notes* a deaf Ruby Rose, it seemed that Mr. Wick could have been facing his most insurmountable obstacle yet, one who has claimed many a hero both super and otherwise; of course I’m referring to the trilogy syndrome, where the third act of your trio of movies suddenly shits the bed, so to speak, and lets the whole team down.
Well, let me calm any fears you might of had and assure you that John Wick’s third pull of the trigger wasn’t just the best of the trilogy but it’s probably still one of the best pure action movies of the last few years.
Set just under an hour after the sizemic events of the previous movie left our Mr. Wick labeled excommunicado from the world’s fraternity of criminal wrong ‘uns, our hero has nearly used up his sixty minute head start until every hit person in New York descends upon him in order to earn a sizable payday. Dog in tow, we join Keanu Reeves’ unstoppable murder maestro wounded, on the run and fighting off any random chancers that have tried to jump the gun on the deadline. After a breathless bout of library set book-fu and then a remarkable set piece located inside a weapons museum which just so happens to include one of the greatest knife fights you’ve ever seen (by the end of it some of the guys look like fucking pin cushions) and then casually indulges in some brutality involving a fucking horse as a fighting utensil, John (and the film) finally, finally takes a well earned minute to gather himself.
It seems John’s iron will to survive has lead him to the Russian training school where he was trained as a young orphan (a long overdue welcome back to Angelica Huston using a close approximation of her accent from The Witches) where he calls in a favour that takes him all the way to Morocco to claim another favour from Halle Berry’s ferocious Shelia – there’s a lot of favours being handed out in this movie). Shelia and her show-stealing attack dogs agree to aid John in his quest to get out from under his death sentence by any means necessary which ultimately leads him back to The Continental, the crime-friendly hotel run by Ian McShane’s Machiavellian Winston. But due to his previous meddling in recent affairs, Winston may lose his hotel on the orders of the shadowy criminal overseers, The High Table, and so while the powers and alliances behind the scenes shift, a massive showdown is in order. No, really… I really do mean massive.
Where the John Wick movies have excelled (apart from the ground breaking tactile nature of the action scenes) is the expansion of the near-mythical underworld that Wick and his peers operate in and here it expands even further, taking in the aforementioned hitman school that hints a Wick’s origins and a branch of the Continental in Casablanca (think of the Continental as a Travel Lodge for crime Kingpins) but there’s still adequate time to check back in with Lawrence Fishburn’s boomy voiced vagrant kingpin, The Bowery King for some further exposition.
There’s an action movie guest list here too; not only is 90’s DTV action star Mark Dacascos present (and having a glorious time as an arch villain/John Wick fanboy, Zero) but so are the impressive duo of Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman from The Raid 2 who get to strut their awesome stuff as they hurl their lethal limbs in the direction of our hero’s vitals despite also showing a great deal of respect.
Of course, detractors may claim that the “plot” is nothing more than just dollops of exposition that only serve to either cast more, murky light on the increasingly complex rules of the world Wick operates in or simply to move him along to the next bout of energetic bloodletting – but to believe this is to grossly miss the point. John Wick has always been somewhat minimalist in order to create a mythic, comic book realm of crime for out hero to exercise his video game levels of physical stamina, and where this franchise has always directed it’s full attention is to the ever more stunning action sequences.
Plainly put, John Wick: Chapter 3 has some of the finest action seen in an American movie in the last decade with the first thirty minutes alone offering acts of brutality you’ve never seen before. Even once this barnstorming opening has faded and everyone John knows has to answer for helping him, it still piles on fights and stunts that consistently push the blood-soaked envelope. Either you’re cackling in a state of orgasmic excitement as Reeves and his enemies involve themselves in a set-to thatvsees them hurling blizzards of knives at each other, or gawking in disbelief as our hero gets into a chase/shoot out as he engages two murderous motorcyclists whole on horseback. From there he continues his reliance on animal support as Halley Berry’s attack dogs help to give us one of the most original shootouts you’ve ever seen while the climax not only sees John trading muzzle flashes with a bulletproof assault team, but also sees him get into a couple of good natured fights to the death in a roomful of glass walls.
Obviously, three time Wick director Chad Stahelski now has the formula down cold – super-slick action, stunning sets, gloriously over the top supporting cast, Reeves as an angel of death with a zen attitude – but we’re also now in a stage where the series can confidently reference itself to the great amusement of a savvy audience. Check Wick’s reaction to the aftermath of what happens when someone threatens one of Sofia’s gonad-mauling attack dogs (“I get it.”), or Zero’s over excited reaction to getting some socially awkward quiet time with his hero/target.
From indie curio to A-list champ, the most endearing thing about Parabellum (aside from that title) is that there is still more than ample room for a Chapter 4 and beyond – in fact, I’d sayit has to be a dead cert at this point (I’d even lay a gold coin on it) and much like how the Mission: Impossible franchise has blossomed and grown over the years, hopefully we can watch Reeves lose his Wick in future installments sooner rather than later.