When you buy your ticket for John Wick 3, prepare for war. The third (and evidently not final) installment in Keanu Reeves’ increasingly trendy no-fuss no-frills action franchise is an idyllic distillation of the draw of the series, amped up to the Nth degree, slurping down a snifter of brandy, armed with Schubert on vinyl, locked, stocked, loaded, ready to tango. There’s someone to kill around every corner, alongside a brain cell or two, if you fancy buying into all the bloody mayhem. The weapons are more plentiful, the armor is thicker, the violence is more violent. Hell, even the blood is bloodier. As the criminal underworld puts the titular invincible assassin squarely in its seemingly ubiquitous crosshairs, it’s John Wick versus the world. The odds are less than even.
John Wick 3 – Parabellum begins seconds after the last installment left off. The feared and respected Babayaga has been excommunicated from the secret society of assassins for violating the asylum of New York’s Continental Hotel, which has up to this point provided service and solace. With less than an hour before a 14-million dollar contract on his head posts to the vast network of killers the world over, John needs to figure out how to keep his head when his superiors are asking for it served on a dinner plate, apple affixed in his mouth.
John Wick’s world is both incredibly simple and dutifully granular. His inner world and character depth are humble, to say the least, his motivations at this point as Neanderthalic as (ah, ah, ah, ah) stayin’ alive, though the script from Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams hint slightly at some underlying soul, with which he is forced to bargain, and a touch of backstory, more surface-level lip service than anything suggesting real depth. Externally, the world of secret assassins, high tables, blood oaths, and various golden tokens that surround and encompass Wick are as duly developed as ever, the ever-expanding breadth of this vast underworld fraternity growing at such a rate that it can be assumed that roughly 10% of the population is somehow tied to underground crime rings.
These movies are driven by plot in only the most basic of senses – the stick to the eventual set piece’s carrot – the narrative a simple tool employed to get John Wick somewhere cool-looking to kill someone in some inventive way or other. And cool-looking the film is. Somewhere between the club-blasted neons and scorched earth deserts, the locales as mesmerizing as they are plentiful. The weapons at Wick’s disposal are vast and, this time out, commonplace, comically proven by Wick slaying someone with a thick book or a well-timed slap to a horse’s ass. Also guns. Lots of guns.
Director Chad Stahelski’s third outing behind the camera is as laser-focused and unfussy as ever, effective as a punch to the snout, as full of fire and fury as any repeat offender would be. Stahelski’s formal training takes root in his kick-boxing background and he choreographs the many, many action sequences with the ferocity of a thousand swirling limbs. But the violence is crisp, the staging confident and trackable, the blocking incredibly rehearsed, showing off the countless hours the cast poured into making the fight scenes as convincing, intelligible, and bonkers as possible. When it all lines up, Stahelski traps no small amount of enthusiastic “oohs and ahhhs” from gasping audiences. It’s hardcore porn with guns and blades and anyone who’s here for this third John Wick movie has knowingly come to wank at its altar.
Somewhat to the film’s detriment is the fact that the crème de la crème of the action highlights comes early on with a brutal knife throwing fight, followed by a blistering horse vs. motorcycle race, which none of the gun violence that follows manage to match. There’s a sequence in Casablanca involving Halle Berry’s Sofia and her pair of murderous German Shepards that’s a real showstopper as is a two-v-one showdown against the Raid fellas but eventually, the wall-to-wall action becomes a case of diminishing return, and at a chunky 130 minutes, there’s more than enough to go around.
Keanu Reeves has unceremoniously made John Wick his mid-career avatar and the character, one as hysterically monotoned as Neo and as single-minded as Johnny Utah, is an amusing vestige of ultraviolence, if lacking in various shades of humanity. He’s a Panzer with appendages; a tornado of hollow-point shells; a cracked chasm of death. The supporting cast, which includes series regulars Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Lance Reddick alongside amusing newcomer Mark Dacascos as a rival assassin with an overdeveloped John Wick fandom and a middling Asia Kate Dillon as no-nonsense High Table Adjudicator, try to flesh out different shades of Wick, but he remains as stubbornly one-dimensional and one-track-minded an action hero as money will buy. And at this point, I’m willing to keep shelling out for it.
CONCLUSION: Zany close-range action choreography, blistering technical marksmanship, a plethora of gorgeous backdrops, and Keanu Reeves’ amusingly cartoonish and glib performance make ‘John Wick 3 – Parabellum’ exactly the kind of mindless action escapism fans of the series cream themselves over, if little more.
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