Review: 'John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum' is a High-Octane Blast to the Cerebellum
by Adam Frazier
May 17, 2019
With the original John Wick, screenwriter Derek Kolstad and co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch created an atmospheric neo-noir thriller with exhilarating action sequences, an iconic action hero in John Wick, and an equally iconic lead performance by Keanu Reeves. The film, about an ex-assassin (Reeves) who comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that killed his dog, earned $88 million worldwide, and thus began the John Wick Cinematic Universe™. Stahelski and Kolstad doubled-down on the non-stop, exquisitely choreographed bloodshed in the sequel John Wick: Chapter 2 while exploring the mythological, hyper-real criminal underworld John Wick inhabits. Now, with John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Stahelski and Kolstad walk a tightrope between world-building and trigger-pulling to deliver a propulsive action flick with some of the most impressive stunts and set pieces in American action cinema.
The action picks up directly after Chapter 2 ends, as Wick finds himself declared "excommunicado" from the Continental after killing Camorra crime boss Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). Stripped of the protective services of The High Table, the global association of crime organizations that enforces the assassin’s code, the ex-hitman is on a race against the clock. With a $14 million bounty on his head, Wick is pursued across the globe by a horde of highly skilled assassins hellbent on putting him down, including Zero (Mark Dacascos, the Chairman on Food Network's Iron Chef America), a sushi chef who leaves his targets thinly sliced like sashimi. The title refers to the Latin adage Si vis pacem, para bellum, which translates to "If you want peace, prepare for war," and rest assured, the tortured Wick is at war with the entire world on his search for absolution in this book-brandishing, axe-throwing, sword-wielding epic of violence.
Returning for the third chapter is Laurence Fishburne as the powerful Bowery King, Ian McShane as The Continental Hotel's manager Winston, and Lance Reddick as Charon, The Continental’s rather helpful concierge. Joining the cast of characters is Halle Berry as Sofia, an assassin and a close friend of Wick; Anjelica Huston as The Director, a member of the High Table; Asia Kate Dillon (of Orange Is the New Black, Billions) as The Adjudicator; Jason Mantzoukas (of The League and Big Mouth) as the Tick Tock Man; and Ernest, portrayed by a 7' 3" Serbian NBA player named Boban Marjanovic. Also joining the mayhem are Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman, Indonesian martial artists known for their breathtaking (and bone-breaking) moves in Gareth Evans' awesome The Raid series.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is the best action movie since 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road, offering a killer combination of slick visuals, jaw-dropping fight choreography and stunts, and memorable characters who permeate the action and give it meaning. I love the sheer diversity of the set pieces in Parabellum – each brings a new and different flavor and gives you insight into the distinct elements of who John Wick is and the path he's on. Stahelski, a former stuntman himself, and Kolstad pay homage at every turn: John Woo's The Killer, John Boorman's Point Blank, and David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, just to name a few. There's a library brawl between Marjanovic and Reeves inspired by Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's fight in 1976's Game of Death. There's a high-speed horse chase through a rainy, neon-drenched New York City, with Wick pursued by sword-swinging ninjas on motorcycles ala The Villainess. And to top it all off, there's a battle in a spooky glass gallery that feels like a tech-noir mash-up of Skyfall and Enter the Dragon.
If John Wick is Death Wish by way of Le Samouraï, and Chapter 2 is Wanted, then Chapter 3 – Parabellum is The Raid or, more specifically, The Raid 2 – a staggering ballet of brutality with a sweeping scope that justifies its 131-minute runtime. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen's (of Crimson Peak, John Wick: Chapter 2, The Shape of Water) minimalist but sophisticated wide-frame camerawork utilizes every tool in the toolbox – dollies, cranes, Steadicams – to create a sea of nonstop carnage. The visual style is heightened by the breadth of locales as well, like Casablanca in Morocco, where Wick, Sofia, and her two faithful Belgian Shepherds mow through assassins using a combination of "gun fu" and canine jiu-jitsu. In addition to new locations, Stahelski's third chapter also goes to new places emotionally, delving deeper into Wick's personal journey while expanding on the stories of supporting characters like Winston and Fishburne's Bowery King.
Look, if you're not already totally into this franchise, Parabellum probably won't change your mind, but if you're a fan of what Stahelski, Kolstad, and Reeves have created, you're going to love this latest high-octane entry in the saga. The fight choreographers and stunt coordinators have truly outdone themselves this time, delivering some memorable set pieces that are works of art on their own. Parabellum is a kick in the ass, a bullet to the head, and a love letter to action cinema written in the blood of John Wick's enemies.
Adam's Rating: 4 out of 5
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