Review: John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum

Wick is back. Excommunicado and on the run after the events of Chapter 2, a $14 million dollar bounty sits above Wick’s head that every assassin in New York City seeks to claim. Unfortunately for them, that makes the odds just about even.

As with any franchise that starts to grow in confidence and box office success, there comes an expectation for every succeeding film to have to grow and reach for greater heights to satisfy the needs of the audiences craving those thrills. The Fast and Furious franchise did this by switching genres from B-movie underground street racing flicks to big action thrillers. McQuarrie showed with his Mission Impossible films that there is no stunt too impossible for Cruise to perform and Bay’s Transformers, well, continued to be Transformers. It seemed inevitable then that John Wick would eventually fall into the same rhythm, even at the third entry. Thankfully, we’re still on safe grounds for now (or Continental if you will). For John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum is an absolute masterclass display of how to keep a franchise full of new inventive ways to deliver action sequences that never feel repeated and induce “ooohs” and “ooofs” in equal measure.

In roughly the first hour alone, there is a book fight, a knife fight, a horse fight (Don’t worry, the horses aren’t harmed but they do play Buckaroo), a horse and bike chase, as well as multiple hand to hand melees. The style and intensity of these sequences are astonishing, making full use of Keanu Reeves’ many martial arts skills as he takes down one assailant after another with lethal precision. Director Chad Stahelski, who was Reeves’ stunt double and stunt coordinator on The Matrix films, keeps the camera right in the middle of the action without interfering, allowing every beat to be hit, literally, with the audience in full view. Too often in modern western action films, the camera can get lost in the whirlwind of choreography with the people on-screen becoming blurs as they whip about in a frenzy. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen keeps the clarity and also manages to add beauty to the violence; he bathes sets in neon and creates shadows for both Wick and his enemies to step in and out off. Its a brilliant mirroring of craft and storytelling that really elevates the film and stands it above others in the genre.

I’d even go as far to say that John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum is probably the best action and martial arts film to have come out from western cinema that can proudly stand alongside Gareth Evans Raid films. It even features two of the guys from them, Cecip Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian as Shinobis’ 1 and 2, whom Wick has to face in a penultimate boss level finale. It seems fitting that the series has started to expand its scope outside of New York, with Wick even going full-on Lawrence of Arabia in one bizarre scene that felt like it belonged in The Mummy. If there is criticism to be had with this film, it is assuredly with its narrative. Whilst, for the most part, John Wick’s excursion overseas in search of a second chance from the High Table (the same table that wants his life) seems a believable plot point, it never feels as tightly focused or told with the confidence felt in the previous two films. The expanded mythology of the world of Wick in Chapter 2 meant that you had to ride with some of its more out there elements, but they also felt just enough on the peripherals of the main plot so as to not confuse it. Chapter 3 introduces additional bits of lore and places connected to the world of assassins that so easily blend into society that everyone and their neighbour seems to be a part of. But some of it is so far-reaching and almost ridiculous that suspending your disbelief is the only way of keeping it grounded.

However, the screenwriters do seem to be self aware of the slightly bonkers direction the series is going. They lighten up moments with some very serious-face comedy and an extremely meta moment, as Wick says he needs “Guns. Lots of guns.”, a knowing throwback to The Matrix. There are also several funny moments in which people trying to kill Wick, repeatedly tell him that they are big fans and thats its an honour to finally meet him, with Wick awkwardly acknowledging it. It helps to keep the film from becoming too serious with itself and provides some needed tonal balance, that allows the audience to laugh even when John is racking up headshots and bodies for days.

Its good to see Reeves enjoying a comeback as an action star once more, especially with a role that has become iconic and popular so rapidly. He excels as the bruised and growling John Wick and makes all the action and stunts he has to pull off seem effortless. I’d certainly put my money on him to win against Bourne, Bond and Hunt in a 1v3. With a fourth film already announced for 2021, we can look forward to Wick’s return to see how many more creative ways he can kill people with inanimate objects. Lets hope no-one lends that book from the library anytime soon…

John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum is still available to see at the Vue and Everyman York.

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Phillip Cullen

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