|Original caricature by Jeff York of the cast of JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM
Some may prefer the JASON BOURNE and TAKEN franchises, but for pure, unadultered action, you can’t beat JOHN WICK. The newest chapter entitled JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM opens Friday nationwide. All three of the movies have been incredibly well-made, rollicking entertainments. They’re also easy to follow visually, and that’s important in the action genre where grasping what’s going on is essential. Yet, it’s funny how many actioners are a jumble onscreen because they’re cut too quickly to cover the limitations of the physicality of their stars. (Ahem, Matt Damon and Liam Neeson.) That’s not a problem with the man playing Wick. Keanu Reeves is clearly doing most of his own stunt work, and he moves precisely throughout all the intricate choreography, selling it with gusto.
This time out, Reeve’s Wick is on the run from a slew of assassins out to get him, and the entire movie is virtually one, extended chase sequence. The brooding hit man is on the lam because in the second film, he committed a no-no when he killed a double-crossing bad guy in the Continental Hotel. That exclusive sanctuary is supposed to be a war-free zone, so for his breaking of the rules, a bounty gets placed on Wick’s head as punishment. The hotel’s stern proprietor Winston (Ian McShane) even declares Wick excommunicado. Soon, the message goes out to hundreds of assassins, thugs, and miscreants that Wick’s death will net some lucky killer 12 million smackers, and soon everybody and their brother starts preparing their shot.
This one picks up from there with Wick and his dog hightailing it through a rainy Manhattan night, heading towards the New York City Library where Wick has stored some valuables he’ll need to escape the city. He picks up a few markers he’s left behind, and a batch of those nifty gold coins, hoping that it’s all enough for safe passage across the Atlantic. But before he can even pack a bag, an over-eager thug (Boban Marjanovic) tracks him down to the library and the movie yields its first set-piece. The men battle, using heavy books as weapons in a cheeky and brutal fight scene.
Director Chad Stahelski stages such action and makes every punch land with the pugilists as well as the audience. He ensures that we can follow all the moves and through-lines, sparing the editor from having to cover for the actors. Reeves and Marjanovic mix it up incredibly well with each punch, thwack, kick, leap, and toss of a periodical.
From there, Wick wisely leaves his dog in the adroit care of hotel concierge Charon (Lance Riddick) to rush off to offer his marker to a Russian oligarch living in NYC who will smuggle him out of the country. She goes by the name The Director, a tough cookie who moonlights as the head of a Russian ballet company. Anjelica Huston plays the part and it’s one of the film’s distinct pleasures to see her mix it up with Reeves, tossing bitchy quips back and forth as easily as he trades punches.
Soon Wick is on his way to Morocco, and once there, he joins forces with a fellow assassin named Sofia (Halle Berry). She owes him for saving her daughter, and he wants her to use her connections to get the bounty lifted off of him. When the powers that they need to convince aren’t convinced, the two of them, along with Sofia’s attack dogs, well, attack. The four of them battle hordes of local baddies and Berry and the dogs prove themselves to be excellent stunt people too.
Together the four of them must take out 20-30 thugs, and indeed, there is a lot of violence in this film, but it’s so over-the-top that it rarely induces squeamishness. At the screening I attend, more people diverted their eyes when a ballerina in the story removed a dead toenail. And it’s hard to take it seriously when the dogs go for the crotch again and again and again.
The action becomes all the more impressive when Wick returns to New York and battles assassins in horse stables, on motorcycles, and during elaborately staged fights amongst expensive art exhibits. It is said in film that action is character, and indeed, all of the actions Wick takes suggest an intrepid fighter whose righteousness is almost as lethal as his tenacity.
Other stars show up in vivid supporting parts, most notably Asia Kate Dillon (BILLIONS on Showtime) as The Adjudicator, a sort of auditor for the High Table. She’s flying about and doling out punishment to those who’ve aided Wick in his escape, including Winston and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne, again having a ball in a boisterous performance.) Dillon relishes her role too, rolling her eyes for big laughs as her by-the-book accountant cannot believe all the shenanigans she witnesses.
The Adjudicator makes Winston and the Bowery King pay for their sins by having her minions kill their men, and here the death count rises well into the hundreds. All those deaths can become a bit numbing, but the carnage is swift and clever in all the imaginative ways the film finds to kill people.
Other pleasures to be found in JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM include Mark Dacascos as a sushi chef moonlighting as a lethal killer. He’s a comic highlight here. Even better is the gleaming production design which deserves Oscar recognition come 2020, but I won’t hold my breath hoping that the Academy is progressive enough to nominate Kevin Kavanaugh’s superb work. The sad fact is that they seldom award genre pieces.
The script by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams manages to keep the proceedings witty without resorting to the kind of stale jibes that doomed too many Eastwood, Stallone, and Schwarzenegger vehicles in their later years. Reeve’s Wick is a man of few words anyway, a guy who lets his actions do the talking, and boy, do they speak volumes.
For my entertainment dollar, the trio of JOHN WICK films stand as one of the better film trilogies in the history of movies. Still, it looks like there’s going to be a fourth chapter on the way, as a battle with the High Table is set up at the end of this one. Bring it on, I say. JOHN WICK will kill it once again.