(Image courtesy of Lionsgate via EPK.tv)
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 — PARABELLUM— 3 STARS
Let’s get the premier vocabulary out of the way before you get punched in the face, bitten by a dog, hit by a car, kicked by a horse, slashed by a blade, or, at the very least, double-tapped dead from opposition or inaction. The Latin subtitle applied to director Chad Stehelski’s third rapid fire romp is the stinger that sets the tone.
LESSON #1: DEFINITION OF “PARABELLUM” — Traditionally, parabellum translates to “prepare for war” as the endnote of the phrase Si vi pacem, para bellum voicing “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Diving deeper, it can also mean the “proprietary name for a type of automatic firearm.” How apropo for what some will consider a mindless action movie where the glibness is armor-piercing.
War set to a rate-of-fire beat of melee lead and breaking bones is indeed what you’re getting with John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum. Springboarding from its increasing success, one could say the movie stylishly assaults your senses with its own creative focus, commitment, and will behind the camera to match the stoic Keanu Reeves protagonist in front if it. Swelling enough from its redundancies, this symphony of gunpowder and gumption will satiate your summer thrills just fine.
Continuing mere minutes after the conclusion of 2017’s sequel, John Wick (Reeves) has killed on Continental grounds, breaking a cardinal rule of the High Table underworld of assassins. His long-time friend and New York hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane) has no choice but to excommunicate Wick and level a $14 million open contract on his life with a benevolent one-hour head start. Once that clock chimes and the order comes down, John has no friends, safe havens, or available resources. The tactically thirsty and trigger-happy emerge from every seedy pore and urban armpit, right down to the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) and his army of disguised vagrants, to earn that lucrative score. By the way, Forest Whitaker and Jim Jarmusch called. They want their pigeons and sullied mystique back.
LESSON #2: THIS WORLD HAS TOO MANY CONTRACT KILLERS — While it’s a cool effect to see cell phones blow up and the eyes of deadly strangers stare daggers at their popular potential mark everywhere he goes, the question must be asked. Is there really that much available work for this many hired killers in the Big Apple? They’re on par with Uber drivers and starving artists. Well, our hero needs victims and the body count has to come from somewhere.
LESSON #3: MAYBE DON’T F — K WITH THE GUY WHO’S UNDEFEATED — It’s minorly admirable that these trendy and skilled warriors keep on coming with whatever dedication they have mustered, but at some point, they need to ask if this prize is worth it. Know that John Wick is better than you. Make your money elsewhere. There are plenty of other feathers to earn in one’s cap. Sit this one out and live a longer life.
Constantly fighting off combatants and needing an exit from the city, John retraces his personal history to seek assistance from two key people. First, he seeks the Director, played with stern regality by Anjelica Huston. She is the High Table woman who fostered John’s adoptive Belarusian origins, which opens exposition ever-so-briefly for a morsel of character development for our man “Jardani.” The second is Halle Berry’s twin-dog-flanked Sofia, the hardened manager of Casablanca’s gin joint Continental location in Morocco. She owes John Wick a marker that he cashes in for urgent assistance that pulls her away from management and back in the field.
LESSON #4: FEALTY IS IMPORTANT — The obligatory profession of loyalty for three movies and counting now has been “I will serve and I will be of service.” The talks of rules and consequences have only increased with the bounties. Not a single person in this film doesn’t bend to some measure of fealty and everyone has to answer to somebody. Asia Kate Dillon from Orange is the New Black introduces an edgy dimension as the Adjudicator of the High Table deputized to step to anyone and demand payment for unsatisfied fealty via the enlisted blades and kicks of Mark Dacascos’ sadistic Zero (a long time after Romeo Must Die and his cheap theatrics on TV’s Iron Chef incarnations) and his students.
With each increasingly more expensive movie in this series, the hero and the action have become more relentless with every new threat. The creativity of the acutely choreographed punishments meted out by the cast and their stunt teams remains endlessly inventive. The best sequences come in the front half of the film. Clashes with heavy books in a library, every blade imaginable in an antique weapon collection area, hooves in a Zorro moment on horseback, and Sofia’s canines darting through architecture, frames, and flesh are scenes that show off incredibly dynamic kinetic violence that has become second to none in the present blockbuster landscape. These scenes will make a primed communal crowd pop like a WWE arena.
Once those hapless initial opponents fall away, the fever breaks for an adrenaline-sapping Saharan walkabout to see a High Table elder (the internationally ambiguous Said Taghmaoui) who could lift sanctions. Between that lull and Zero’s emergence as the final heavy hitter, the hammy presence Dacascos is saddled with playing negates a good measure of the intensity away from what was already cartoonish enough at face value. The finale is not the time to lose your edge. If you reversed the action sequence order of this third film, you would have a movie that peaks instead of sags.
Halle Berry, who comes and goes too quickly in the beefy 131 minute saga, has a nice little speech to Reeves asking the rhetorical question series of whether John Wick can “fight wind,” “smash mountains,” or “bury the ocean.” With plenty of movie star invincibility, the answer might as well be another Keanu Reeve’s “yeah” growl in his steely signature deadpan stance. Hopeless from further performance expression, a Keanu in gear is a Keanu in gear. It works and it impresses. We knew this was coming, but, now that John Wick has gone international, this franchise has jumped the shark to a Fast and Furious level. Let’s have John Wick fight Ethan Hunt, James Bond, and Jason Bourne next. Go ahead and throw your pick of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham roles in next. Keanu will certainly be the most vacant personality in that battle royale, but he would still likely be the one standing at the end with the bloodiest mop. You know you’d pay money to see that. Don’t kid yourself.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#784)