2019 | rated R | starring Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Asia Kate Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, Halle Berry, Mark Dacascos, Angelica Huston | directed by Chad Stahelski | 2 hrs 11 mins |
Appropriately called Chapter 3, Parabellum is another excellent chapter in the continuing saga of action movie excellence that is John Wick. Picking up exactly where the knockout cliffhanger of John Wick: Chapter 2 left off, Wick (Keanu Reeves) has been given 1 hour by Continental manager Winston (Ian McShane) before a global $14 million bounty is put on his head for breaking the rules of the secret fraternity of assassins, the High Table, and every homeless guy or stranger on the street comes gunning for him. And we’re off – with director Chad Stahelski (who has guided all of the Wick films with a singular clear-eyed vision for action choreography) delivering a rain-soaked bonanza of an opening act involving antique guns, knives, axes, horses and motorcycles.
To say Parabellum was more of the same would be both a ringing endorsement and a bit of a missed point, as it’s simply more of the story, now into hour 4 (I’m not a huge fan of the first Wick, Chapter 2 is the revelation here) of a bonanza of action that rivals Gareth Evans The Raid series for the best action movies on the planet right now, and there is no rivalry here with some of the Raid alumni making an appearance in Parabellum. The inventive variety and sly humor in the fight scenes is wonderful, moving the film from rain-soaked New York to an attack dog-heavy sequence in Casablanca to the glassed-in top floor of The Continental itself, it is all thrilling with new flavors being added to the mix to keep the action from becoming numbing. It’s a colorful visual feast of the eyes and ears. Seemingly inspired by the physical comic ballet of Buster Keaton and very atune to the visual language of film, Stahelski knows his job is to thrill, not punish the audience under bloody excesses. The film is fiercely violent but not gory.
John Wick remains a video game silent protagonist, serving selflessly for the rules of the High Table and the memory of his late wife. The way Stahelski has structured these films, that’s exactly what he needs to be right now, but he injects personality into the product in other ways. Where Chapter 2 built out the universe of the High Table, Chapter 3 builds a bigger universe – and populates it with a colorful supporting cast. Laurence Fishburne returns as the King of the Bowery and Asia Kate Dillon makes a star-making addition as the High Table’s nameless Adjudicator pulling the strings and dictating out threats. The series streak of humor also runs deep in Chapter 3. As Wick turns out to be a celebrity among the assassins, the henchmen sent to fight him are honored for the privilege.
John Wick 3 continues a new generation of action directors taking back the genre from the over-edited, CGI-heavy styles of Michael Bay and Peter Berg that dominated the early 00s. Someone told Stahelski one too often that his action was fighting ballet so he literally incorporates ballet into the proceedings. It’s an allowable indulgence in a decadent, highly satisfying film. Chapter 3 ends with another cracker-jack sequel set-up. At this point I wouldn’t doubt Stahelski has enough creative juice in the tank to keep this franchise going for as long as he’d like. Parabellum is just marvelous.