Review - 'John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum'
Keanu Reeves is an enigma. He’s a genuinely great human being but was never received as a genuinely great actor, yet we all love him nonetheless. Having grown up on Speed, The Matrix, and Point Break, no matter how silly his dialogue or ridiculous his delivery, I always found him absolutely charming and impossible to hate. I never thought he was the best actor, but he certainly wasn’t the worst. Unless we count his role in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in which, yes, he was quite terrible. BUT I NEVER BLAMED HIM FOR THAT. He just shouldn’t have been in that movie…
Following his iconic role of Neo in The Matrix sequels, Reeves slowly drifted into the background becoming a sad meme and doing smaller roles in genre films, most notably Lake House with Sandra Bullock and his first directorial debut with Man of Tai Chi, which I think is a little underrated. It wasn’t until the first John Wick that Keanu finally found his place again in pop culture as the headshotting-hitman-puppy avenger. Chapter 2 built upon this legacy adding some great action sequences but felt largely been-there-done-that in comparison. Chapter 3 however feels as fresh and surprising as the first film with every action sequence upping the ante and every frame teeming with little details.
After desecrating the sanctity of the Continental by assassinating a target on premises, John Wick has essentially been disavowed and now has a $14 million bounty on his head. Everyone and their family is now after John and the exhaustion John faces, the audience faces it with him. There’s rarely a moment to breath as the abundant action sequences keep offering something new, whether it be the beautiful choreography, cinematography, or even the weapons involved.
There’s a brilliant dagger fight in the opening sections of the film and it keeps getting better the longer it goes on. The audience at my screening slowly became more audible as the action kept ramping up and more and more knives were being thrown. Now repeat that with every action sequence following. The only time I felt the action even become slightly dull was towards the end when John’s facing a horde of armored soldiers. Headshots were less effective but that may have been intentional as the action sequence following that shows John using shotguns with slug shells against these armored cronies and boy, does it rip them apart like you’re playing the video game DOOM.
The action and Keanu are why we go see John Wick but I think now especially, this franchise acts as a celebration of all martial arts cinema. So much of the John Wick films feels like a who’s who in action films as it’s filled with alums from The Matrix, and even The Raid and Man of Tai Chi. I think my favorite addition to this entry are Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman from The Raid and The Raid 2. While they play minimal roles, I love that they’re implemented in such a way that it feels like fanservice to those who loves those films. Otherwise, to a regular audience member, they’re just minibosses. It’s also neat seeing Mark Dacascos again as I only remember him from the reviled Double Dragon adaptation from 1994 and a couple other martial arts roles here and there but the guy’s got charisma and has some of the best lines in the film aside from Keanu.
The returning cast here like Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, and Laurence Fishburne are all at the top of their game so there’s nothing I can really add. Anjelica Houston is a wonderful addition to the cast as well but I think the standout is Asia Kate Dillon as the Adjudicator, sent by the High Table (who run the entire Assassin Underworld) to deal with John Wick and those responsible for helping him. She plays the role completely straight but it never comes off cheesy or laughable as you quickly discover when she makes demands, she seems them through, violently. And even in the moments where she loses, she accepts it and moves on to determine the next best course of action, never losing her cool. Also, The Adjudicator is such a rad name.
I do wish Halle Berry had a more prominent role in the film. I was excited to see her from the trailers and her using the German Shepards in battle was easily my favorite action sequence of the film as they’re just ripping apart assassins, but she’s maybe only in the film for a total of twenty minutes. I even expected her to show up at the end but nope. I do have a feeling she’ll back in future films though.
Speaking of the German Shepard sequence, I need to shout out this film especially for how often people are getting hit in the groin. Whether it being punched, kicked, or even bitten, everyone’s groin is getting wrecked. I haven’t seen this much nut punching since Total Recall and I’m all for it. I know if I’m in a life or death situation, I’m not gonna worry about some bullshit code of honor, I am going for the groin plain and simple and it’s hilarious how this movie pulls no punches about that. John’s hitting people in the nuts, Halle’s hitting people in the nuts, the dogs bite a lot of people’s nuts. Five out of Five nuts punched.
Joking aside, I need to talk about how director Chad Stahelski has somehow continued to maintain and further develop the world of John Wick without it ever losing its allure. Every shot, every set, every light, every color feels so deliberate and vibrant. Even when there’s no action, so much is going on in-frame.
“What can we fill this empty room with, Chad?”
“I don’t know, how about a ton of random chandeliers? It’s classy yet sophisticated.”
“Okay, and what do we fill the dark corners of these rooms with?”
The final set piece alone is a spectacle, quite literally as it’s several floors of a building with see-through glass as the floors and ceiling, and throughout the action, there’s reflections coming from every which-way including the digital signage from outside so it’s filled to the brim with bright colors.
There’s really no surprising twists or turns, and the story’s pretty straight forward compared to how zany Chapter 2 got, but really who’s paying attention to the story? These movies have always been about the action and the lore and Chapter 3 keeps those in balance without one ever outweighing the other.
John Wick: Chapter 3 -Parabellum is a masterclass in action and martial arts film making that warms my heart to have such thought and care put into every aspect of its production. To steal the words from the great John Wick himself: Yeah, I’m thinking that John Wick is back. And he’s better than ever.