Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
The film trilogy, as we once knew it, is dead. We must accept this notion before diving into the next chapter in the John Wick saga. This is really just a warning for anyone expecting closure to John Wick's story in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. You're not going to get what you're looking for, which, in the grand scheme of things, perfectly encapsulates Wick's descent into this criminal underworld. It's neverending. Once again, Keanu Reeves fits perfectly into those suits and has the appropriate deadly reserve, with lightening quick hands to deal out death as the titular assassin. Wick's been through the wringer in the last two chapters, and he still delivers a riveting performance here. We've seen him go through Hell and we're continuing to see him go through Hell; the long journey of Parabellum doesn't see him exactly escape the trappings of his past, instead — for better or worse — it soldiers on, making you want more.
Taking place minutes after the end of John Wick: Chapter 2, Parabellum opens with John Wick running through New York City, with a ticking clock running, as he's about to be stamped "excommunicado." Not only will he no longer be able to use the many services catering to the hitman underworld, he will also have a bounty on his head, and every assassin in the city has his number. This opening set-up is as thrilling as you'd expect; as soon as his time is up, he faces off against dozens who are after that $14 million on his head. Among the implements used are: knives, motorcycles, horses, books, and, of course, guns.
It's as soon as Wick makes his way out of the city that Parabellum loses its incredible pace. He seeks help from old "friends", like Anjelica Huston's character, who holds secrets of her own pertaining to Wick's past. He also finds Sofia, played by Halle Berry, an assassin who owes a debt to Wick and must help him along his way. Then, with nowhere else to turn, Wick has to reach out to a higher up in the chain of command, wagering for his freedom. It's a slower pace, as Wick deals for his life. Like Chapter 2, Parabellum continues moving Wick's soul down an eternal chessboard, but unlike the previous entry, it does so less subtlety. At one point, a character places a gun in Wick's hand and tells him to choose whether to kill him or let him go. It ends up being an important decision but could have been played less on-the-nose. The John Wick films are more about movement and visuals, expounding on the themes at hand. In its second half, Parabellum's dialogue scenes about the price paid for the life of an assassin prove less thought-provokingly enigmatic. That's not to say its upfrontness isn't as enjoyable.
In comes the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), a member of the High Table, of which Wick killed a member at the end of Chapter 2, leading to his exile. The Adjudicator looks to assess the Wick situation and interviews and evaluates the parties involved. Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of the assassin hideout Continental Hotel, is reprimanded for letting Wick have a head start out the door. The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), the crime lord responsible for giving Wick a gun with seven bullets, is even audited and also pays a price. While the last two films built a cool assassin underworld with bulletproof suit tailors, gun sommeliers, and body-removal cleaners, Parabellum reminds you that it's not all fun and games. Bureaucracy boils us all down to boxes that need to be checked. It's an enjoyable element; it's not just the trained killers that'll get ya, it's the auditors who'll also come after you if you don't have your receipts in order.
But, hey, don't forget about those trained killers. You come to the John Wick movies for the action, of course, and Parabellum delivers. There are at least two sequences that certainly stand out in the opening; one concerning books and the other knives. There's also a motorcycle chase that borrows heavily from the South Korean action film The Villainess, and while it doesn't quite top it (please watch The Villainess) it's still a sight to behold. John Wick rides a horse, too! All that, plus, as soon as Halle Berry's Sofia comes into the picture, the two of them face off against a horde of gunmen, with the help of Sofia's attack dogs. Berry holds her own with the hand-to-hand combat and the gunplay and it's also thrilling to see these dogs gnaw away at their adversaries, all in a franchise built on man's love of good boys (doggies).
All of this leads to a finale, with hand-to-hand combat between Wick and High Table-hire Zero (Mark Dacascos) and his men. It is truly criminal that the stars of The Raid films and other Indonesian action films haven't broken through with American audiences. Some were featured, and wasted, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and some were properly utilized in the under-appreciated Beyond Skyline. Well, it brings me great joy to say Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman fight Keanu Reeves in a brutal two-on-one brawl that reminded me of those classic Raid battles. In a franchise that touches an every conceivable action trope imaginable, it's impressive to see the hand-to-hand combat constantly evolve and surprise. The lead baddie in this, Zero, turns out to be an obsessive fan of legendary killer John Wick, and Mark Dacascos plays him both slimy and awe-struck with good measure. He's a welcome villain in the long line of character actors playing villains in this universe.
Where does all this leave John Wick? Even before Parabellum we've seen his loss, and here we see him lose more. We're given more insight into the character, about where he came from and why he continues to fight. The standard film trilogy is dead, sure. Gone are the days where we wait for a third and final entry in a saga, that quick closure; we now have to wait 11 years and 22 movies in between, usually. There's even a rumor floating around of a new The Matrix film to upend the perfect The Matrix trilogy. But, it's about damn time we learn that this Reeves franchise is a separate journey than that other Reeves franchise. We're with John Wick for the long haul, and we're taking every hit and gun shot right along with him. It's frustrating that the end is anything but, yet John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum takes us on the journey through a neverending Hell and by its final frame we want more.