John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum Review

John Wick is officially no longer a shadowy cult-status antihero, but a full-fledged action icon. In “Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” the franchise continues to parody itself, parody its star and give the fans what it presumes they want: a body count accumulated with the utmost glee.

In the expansion of their neon-filled assassin underworld, director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad continue to look for ways to make the story and the action bigger. As they demonstrated in “Chapter 2,” they have a keen understanding of “John Wick’s” strengths as it relates to providing entertainment; they know how to press all the right buttons and create unforgettable action. A fight in an antique weapons shop at the beginning of “Chapter 3” adds to the series’ legacy of scenes you won’t soon forget. Yet the strength of what glues these gems together has not kept pace as the series has progressed.

The approach to “Chapter 3” is pretty much a carbon copy of “Chapter 2” in this regard. Both films have their moments, but neither film replicates the emotional undercurrent that guided the original “John Wick.” The character, though still embodied in all the right was by Keanu Reeves, is a hollow shell compared to the emotionally tormented man he was the first film. He’s become the anonymous Player One at the center of a first-person shooter video game. A wave of desensitization to the violence happens on and off throughout both sequels, whereas every gun shot of “John Wick” was a man expressing his anger and sadness.

While “Chapter 3” doesn’t reclaim that — opting to develop the hierarchy of the High Table rather than dive deeper into Wick’s psyche — it settles more comfortably into the franchise’s presumed long-term direction of being oft-smirking, self-referencing and pushing the creative boundaries on how thugs and martial arts masters can be dispatched.

The film’s strengths and weaknesses come together in a scene involving a side mission with the cast’s newest member, Halle Berry (as Sofia), and her two highly trained attack dogs. That section of the film ends with John and Sofia taking people out left and right for less than obvious reasons — the kind of action that lulls you to sleep — but punctuates it with some remarkably wild stunts or camera shots that evoke audible reactions. Stahelski manages to be equally as innovative as he is redundant.

Starting exactly where “Chapter 2” left off, the film begins with this excellent tension of a countdown until Wick is excommunicated from the assassin world, but then loses a lot of focus. We do meet a couple amusing new characters in The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) and Zero (Mark Dacascos) that help to flavor and build out the mythology of the series, which could bode well in establishing a clearer conflict in “Chapter 4.”

By the standard of the original, “John Wick: Chapter 3” struggles in all the ways “Chapter 2” did, but it does have a clearer sense of what kind of movie it is and what kind of series it wants to be. It’s clear that none of the sequels will ever measure up to the catharsis of 2014’s “John Wick,” but it’s also clear that this combination of concept, director and star is working at a level that exceeds most of its blood-spilling peers.

3.5/5 Stars

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Directed by Chad Stahelski
Written by Derek Kostad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins & Marc Abrams
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Halle Berry, Lawrence Fishburne


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