Movie Review: John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum.
Dear John, it feels like we’re stuck in a rut. That’s not a good thing.
The third installment of Keanu Reeve’s assassin franchise, John Wick, hit theaters this week. As it easily made our top ten most anticipated movies list, I was all in. For the first third of the movie, Mr. Wick did not disappoint. The visual aesthetic, the world building, and the ridiculously stylish action were in top form. Then the film changed gears, and it felt like director Chad Stahelski seemed to be spinning his tires. Perhaps we’ve just run out of amazing ways to kill people onscreen. Perhaps we’ve already hit peak-Wick. Whatever it was, I left the theater feeling that the franchise’s magic was diminished.
John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum.
After breaking the rules of his order to get revenge, top hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has been excommunicated from the assassination organization – The High Table. With a bounty on his head of 14 million dollars and a death sentence imposed on anyone who helps him, John is going to have to use every bullet in his arsenal in order to escape New York alive.
Starting with the good, John Wick 3 is once again a gleeful playground of masterfully choreographed mayhem. John can and will use everything at his disposal as a weapon, leading to some fantastically innovative fight sequences. The audacious ideas are backed up by Stahelski’s stunt choreography and the physical performances of the stars and courageous stunt people. While the film does dabble more heavily with CG this time around, there is plenty of good old fashioned practical effects, and the cinematography doesn’t cheat the spectacle by jumping around. If you liked the action of the first two films, you’ll be rewarded again here.
The neo-noir aesthetic of the series is still nicely realized. There is plenty of neon colors, low key lighting, and strong interplay of light and shadow. One faction after John even relies on the heavy shadows of the visual style, seeming to materialize out of the darkness to strike. The number of locations the film takes place in has increased dramatically, but each feels well realized and hews to the same over-arching aesthetic. The costume work is also top notch. John Wick may be gun porn, but it works equally well as fashion porn.
The place where John Wick 3 falters, badly, is in the story. For the first act, I was excited because I didn’t know what John would do next. The rest of the movie, I glumly realized that John (and the writers) didn’t really know either. The middle of the film bogs down in a inexplicable diversion to Casablanca which culminates with John doing some really un-John-like stuff. It also manages to make the gun-fighting sequences feel gratuitous and tedious. From there, we’re whisked back to New York for a climax that doesn’t make sense, and doesn’t address any of the questions raised by the plot. At least the final fight sequences are up to par.
We meet plenty of new faces: an intriguing figure from John’s past played by Anjelica Huston, a reluctant ally played by Hale Berry, and a wonderfully over-the-top villain played by Mark Dacascos. The problem is that the plot never advances and rarely deepens. It’s a circular journey, ending where it began. The only difference is that our hero has had his motivations tarnished and his character cheapened along the way. Besides a few wink and nod moments from Keanu to his other action franchise – The Matrix – he seemed flat here, rarely showing the grim doggedness mixed with tender sentimentality that elevated the first film above its premise.
Along for the Ride.
John Wick Chapter 3 isn’t exactly bad. For fans of action flicks, its still the best fighter in town. It has style and atmosphere and mood that make it unique and memorable. While the series doesn’t quite use its soundtrack to equally memorable effect, it’s still rather good in places. If all you wanted was to see Keanu wipe out a city’s worth of assassins in an elegantly tailored suit, you’re in good hands here. If you wanted to see the world and character of John Wick move from stylish enigma to fully-fleshed concept, you’re on much shakier ground.
It’s hard to know where the franchise goes from here. The story begs for another iteration, but what form that takes is up in the air. Keanu did say that he didn’t want to spin out the series indefinitely, and aspects of this film seem to hint that there may not be much more to this character beyond more bloodletting. There is also a television series on the horizon, teasing Reeve’s involvement. Whether we get a fourth film or a denouement via TV, I’m still interested in seeing how the story ends. I just have the feeling that when that end comes, we’ll look back at Parabellum and see a largely forgettable chapter in that story.