John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) Review
TICK TOCK, MR. WICK!
In 2014, John Wick was released and instantly became a somewhat theatrical “hidden gem” that many (including myself) didn’t expect to be a big hit. Directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (although Stahelski was only credited), the film, which starred Keanu Reeves, focused on the character of John Wick, a man searching for the men who broke into his home, stole his vintage car, and killed his dog, which served as a personal memento from his recently deceased wife. Although it didn’t produce a large number at the box office, the film was met with critically success from critics and moviegoers, with many praising Reeves performance as the title character (many calling it the best role of his career) as the film’s action, with the movie being dubbed the “best action movie of 2014”. Given the success of the first film, it was inevitable that a sequel film would eventually materialize, which it did in 2017 with the release of John Wick: Chapter 2. This sequel proved to be even more effective than its predecessor, doubling down crazy and visceral action set-pieces and prove some of the best sequences of action movies in quite some time. Looking beyond the “blow by blow” explosive pieces of guns, weapons, and brawls, Chapter 2 also expanded upon the mythos of assassin underworld and of the character of John Wick as well proving a new playground (story wise) to build upon the lore of Wick’s “Baba Yaga” ruthlessness and deadly prowess as an assassin. In the end, Chapter 2, which continued to garnish critical praise from viewers and critics, succeed where most film sequels fail, endeavoring to go bigger and bolder than its predecessor, but also proving to be more fun and entertaining. Now, two years after the release of Chapter 2, Lionsgate and director Chad Stahelski present the much anticipated third entry in the franchise with the film John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Does this movie prove to be effective in taking the character of Wick (and its action) to new heights or does the film overkill its own premise of being more “loud and noisy” rather than cohesively entertaining?
After killing fellow assassin Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) within the confines of The Continental, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has been declared “excommunicado”, with the High Table placing a $14 million-dollar bounty on Wick for the murder. Offered a one-hour head start by the Continental’s manager / friend Winston (Ian McShane), John heads into the wilds of New York City, pursed by scores of assassins ready to collect their small fortune by taking on the legendary and lethal “Baba Yaga”. With very few places to turn to, John cashes in a debt to The Director (Angelica Huston), who offers the known hitman passage to Casablanca. Once there, John reconnects with Sophia (Halle Berry, Wick’s former hostile colleague, with the hope of trying to put his mess back in order; seeking a chance meeting to reverse his “excommunicado” moniker. However, at the same time, the High Table sends out The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillion) to New York City, dolling out punishment to anyone who played a part in Santino D’Antonio’s death and those who helped John Wick along the way.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve said many times before, I always love a good action movie. I’m not really looking for some super violent (with blood, guts, and swearing profusely), but something that walks a fine line between adrenaline action and cinematic entertainment. It’s definitely is a weird combination, but it’s something that works. A perfect example of this is in the John Wick movies. Of course, the first one set the precedent on setting everything up and how the narrative (being told) would be. To me, I thought this movie was just good, but it wasn’t my favorite. It definitely held my interest and I liked it, but it wasn’t the best. However, I can see why people liked it as much as all the “word of mouth” about John Wick (both the film and character) kept circling around me. John Wick: Chapter 2, on the other hand, is probably my favorite action movie within sometime. Not only was it entertaining and filled with plenty of brutal / over-the-top action sequences (of which many were well-done), but it was one of the movie sequels that actually built upon the original and (actually) surpassed it. Definitely was a great action that delivered on what was promised.
This brings me back to talking about John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, the third and newest entry within the John Wick film saga. As I said, John Wick: Chapter 2 felt viewers wanting more, leaving the film on an ominous note and of promising a more action-paced installment sometime in the future (i.e. Chapter 3). Of course, when it was announced that Chapter 3 would get a release date in 2019, I was pretty stoked; eagerly waiting for what lies in store for John Wick in the next entry. Of course, several internet buzz news between then and now helped me get even more excited for the film as did the film’s movie trailers, which I kept on seeing every now and again when I went to the movies. Judging from the trailers, Chapter 3 looked to be doubling down on its action sequences more than what Chapter 2 was able to achieve; promising even more crazier sequences of actions of John Wick in doing what he does best. So, Chapter 3 was definitely a film that was on my radar and even made it on my list for the “Top 15 Most Anticipated Films of 2019” (ranking #13 on the list). So, I went to see the movie during its opening weekend, hoping that my anticipation for Chapter 3 to deliver a totally action installment sequel. So, what did I think of it? Well, it certainly did….in spades. As a whole, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum delivers on what was promised: a cinematically stylish and very well-choregraphed action flick of visceral fight sequences from start to finish. There are a few flaws, but this third entry in the John Wick saga deliver a very satisfying installment in the franchise.
Returning for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is director Chad Stahelski, who previously directed the two other John Wick features. Thus, giving his knowledge of past experiences with the project (i.e. knowing what works best for the franchise), Stahelski seems like the best choice in helming Parabellum and (to that effect) he certainly does. Much like what he did with Chapter 2, Stahelski continues to double down on the film’s action sequences with a lot more “bark and bite” than in the previous installment. Of course, that’s what many viewers are looking (i.e. a grand cinematic spectacle of non-stop action) and Stahelski keeps that in mind; making the third John Wick installment a rollercoaster ride of action fights and bold (yet dramatic) storytelling with motion picture. Plus, given his background as a stunt man, Stahelski has keen sense of staging an action sequence, with Parabellum showcasing some of the most creative / impressive choregraphed fighting moments in an action movie that I haven’t seeing in quite some time. Thus, all the people involved with the feature’s stunts (be it stuntmen, body doubles, and fighting / vehicle chorographers) should be praised in making Parabellum looks beautifully and theatrically bold in action sequences throughout the film. This is particular expressive in the film’s opening fifteen minutes, which takes place where Chapter 2 ends, as well as the second act’s setting in Casablanca. There are even a few moments that I squirmed in my seat, thinking to myself “did Wick just kill that guy like that”, but it definitely adds to the whole “fantasy” aspect that action movie lovers would want to see. Plus, the movie utilizes plenty of weapons and items that John Wick handles, including guns, knives, swords, animals, vehicles, and even books. It’s quite amazing (cinematically) to see all of these coming together in such an over-the-top way that’s quite entertaining and visceral in the same way. I guess that’s the duality of it all. Some might argue that these movies are just “mindless” action movies, but I have to say that the John Wick movies are some of the absolute best “mindless” action features to date.
The films’ script, which was penned by Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams, and Derek Kolstad (who also developed the story), also proves to be fascinating point about the movie, with the narrative building upon what was established in Chapter 2. What do I mean? Well, much like the second John Wick film, Parabellum continues to expand upon the mythos of John Wick, shedding more bits and pieces of his past life (before the first film) as well as branching out more into the unseeing underworld of assassins, which continues to be controlled by the Hight Table. Taking what was established in Chapter 2, Parabellum continues that trend; offering new layer interest and intrigue to the tale being told. Thus, it’s not just about John Wick seeking revenge for one person (or crime boss), but rather a whole global organization hierarchy that has a monopoly on the assassin syndicates around the world. It’s definitely an interesting concept and its great to see the John Wick overarching story is evolving and expanding.
Looking beyond the action and the story, Parabellum’s presentation is quite amazing to behold, with the feature being rendered in a beautiful and cinematic way. To me, the whole juxtaposition of the brutal action fight scenes and the cinematography work is something that’s quite mesmerizing and you can see its quite a visual thing to behold. Even smaller details moments of lightning and certain camera angles are utilized masterfully in the movie; making Parabellum quite visually striking from start to finish. Thus, the valiant efforts made by cinematographer Dan Laustsen are excellent in adding a sort of “visual flair” for the feature and are greatly appreciated in the feature’s presentation. Even other moviemaking / technical areas, including production designs by Kevin Kavanaugh, costumes by Luca Mosca, set decorations by Letizia Santucci and David Schlesinger, and even film editing by Evan Schiff, are all equally impressive and lend a theatrical quality (i.e. a “look and feel”) that’s quite eye-catching and cinematically pleasing to look at. Lastly, the movie’s score, which was composed by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard, is also great and definitely help aid in the overall excitement of Parabellum’s spectacle and entertainment; matching perfect to all the kinetic action scenes and grandiose dramatic moments.
As highly entertaining as the movie is, Parabellum does have a few minor problems that I noticed throughout the movie. The one that clearly stands out (at least to me) is the excessive amount of fight sequences that are scattered throughout the movie. I’m sorry…let me rephrase that…. it’s how long these fight sequences are is the problem. Much like Chapter 2, the movie keeps the action level very high and keeps the camera fully invested on the scores of enemies that come to kill John Wick throughout the movie. Well, this is all well and good (one of the film’s “bread and butter” sort of speak), Stahelski seems to relished in some of the sequences a little bit too much; creating some scenes with excessive length that it becomes a bit too much and a tad redundant. One particular fight towards the end of the movie seems fits the bill of the criticism, which comes off as really unnecessary. Of course, it well-staged, but it ends up being partly meaningless and drags way too long (maybe for its own good). There are a few more areas like that in the movie as Stahelski refused to shave down these fighting sequences that could’ve been easily trimmed down for a tighter pacing as well as easily shaving off a good ten or so minutes off the film’s final runtime of two hours and ten minutes (i.e. 130 minutes).
Another problem I noticed in the film is how the film does (a few times) get lost within its own mythmaking lore. I said above, the Parabellum certainly expands more on what was said from Chapter 2 and does add a more expansive to this John Wick cinematic universe, but it also feels that the script handling is very much so in love with its own story being assembled that certain things get lost along the way. Certain plot points get changed halfway through the movie and characters completely change their allegiance without a second though; rendering their decisions made a few scenes ago moot or otherwise unnecessary. Another problem is the movie still kind of plays John Wick’s backstory a bit in the shadows. It definitely had mystery to the lore of the deadly assassin, but the movie keeps on hinting at the larger backstory; partially speaking out certain past stories that sound vaguely intriguing and just leaves them dangling. This is especially noticeable in Wick’s upbringing with the Ruska Roma (under the tutelage of The Director) and Wick’s past involvement with Sofia. Of course, this is a very minor quibble, but it feels for a movie that’s supposed to be quite simplistic (more focused on the action versus story) Parabellum keeps storytelling elements “in the dark” rather than bringing them to light. Perhaps the problem with this is the classic “too many cooks in the kitchen” in shaping the feature’s story / script. Hopefully, future installment will finally shed some light on Mr. Wick’s past.
Lastly, I felt that the film’s ending, while it was something I was kind of expecting, sort of felt rushed. I mean…the ending of Chapter 2 was a great ending in both dramatic poise and in theatrical storytelling that felt quite palpable. The ending of Parabellum just didn’t quite reach that heightened crucial moment and sort of tried to wrap everything up rather quickly. To me, I kind of wished for something more…. cinematically stronger. Again, this was mostly a minor compliant and didn’t really distract from my overall likeability of this movie.
Through all the action set pieces and well-staged fighting brawls sequences, the cast in Parabellum is also quite strong, with plenty of recognizable faces that are either returning to the John Wick project (from past involvement) or from well-known actin talents from other cinematic endeavors. Of course, much to be expected, the film’s chief main star (i.e. John Wick) takes centerstage once again in the movie, with actor Keanu Reeves returning to reprise his role of the titular assassin. Reeves, known for his roles in The Matrix trilogy, Constantine, and Point Break, continues to play a Wick as a more sympathetic “bad ass” good guy character that has ever been presented on-screen before. He’s certainly a force to be reckoned with, but he isn’t so much a larger-than-life character that spouts lengthy dialogue lines, but rather a character that let’s his physical action prowess do the talking for him. Thus, Reeves continues to handle the ability in his performance beautifully; making Wick’s journey all the more interesting by showcasing his vulnerably in what’s matters most, but in a subtle way. He definitely makes these movies work and I really couldn’t see anyone else play the character of John Wick better than him.
With this being third installment, Parabellum also sees the return of other veterans of the franchise, including actors Ian McShane (Deadwood and American Gods), Lance Reddick (The Wire and Fringe), and Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix trilogy and Black-ish), who reprise their roles as Winston, the manager of the Continental Hotel in New York City, Charon, the concierge at the Continental Hotel, and the Bowery King. I sort of knew that these characters were gonna appear once again in Parabellum and certainly deliver on adding that continuity aspect from the previous film. Of course, the acting talents of all three (McShane, Reddick, and Fishburne) are great and continue to provide excellent performances within their respective characters. Their involvement in Parabellum doesn’t advance so much of their development of their characters (per say), but their inclusion certainly feels right within the movie’s narrative structure and story. Hopefully, this won’t be the last we see of these characters in the future. Also, it’s kind of cool actress Margaret Daly (House of Cards and The Blacklist) returns to reprise her small role in Parabellum as the “operator” character.
There are several new characters that appear Parabellum and are excellent additions to the John Wick franchise (both in acting talents and in new fictionalize characters with this cinematic world). Perhaps the most memorable one of this group is actress Asia Kate Dillon (Orange is the New Black and Billions), who plays the character known as The Adjudicator, a no-nonsense person who serves the High Table’s best interest. Personally, I loved this new character. Cool, calm, and dealing out the consequential punishments to those who helped / aid John Wick on his quest for vengeance. It was definitely an interesting character and Dillon certainly played that part great (as well as looking the part of it as well). To me, she was my favorite new character and I hope that we get to see The Adjudicator again in future John Wick installments.
Behind her are actress Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball and Gothika) and actress Anjelica Huston (Ever After: A Cinderella Story and The Addams Family), who play the roles of Sofia, one of John Wick’s former associates and fellow assassin, and The Director, a high ranking member of the Russian mob (known as the Ruska Roma) who took John Wick in many years ago. Both Berry and Huston do excellent jobs in portraying the characters in the movie, leaving a lasting / memorable impression on their characters. They only serve a portion of Parabellum’s story, which is a shame (I thought it would’ve been longer), but Sofia and The Director are (like I said) great addition to franchise. Lastly, actor Mark Dacascos (Brotherhood of the Wolf and Drive) plays the character of Zero, a deadly assassin that The Adjudicator recruits for hunting John Wick in the movie. Dacascos certainly does deliver on being a formidable foe for the film’s title character and gets the job done, but his character does have a few cheesy lines. Let’s just say that he’s better seeing and not heard of. Then again…. Dacascos’s Zero dialogue lines also represents the feature’s self-awareness humor. So, it’s kind of goes “hand and hand” with the character.
Rounding out the cast are several minor characters, including actor Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones and Ripper Street) as Sofia’s old boss Berrada, actor Randall Duk Kim (The Matrix Reloaded and Kung Fu Panda) as “the Doctor”, actor Saïd Taghmaoui (Wonder Woman and Three Kings) as the mysterious senior member of the High Table known as “the Elder”, actor Jason Mantzoukas (The League and The House) as the “Tick Tock” man (one of the Bowery King’s servants), and actors Cecep Arif Rahman (The Gate and The Raid 2) and Yayan Ruhian (The Raid 2 and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens) as two of Zero’s pupils (named only Shinobi 1 and 2). These characters, though limited in screen-time, do make the most of their time allotted to them, especially Flynn and Taghmaoui in their respective roles.
The choices we make the and the consequences of those actions have led to this journey of deadly vengeance and deceive decisions in the movie John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Director Chad Stahelski’s latest feature continues action packed tale of the deadly assassin for another installment of over-the-top action as well as expanding upon the larger mythos of the franchise’s world of assassins as well as shedding a little bit more light on Mr. Wick’s past. While there are a few minor complaints I had about this movie (mostly in just some of the excessive / lengthy fight sequences), the movie ultimately proves to be a satisfying entry in the series, enticing viewers with its stylish cinematographer, “balls to the walls” action, well-executed choregraphing, and a great cast selection of the new and old characters. Personally, I loved this movie. I was quite entertained by Parabellum (story, action, and everything in-between) and the film was everything I was expecting from a John Wick and then some. To me, it was favorite John Wick film of the franchise (so far at least). Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a solid “highly recommended” as its offers a great entry for both fans of the series and casual moviegoers (those looking for a great and visually fun action popcorn flick). Given the film’s endings, it’s safe to assume this isn’t the last time we’ll see the character of John Wick on the silver screen; promising more to come from “Baba Yaga” and his dealings with the High Table. For now…. when it’s all said and done, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is a very solid and great sequel that delivers on both the cinematic spectacle and adrenaline rush of non-stop action.
4.4 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: May 17th, 2019
Reviewed On: May 25th, 2019
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is 130 minutes long and is rated R for pervasive strong violence and some language