Chad Stahelski’s John Wick trilogy has three times over given the action genre the shot of adrenaline it’s desperately needed for a long time. Starting as a relatively humble revenge flick with a B-movie’s sensibilities, the films have evolved into a surprisingly rich underworld of captivating lore topped off by wicked action scenes and visuals that are always upping the ante. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum sticks the landing of the last two films’ increasing stakes while kicking everything that’s made the series great up a notch.
Parabellum—I’ll save you the google—translates from the Latin phrase si vis pacem, para bellum: “if you want peace, prepare for war.” Chapter 3 doesn’t disappoint in that regard, picking up immediately after Chapter 2 as John Wick (by now, maybe the role Keanu Reeves was born to play) is excommunicated from the shadowy guild of international assassins for killing a member on a Continental Hotel’s grounds. A substantial bounty of an ever growing $14 million is placed on his head, prompting every assassin and hitman in the city of New York to try to cash in on Wick’s contract.
That, of course, only means the odds are about even given the legendary Baba Yaga’s preceding reputation, but after a few rounds of defending himself, Wick knows his only chances of survival lay in escaping New York and forcing help out of the favors a few of his excommunicated colleagues owe him.
Parabellum boasts the best action in the series, hands down. Unlike the tiringly same-y gun-fu action of Chapter 2, the series’ third film is brimming with creativity and variety, all impeccably shot in crystal clear wide angles and jaw-droppingly long, continuous takes, of course. Whether Reeves is beating up a giant with a library book, mowing down goons with dozens of knives, or parlaying with ninjas on motorcycles and later mano a mano in another marvelous modern-chic art installation, the relentless energy pulsing through the glorious choreography often had me and my screening crowd audibly in shock. Being a stuntman with years of experience, Stahelski knows how to direct the hell out of an action scene, and the fact that Reeves, Halle Berry (limited, but making the most of her badass time onscreen), and the Iron Chef Chairman himself, Mark Dacascos (carrying on the series’ weird, out of place sense of humor with infectious glee), do nearly all of their own crazy stunts is a feat nothing short of incredible.
If there’s one really big complaint to the film, it ironically stems from some of the fight scenes themselves. One or two of them get a little long, particularly one picking up the second act as Wick and Berry’s Sofia pick off a whole city’s worth of henchmen alongside their German Shepard companions. It starts to veer into the gun-based same-iness Chapter 2 often collapsed with, and it gets just a bit exhausting as you start to wait for it all to just be over with. The film’s final act also hosts fight scene after fight scene (after fight scene), but really, if the primary complaint about an action film is that there’s too much action in it, is it really that big of a criticism?
Parabellum also continues the series’ unraveling sense of worldbuilding, gradually expanding its world and the characters inhabiting it through subtle references and interactions that trust the audience to pick up on their meaning. Particularly regarding the new and established characters and their relations with Wick, I so appreciated the fact that the writing team developed them by always pushing forward rather than by telling their stories through flashbacks and exposition. Anjelica Huston, Berry, and the returning Laurence Fishburne don’t get much to do and are quickly tossed by the wayside when their big scenes are through, but they’re good during the time they’re given.
And though I do kind of wish Wick’s story was wrapped up here and now (there’s definitely at least one more film coming after this one), the narrative is serviceable, just about as decent as the other two films. It’s nothing amazing or particularly good, but it’s always been Reeve’s dedicated performances and the sharp subtly of the underground world that have carried the franchise, anyway.
Bigger, better, and ballsier in every conceivable way, Chad Stahelski’s John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum joins the ranks of not just the best action movies of the decade, but of all time.