John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (which is a ridiculous title; the second one didn’t have two subtitles) is the latest entry into the popular non-Mission: Impossible action franchise headed up by Matrix actor Keanu Reeves and directed by Chad Stahelski. The latest chapter in the story sees our main protagonist, John Wick (Reeves), as a man on the run after being declared “Ex Communicado” by the High Table for breaking the rules and slaying one of his would-be assailants from the international assassin’s guild inside the walls of the Continental Hotel, which had been declared consecrated ground (meaning no assassinations or jobs could be conducted or carried out there). With a $14 million price tag on his head, his good will extinguished, and an open contract having been sent out to every member of the guild, John (with the help of a few unlikely allies) must gear up, gun up, and survive the coming onslaught of mayhem in order to stay alive. The film also stars Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Asia Kate Dillon, Mark Dacascos, and Lance Reddick.
I remember the surprise that came across my mind as I viewed the first John Wick back when it hit home release; somehow, Keanu Reeves of all people had managed to become one of the most exciting, fun, and compelling action heroes inhabiting a world I couldn’t wait to discover more of as he went for headshot after headshot, and hit all of them. Even more impressive was the fact that Reeves seemed to fit the role so handily, not requiring him to do a whole lot of heavy lifting in the acting department besides doing the Tom Cruise thing where the character is basically just the actor being awesome at thing after thing he does (let’s be honest; as much as we all love Keanu, he does have a somewhat limited range and is really only great when playing one specific kind of protagonist – the badass you didn’t see coming). Then the second film in the franchise came out, and while not quite as focused or visceral as the first one, the gun-fu, stunts, and choreography were as sharp as ever, and the team found even more creative ways for Wick to face off against his opponents. The world-building became more elaborate, and we began to understand more of how this world works in regards to Wick, his place in the story, what he used to do for a living, and why no one should have messed with him in the first place. John Wick 3, then, picks up in the immediate aftermath of the cliffhanger ending of Chapter 2. Ian McShane’s Winston has given John one hour’s head start before he declares him Ex Communicado, and Wick’s life is forfeit, according to the rules of the High Table.
Let me be clear: John Wick 3 is a solid action movie, and the action in it is some of the franchise best. However, that doesn’t mean it’s without flaws, and getting into those now and the good stuff later might help better explain or justify some of the other points I’m going to bring up once we actually get to that good stuff. In other words, context is important for understanding what makes a movie weaker or stronger on certain levels, so let’s get into that. For starters, this is a movie for John Wick fans, first and foremost. That’s not necessarily an inherent flaw (I mean, Avengers: Endgame was a movie for fans first and general audiences second and it was great), but it may be a bit of a detractor for anyone coming in hoping to jump on this action train that’s seemed to have taken off so fast so recently. The issue it provides, however, is actually the more inherent flaw present in the story that some may say didn’t bother them (and didn’t bother me that much, but I noticed): it doesn’t really have a story.
Yes, absolutely, it has a plot, one that mostly just follows John Wick from place to place to accomplish certain tasks, meet certain people, and make certain deals all in the service of staying alive, but the broader narrative purpose of that plot doesn’t seem to exist much beyond the scope of “Keanu Reeves is really good at guns and tries to survive for 2 hours.” That’s not to say that movies like it can’t work, but they often have a broader point or task to them that John Wick 3 just doesn’t seem to have. The original John Wick was a revenge tale about the dangers of waking up a sleeping giant when your ego gets too big, the second one was about establishing the rules of this world and just how far Wick is willing to go in order to accomplish his self-appointed mission, and the third…is basically just a movie where Reeves travels from set-piece to set-piece trying not to die. Like I said, it doesn’t break the movie, but it is a noticeably absent part of what most productions require for there to be a movie.
As well, certain characters just aren’t in the movie as much as the advertising would like you to think they are. A lot of the marketing and trailers for this movie leaned pretty heavy on Halle Berry joining Reeves on his one-man headshot thrill ride, along with her two attack dogs, but to be honest, she’s only in the movie for maybe 15 minutes at a time, and her kick-assery (that’s a word, right?) only gets utilized for one set piece of the entire thing. Given that this chapter is putting more of the focus back on what fans liked most about the franchise (Keanu Reeves as a one-man army), the move to not have her take up too much screen-time makes sense from a writing standpoint, but still ends up being a bit disappointing overall. I was finally ready to see Halle Berry kick some serious ass with John Wick, and while what I got was pretty sweet overall, I just didn’t get enough of it to see why they included her at all, rather than someone who had a more personal connection to him, maybe someone from the other two movies. She’s an interesting character, but they only use her once. There’s also a character called The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) who keeps showing up to deliver ultimatums to people, and while it did lend to some interesting world/rule-building for the franchise, she did get a little annoying after a while.
The larger reason Halle Berry’s not in play (besides Reeves’ one-man army concept) is actually pretty awesome to see, though. John Wick faces down a lot of bad guys in this one considering pretty much all the other members of the guild are hunting him to fulfill their contracts, and that gives the filmmakers a chance to introduce some new and truly awesome bad guys into the franchise: the team from The Raid movies. Watching these guys go toe-to-toe against Keanu Reeves in bulletproof suits is a hell of a lot of fun, especially considering how they’ll now probably get a lot more attention on the American film circuit as genuinely talented stunt people (seriously, why has no one watched The Raid movies?). They’re lead in this movie by actor Mark Dacascos, who really brings in in the combat department, but shows some surprising nuance and stealth intelligence during his big title fight sequence that we haven’t really seen from one of the big bosses in this franchise before. In addition to this, the world expansion that does happen is incredibly interesting. At one point Saïd Taghmaoui (Wonder Woman) shows up as a character I won’t spoil here in a location so bizarre it’s actually one of the more unbelievable aspects of the film despite how many bullets Wick has walked away from at that point.
Beyond that, there’s really not much more to say. I know it seems like I harped on this movie more than I held it up or praised it as a genuinely good movie, but I did thoroughly enjoy it for what it was as a contextually-supported chapter in a larger narrative. The thing that’s tricky about reviewing it is that the stuff that works best is pretty much all right there up front, so it doesn’t require quite as much discussion or exploration in terms of criticism. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is about as straightforward and bare-bones as an action movie can get without actually devolving into being a bad movie in pretty much any way. That’s not to say it doesn’t have flaws (I think we laid those out pretty clearly), but it also is very up-front and honest about what the point of the whole thing is: watch Keanu Reeves kick ass and get his ass kicked by and with all manner of combat styles and weaponry for 2 straight hours, sometimes with a little help, sometimes not. And it does that beautifully, with great editing and action choreography that stands as some of the best in its own franchise and in action filmmaking as a whole. Any flaws it happens to carry along with it are more casualties of trying to tell that kind of story with an ultra-sharp focus and thus having to lose anything extra that might detract from its main point, regardless of how interesting or noteworthy. It really is as wild and brutal as one could expect a John Wick movie to be; just don’t go in expecting the Return of the King of this franchise.
I’m giving “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” an 8.9/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.