John Wick 3: Parabellum (aka John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Now in its third chapter, the John Wick saga is fully aware of where its strengths lie. It isn’t in the story, despite being simplistically sweet in intentions and rather intriguing in its underground politics. It isn’t in the writing, where motives and emotions are made in base and bold declarations. No, the wonder of Wick lies in its many stylish and violent action sequences that never fail to impress. John Wick: Chapter 3 keeps this tradition alive.
In the last Chapter, Wick (Keanu Reeves) found himself on the run from what seemed like hundreds of hitmen out to get him for breaking the rules of the underground society of assassins. You can probably up that thousands now, given the rising body count of these pictures trying to outdo themselves one after another. But Wick is somewhat prepared for this all-out-attack on him and calls in a number of favors to slowly seek safety and a means of getting back at the High Table, the very top of the criminal underworld that he once worked for. And, of course, Wick has plenty of fighting techniques ready to engage everyone who stops him along the way.
Not as prepared for the retaliation of the High Table are the many criminal sects that didn’t kill Wick when they had the chance, a choice that is going to cost them all dearly. The High Table’s The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) comes to inform the many factions that they’re going to either by carved or killed depending on how they pledge themselves. This includes the high-class Continental manager Winston (Ian McShane), the filthy underground Bowery King (Laurence Fishbourne), and the Russian mafia/ballet instructor The Director (Anjelica Huston). Most take their medicine of getting their hands literally slashed but they’re not happy about it. In particular, Winston is willing to go to war considering his armed-to-the-teeth Continental hotel and his trusty right-hand man Charon (Lance Reddick).
But there’s not a whole more to the story than that and that’s just fine. The fight scenes are some of the most gorgeous in design and clever in choreography that I’ve seen this entire decade. It all comes down to how clever the film becomes with using every scene as a battleground and every weapon within sight. One of Wick’s first encounters with a killer is at a public library, being cornered in the stacks by a giant assassin. Nothing like a good book to break a jaw. He’ll later dash through a horse stable. Killing goons has never been more fun when a horse is doing the slaughtering with lethal kicks to the chest. And in perhaps one of the most brilliant sequences, Wick will find himself in a room with all manner of knives, using nearly single one in the room to become the world’s best/worst knife-thrower, depending on how you look at it.
No, wait, by far the best centerpiece is when Reeves briefly teams up with Halle Berry, another ex-hitman, to lay waste to a middle-eastern villa. It’s not just because Berry can keep up with Reeves or that the kills in this scene are extraordinarily high; it’s because Berry’s character has two dogs that bite back hard. If Wick weren’t running for his life, something tells me he’d be falling hard for such a woman.
The only thing more brilliant than the choreography of these scenes are their construction. The film has such decadent lighting and throws logical sets out the window to make them shine in most spots. This is most evident in the climax where Wick does battle in a two-storie complex of class, distorting his perceptions with reflections and gleaming light bouncing all around him. And, of course, since it’s a room of glass, much will be shattered.
I can already hear the furious typing in the comments that this film was all action and no story. But let’s be honest; who really came into John Wick for a layered story of a haunted past and underground criminal politics? By now you should know the saga exists for little more than action setpieces and is more than worthy of every sequence presented. We don’t need the most elegant dialogue to make these scenes shines; the film has more than enough gravitas to widdle down Wick’s one-liner for going into combat being a simple demand; “Guns. Lots of guns.”