If the first two "John Wick" movies gave Keanu Reeves's *other* famous action role serious competition, now "Chapter 3 — Parabellum" (out May 17) has to stick the trilogy landing. Is this another great Wick outing, or more of a "Matrix Revolutions" vibe? Here's what the reviews say:
The Movie Picks Up Right Where The Last One Ended
John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, directed by Chad Stahelski, begins with Wick's excommunication from the global organization of assassins for refusing to follow the rules. There's now a $14 million bounty on his head, which is a high enough price for practically all of New York City to come after him.
Wick's goal on the run is to get to the Director (Anjelica Huston), who trained young John Wick and is the only one who can save him now – but, at a price. The whole thing is just relentless.
Wick Is Still A Role That Only Keanu Reeves Could Master
Keanu Reeves once again owns the screen as this most sympathetic of good bad men, providing another emotionally restrained performance even while clearly giving it his all physically.
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood actors of his generation, Reeves is fanatically committed to nailing his action scenes here, and all the while glimmers of his inherent soulfulness, as hard as he tries to tamp them down, give Wick a sort of strange warmth that allows the character to remain likable despite doing little here to deserve that likability.
In its most enjoyably demented moments, "Parabellum" is nothing short of a non-stop metaphor for being famous. Less artful but more concussive than its immediate predecessor, this latest outing finds Mr. Wick being clocked by strangers every time he enters a room, stalked by his biggest fans, and so desperate for someone who will treat him like an actual human being that he travels all the way to the Sahara Desert to find them.
The Action Is As Good As Ever, Though In Volume It Risks Getting A Little Rote
There's nothing John — or his opponents, for that matter — can't use to kill someone here: bare hands, guns, swords, books, belts, knives, animals, gravity. There are a million ways to die in this movie, all of them executed in the most visceral, "did they really just do that?!" fashion that fans have come to expect.
On a level of pure craft, then, "John Wick 3" is unquestionably great action filmmaking – certainly the most technically accomplished of the series thus far, with a good dozen scenes that could only have been pulled off by a director, a stunt team, an editor and a cast working at the absolute highest level. But as masterfully executed as the action is, watching two-plus hours of mayhem without any palpable dramatic stakes, or nuance, or any emotion at all save bloodlust offers undeniably diminishing returns.
The Movie's Better When It's Light On The Worldbuilding…
We do learn a bit more about Wick and we're introduced to new characters from his past, but it just doesn't feel as bogged down with worldbuilding as the previous installment.
The film's world-building works best in small doses. A meeting in the middle of the desert is a total dead end, whereas all sorts of fun details can be inferred from Stahelski's frequent cutaways to the High Table nerve center, where dozens of tattooed and lip-glossed workers monitor Wick's bounty with an old-fashioned switchboard (imagine a SuicideGirls reboot of "Mad Men" and you'll have the right idea).
The Wickverse is a wildly creative, elaborately detailed pulp realm of rules, codes of conduct, Masonic hierarchies, and even old-world civility. One of the new characters introduced in John Wick 3 is Asia Kate Dillon's "Ajudicator", who spells out the fine print of the High Table like a scowling font of footnotes. As the franchise has unfolded, that world has broadened and become more and more fleshed out, so much so that it now risks becoming ridiculously baroque.
… And Much, Much Better When It Sticks To New York City
The international detour in Parabellum feels like dead air. The ever-expanding mythology of the assassin underworld is fascinating, but there can be too much of a good thing, and the Wick movies have trouble walking that line.
If the Moroccan interlude saps the film of much of the first act's rush (which was, to be fair, unsustainable), things get back up to speed once we return to NYC.
The Ensemble Cast New And Old Is A Welcome Sight…
As a man without a country in John Wick 3, Reeves' bruised and battered hero is forced to call in the only two favors he has left to his credit. The first is with an underworld Russian mother figure who's played by Anjelica Huston (doing her best Maria Ouspenskaya accent) and who helps him flee to Casablanca. The second is with an equally badass assassin in Morocco played by Halle Berry (whose pair of attack dogs steal the middle-third of the movie). Neither Oscar-winning actress will likely win another statuette for their work here, but they lend the film a jolt of unexpected emotional weight.
Chapter 3 also brings back fan faves like amoral Continental Hotel boss Winston (the always droll Ian McShane), the proud but pragmatic Bowery King (a scenery-chewing Laurence Fishburme), and the loyal, resolute Continental concierge Charon (Lance Reddick, who gets to be more badass than ever here)
… But Marc Dacascos' Assassin Is The Best New Addition
The biggest scene-stealer is Marc Dacascos as Zero, the main assassin in Chapter 3. John Wick has become such an underworld legend that he has fans, Zero among them, which lends Dacascos' scenes some refreshing moments of levity amidst all the carnage.
Dacascos goes from stereotypical stoic assassin to the kind of overly earnest bro who'd fit seamlessly into the Fast and Furious franchise. (Give him a spinoff, please!)
If You Appreciated The Visual Flair Of The Last Two Films, 'Parabellum' Won't Disappoint In That Department
If the setting of Chapter 2's climax, a hall-of-mirrors museum installation, was a kind of Instagram thirst-trap version of The Lady from Shanghai, this film offers the series' take on Jacques Tati's Playtime, a cold glass world where transparent barriers cause playful misunderstandings — when they're not keeping one guy from killing another. Much more beautiful than the last film's finale, this sequence also makes better use of the personalities in the room and, in its best moments, is as thrilling as the leaner fight scenes that got the movie started.
Since making his debut on the first "John Wick," Stahelski's technical ambition and ability has grown substantially each time out, and it's hard to think of too many filmmakers outside of Asia who are willing to invest the sort of care and detail-work into combat scenes that Stahelski provides over and over again.
Throw a horse chase, a Villainess-esque motorcycle-katana fight, and a healthy dose of electro-Vivaldi into the mix, and it's just enough to keep the Wick formula working — and keep an audience wanting more.
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