When this decade began, American action films were in a dark place. The superhero had already cemented his iron clad grip on the box office by 2010, so the days of the MCU and its many imitators were already coming out of the depths to deliver clean, family and CGI heavy action fare. The Fast and Furious franchise (Fast Five is the only good F&F movie and I will pretentiously scold anyone who says otherwise) and Liam Neeson’s cadre of choppily edited sexagenarians were seemingly the only avenues of action entertainment outside comic book characters. Even Sylvester Stallone’s mindlessly stupid and violent Expendables series had gone the bloodless and boring route of the previously mentioned Muscular Car Bros and died fairly early on in the decade. Unless you were watching masterfully done foreign films like The Raid and its face melting sequel or The Man From Nowhere, it was a very sad time to be a fan of action films. When all hope seemed lost, a savior returned from exile to save us all. He’s an ageless mystic. The One. That guy who rode on a fast bus. His name literally translates into “Cool Breeze”. In 2014, Keanu Reeves came back to us, and he brought with him an icon for a new generation of cinema. The Baba Yaga himself, John Wick. The guy you send to kill the Boogey Man. 5 years later, the 3 piece suit wearing assassin and master of gun fu has slaughtered his way into a third film, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. And like the previous two entries in the franchise, it is well worth your time.
The third entry in the Wickverse picks up immediately where its predecessor left off; Wick is on the run after being declared excommunicado, and in this world of shadowy super assassins and mysterious crime syndicates, that designation is a death sentence. He’s got a 14 million dollar bounty on his head and every assassin in New York City hot on his trail. Even odds, as proclaimed by Ian McShane’s droll series mainstay Winston. The first 30 or 40 minutes of the film fly by in a mesmerizing blur as John battles his way out of the city. Library books, old timey revolvers, horses, and more are ingeniously put to use by our master assassin. Chapter 3 has some of the most creative kills in the franchise, whether that’s in the form of that library book being used to pulverize a face or John using a feckless henchman as a pin cushion, you’ll be cheering and wincing in equal measure.
The same can be said of the rest of the films action sequences. Fans of the previous two films and watching bad guys being punched or shot or stabbed to death in general will have a lot to love here. Jon’s shootouts are just as fluid and visceral as they’ve ever been, that’s if he’s in a crowd pleasing team up with Halle Berry’s Sofia and her pair of German Shepherds or on his own going Baba Yaga on some vaguely Eastern European henchman’s ass. Oh, and sword fights. There are sword fights in these movies now.
While John fights for his life, the ever foreboding High Table finally rears its head into the series. Due to John’s actions at the end of the previous film, the Table sends enforcers in the form of the steely eyed Adjudicator and a group of sushi chef ninjas out to clean house. This leads to Winston, Charon, and Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King being given a subplot of their own that breaks up the more intense passages of the film. It makes a nice reprieve from the action that gives us more world building and helps establish the High Table as a truly powerful force within the world of the film.
While Chapter 3 is an absolute blast, it isn’t without its faults. For starters, the action sequences are self-indulgent as hell. Self-indulgent can be good at times. But at some point, when you’ve seen John Judo throw the same opponent for the 13th time or hold some poor bastard down and headshot him for the 2,000th time, you’ll begin to ask yourself if things are beginning to get repetitive. The middle section of the film drags on at times too, but how could it not? As it is largely about John going on a hackneyed walk through the desert to meet a guy named “The Elder” or “The One Above”. I can’t really remember, but it was one of the two. It’s a well-worn trope to take protagonists on the Christ like desert walk, but just because it’s well-worn doesn’t mean that it’s a good trope. Unsurprisingly, that’s the case here too.
Fans of the almost minimalistic tone of the first film who were frustrated with the more over the top nature and world building of the second will likely have the same issues with Chapter 3. It’s big, cartoonish, and utterly self-indulgent. But if that puts you off, than you shouldn’t be reading this in the first place. There’s a reverence for the genre here that is truly something to behold; with familiar faces, Easter eggs, and enough homages to the classics of the past to keep any fan of action movies in a state of gleeful bliss for the duration of the film’s runtime. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is an action packed and satisfying entry to the series that not only sheds more light on the motive and backstory of its title character, but leaves him in an incredibly exciting place for the next installment in the series.