It may be listed under the “Action” genre, but make no mistake: John Wick 3 and its predecessors are pure science fiction. With their near-superhuman feats of the title character and an increasingly bizarre criminal underworld, how could they be otherwise? Once you accept this, you can easily fall in love with the hard-hitting, neon-hued, badass cinema masterworks that the team of stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski and Canadian star Keanu Reeves have unfurled for our popcorn-munching pleasure.
Taking its subtitle from an old Roman military quote meaning “prepare for war”, John Wick 3: Parabellum builds on what was promised earlier in the series as fallout from John’s actions both figuratively and literally rain down on him as he is forced to run from a New York City’s-worth of assassins, all chasing down a heavy bounty on his head. He outwits them of course through a steady stream of MacGyver and Jackie Chan-inspired resourcefulness leaving plenty of blood and bodies behind him.
Meanwhile, John’s allies including Continental Hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane) and the self-proclaimed Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) have found themselves in bad blood with the High Table for assisting John in his escape. They are given notice to abdicate their thrones by the icy adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon). Her hit list also includes another figure from John’s past arriving in the form of Russian ballet director (Angelica Huston) who assists in smuggling him out of the country having owed him a favour.
Arriving on the shores of Casablanca, John reunites with old friend Sofia (Halle Berry). John seeks her help in meeting with the Elder of the high table so that he may make amends and finally break free of the assassin life that the first film’s events forced him back into. It won’t be an easy road as John will have to further navigate harsh deserts, deadly mercenaries lead by the adjudicator’s favoured right hand man Zero (Mark Dacascos), and even body armour that his earlier adversaries would have certainly benefitted from wearing.
Like the previous sequel, Parabellum is more of another chapter in an unfolding epic narrative than a mere sequel. Not content to rehash things, it seeks to further expand this fascinating underground universe of colourful rogues and the rules which govern them. Traditional law enforcement is absolutely nowhere to be seen (even John’s cop buddy Jimmy from the previous films is absent) and that’s just the way we like it. Reeves continues to excel in a role he was born for. In a cineplex full of quipping wise-asses, he remains stoic and methodical while still earning our empathy. Any humour comes from his matter-of-fact reactions to the chaos around him (“I get it” he tells Sofia after she kills a platoon of henchmen in a rage after her dog is shot, eliciting a huge laugh from the theatre audience). Berry makes the most of her limited screen time in one of her best roles in years as the female counterpart to John who actually takes her dogs to work where they rack up a considerable body count all on their own! Series regulars McShane and Fishburne lend solid support while newcomers Huston and Dillon only enrich the film’s universe.
The stunt team here continues to find stones to turn up as the set pieces here are even more inventive than before featuring everything from a samurai duel on motorbikes to a knife fight where Wick does things with blades that would make even Jason Voorhees squeamish. And it’s all captured in exquisitely staged long takes that brilliantly show off the dance that stunt coordination truly is. Audiences have had to long endure action shout through a shaky lens and edited in a blender (I’m looking at YOU Bourne Trilogy), and what we’re treated to here evokes the best of the foundation set my the masters of Hong Kong Action cinema (John Woo, Sammo Hung and the aforementioned Jackie Chan come to mind). It almost threatens to become overwhelming by the final act where a cut of minute or two would help restore balance. But with such Oscar-worthy work on display here (if the Academy bothered to HAVE a stunt oscar anyway), it’s difficult to find fault with too much of a good thing.
The genius in the John Wick franchise is that it tells a simple story about a straight-forward character and tells it with style and panache that keeps audiences begging for more. If you’ve stuck with John Wick thus far, it’s a virtual guarantee that you’ll be back to see what can of whoopass eye candy he’ll open in the next instalment. Consider my ticket bought!
John Wick 3 is currently playing in theatres across Canada