Updated: Jul 19, 2019
By Derek May:
YIN: John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum
What ratio of luck to talent has led Keanu Reeves to star in two franchises, decades apart, which have essentially redefined the action genre? In the wake of the first Matrix film in 1999, films packed their action sequences with slow motion visual spectacle and time-bending rotational shots until it almost become a punchline. Thus by 2014, the world was once again ready for something different, and stuntmen-turned-filmmakers David Leitch and Chad Stahelski were primed to give it to them.
Enter the gritty, hard-edged stylized action of John Wick, the world’s deadliest assassin brought out of retirement to avenge the death of his dog, the loss of his car, and the assault on the memory of his recently deceased wife. The use of hand-to-hand martial arts, including plenty of jiujutsu to please modern MMA fans, intermixed with close-quarters gun battles more faithful to elite military skills than previously put to screen, all framed with Hong-Kong style wideshots so you can really follow the beats, refreshed the genre and inspired a slew of homages and knockoffs. Audiences ate it up, and in turn set Keanu and the directors ablaze throughout Tinseltown.
The 2017 sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2, proved the first was no fluke, as it maintained the same personalized storytelling while vastly expanding John’s sophisticated criminal underworld. Moving between New York and Rome and revealing the consequences of unbreakable obligations showed how intricately detailed and widespread this universe is. The action, too, elevated to ever-loftier heights and pushed John to his limits and beyond. But it was that ending, which saw John on the run with a $14 million bounty on his head and excommunicated from the sanctuary of the High Table that left audiences in breathless anticipation as to how the hell he was going to get out this one.
Now, with John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, we have our answer.
Audiences hoping for a definitive resolution in Chapter 3 may be in for a shock. Though is it really? These movies have proved such a money-maker, it’s little surprise they would try to milk it for all it’s worth and extend it as far as audiences can stand. Thus, Parabellum feels less like the cap of a trilogy and more like the middle chapter of a much longer work.
The film sets off immediately following the events of the last, with John an hour away from having the entire city, nay the world, after his head. The majority of the plot, such as it is, follows John’s attempts to stay alive long enough to find a solution to this predicament of his own making; and as you’d expect, he can’t do it alone. He enlists plenty of help, including franchise newcomers Anjelica Huston and Halle Berry. And while this certainly affords an opportunity to continue expanding the domain around John, it actually ends up overwhelming, even minimizing, him as a character.