John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Those who crave to see a ballet of violence are certain to be fulfilled by “John Wick 3,” a rousing, consistently creative, and supremely entertaining action picture directed with a keen eye and infectious joy by Chad Stahelski. From the moment it begins as the titular character attempts to stave off fellow assassins from exacting a painful and gruesome death—inspired by a fourteen million dollar bounty on his head—until the hook ending that hints toward an even more exciting successor, the film offers unadulterated sensory overload. More action films of the mainstream variety should strive for this picture’s level of superiority.

It amazing that in the middle of flying bullets, broken glass, and fractured bones, the screenplay by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abrams finds ways for further world-building. In this installment, it comes in the form of a mysterious woman only referred to as the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), a member of The High Table. (You know she’s important when she takes out her official-looking coin and men’s eyes are taken over by fear.)

This character is bound by unbending rules and Dillon plays her with with appropriate rigidity in body language and the manner in which she talks down to everyone else. Clearly meant to be unlikable, we wish almost immediately for Wick to slap the smugness out of her. And yet the material is adamant in not going in that direction. Given that repercussions of breaking rules is one of this film’s recurring themes, is it correct to dispose of her so quickly? I enjoyed the writing’s willingness to play the long game and make the right choices.

As expected, the centerpiece is the well-choreographed action sequences. Quite impressive for a movie with a running time beyond two hours, fight scenes do not come across as repetitive. One approach is a consistently changing venue: a library, a stable, out in the streets on motorcycles, in an entirely different country typically considered to be a romantic getaway. But notice that the style of hand-to-hand combat changes, too. Wick must not only go up against Americans who prefer to use guns. Various types of martial arts are employed and each commands its own rhythm. The protagonist must adapt quickly and effectively since the entire city appears to be against him. Nearly every confrontation is memorable. I relished its use of animals.

We are convinced that Wick is always in mortal danger. Although intelligent, strong, and adaptable, there are times when he is bested by his opponents. He gets wounded. He is slowed down. Occasionally he repeats tactics that clearly do not work for a particular enemy. To increase tension further, notice how the direction slows down the deadly dance in order to provide the audience a chance to gather their bearings. When our hero is left on the ground, bloody and bruised, without any weapon in hand or weapons being way out of reach, we can almost feel ourselves releasing a sigh of acceptance. It just so happens that a few make the mistake of mercy or are blinded by his celebrity. Sometimes Wick tends to wriggle out of tricky situations by pure luck. The material is not without a sense of humor or irony, you see.

“John Wick: Chapter 3” offers stunning and precise visuals right alongside high-end thrills. But do not neglect its expert use of sound: the staccato rhythm of bullets being loaded in rifles, the emphasis placed on growling animals as they take on the role of protectors, the legato score playing smoothly in the background as chaos unfolds on the foreground. Nearly every element is firing on all cylinders. In a landscape of generic shoot ‘em ups, “Parabellum” offers a completely enveloping experience.

5 replies »

  1. I felt like this was one became far too redundant; that fighting sequence w/ Halle Berry just dragged out way too long, and the last act actually became tiring to watch. This franchise has done a lot of great things, but they needed to realize while making this that less is more; no way should this have been 2 hours; there were far too many fights and assassins crawling out of every dark corner in the city; and too many times Wick should have died, especially at the end…

    I loved how part 2 wrapped-up, but the ending on this one was embarrassing how they expect us to believe Wick survives that fall with a couple wounds and scratches. The last act should have been Wick fighting the main enemy, and not fighting those other two guys beforehand that dragged out, and made it feel too unrealistic that he would have been able to beat both those guys, and then go on to beat that other guy who was much younger and quicker; those fights started to feel like Peter Griffin vs. The Chicken on “Family Guy”. lol. It’s like no matter what damage Wick takes, it doesn’t hurt him; keep in mind this dude is like 50 years old. I believe he can beat these guys when fully healthy, but to fight all those guys back-to-back and take all that damage, but hardly be affected is just too much…

    I was a bit surprised you gave it a 4-star rating. I was guessing I’d see a 2-star. I still love the franchise and will watch part 4, but I hope they dial back the drawn-out action sequences, and apply the “less is more” principle going forward. A strong fight at the beginning, middle and end suffices for the action; spend the rest of the time on story.

    • Interesting!

      I definitely recognize the points you’ve brought up about some of the action scenes dragging on and the unrealistic repercussions. But, you know, I think that that is the joke. The violence has gotten so hyper-stylized, especially compared to the first movie, that the movie is not meant to be evaluated on the basis of “less is more,” per se. For me, the exaggeration IS the point–STUNTS STUNTS STUNTS–and so the question becomes whether or not the superfluous action sequences, collectively, pass as great entertainment.

      To me, it does–without question. I found creativity with each fight scene. Something is always different, whether it be the music, the lighting, the form of martial arts, the weapons employed to subdue an enemy. And when it ended, I wanted to see even more, not less.

      It made me wonder how the 4th film could possibly top the 3rd. And that’s exciting.

      • i just finished watching Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile on netflix, and they perfectly executed the “less is more” concept, which gave a very simple ending a huge impact. I thought the pacing was really good; they left out a ton of details, but that’s b/c they focused so much on Liz and less on Bundy, which was a creative take. I didn’t see a review on your site, so I recommend it for you to watch and review soon. Zac Effron was really good. I think you’ll like this one.

        • I overlooked this comment. Sorry!

          Yes! I’ve been meaning to watch that movie since it came out. I’m curious to watch Efron in a serious leading role. Plus, the whole serial killer concept but told from a different perspective appeals to me.

          • yeah, i think you’ll like it; some didn’t like the way it glossed over the murders, etc. but that wasn’t what this movie was about; and that ending was chilling.

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