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.