What a wonderfully out-of-nowhere creation this John Wick series has become. Not based on any pre-existing source material, the first movie was quietly filmed in 2013 and didn’t start its marketing campaign until two months before its October 2014 debut. It was flying so far under the radar yet it ended up becoming a sleeper hit and deservedly so, it was a blast of an action movie that made good use of both Keanu Reeves and well-shot action sequences. Nearly five years later, John Wick has turned into a full-blown saga that continues onward with John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum (that title is the worst thing to emerge from this series) and manages to maintain the level of quality that made the first two movies such joys.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum hits the ground running, literally, from the ending of the second John Wick film, which saw John Wick (Keanu Reeves) killing a fellow assassin in the Continental hotel. By doing so, he’s broken a cardinal rule of this world of assassins (the Continental is supposed to be the one place assassins are safe and sound) and the punishment for that act is that John Wick has been ex-communicated. Now a fugitive with a $14 million bounty on his head, every assassin in New York City wants his head. This means John Wick is on the run while the likes of Continental manager Winston (Ian McShane) and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), suffer consequences from the hands of The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) for helping out John Wick in the past.
There’s so much to adore about these John Wick movies but one thing I really enjoy about them is how they don’t get bogged down in world-building. These films occupy an alternate reality where assassins are everywhere and have an intricate system of rules in place that (supposedly) keep things running harmoniously. Instead of taking up the runtime of these films explaining every last detail about how everything works, the John Wick movies, including Parabellum, take a cue from the original Star Wars movies and just let cool things pass by the viewer without explaining every detail about those cool things. Just looking at the Mos Eisley Cantina or The Continental captures the imagination and they don’t need any more of a complex explanation for their existence than “Sometimes aliens and assassins need a place to chill”.
This eschewing of extraneous explanations is most notably seen in how these films graciously refuse to offer up a convoluted explanation for how the assassins keep doing their business in public without attracting the attention of New Yorkers. Passerbys just seem to treat the assassin’s like another wacky thing that happens in New York City, a brilliant way to allow John Wick and company to duke it out in New York spaces during the real reason anyone comes to these films: the action sequences. The exceptional editing, cinematography and stuntwork from the original two John Wick movies has been more than preserved for Parabellum. There’s such an absorbing slickness to the manner in which Parabellum films its assorted fight scenes, one that gets you so invested in what’s happening on-screen that you’ll only begin to appreciate the camerawork wizardry once it’s all over.
Also carried over from prior installments is a level of grisly creativity that ensures no action sequences is truly the same. Though John Wick maintains a consistent sense of assured ruthlessness, the most giddily lethal sequences of violent hand-to-hand combat in Parabellum see Wick always finding new weapons relevant to whatever environment he’s in that he can use to take out his foes. If Wick is in a horse stable, for instance, you can bet he won’t just use a gun here, he’s gonna use the horses themselves to dispatch adversaries. An antique shop, a library, a motorcycle chase scene involving swords, John Wick is like a gruesome version of MacGyver (one not played by Will Forte) in how he takes any items around him and just turns them into deadly weapons.
The action is just top-notch in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, though the only problem with its level of quality is that its absence in a stretch of the second act focused on Wick traveling to find a high-ranking member of the organization he works for is certainly felt. It’s a segment of the story tied directly Parabellum’s central character journey for Wick, which focuses on him looking for some kind of direction and purpose in the wake of so much tragedy. It’s an interesting place to take the assassin but this particular part of that journey could have either used more action or memorable characters for Wick to encounter.
That slow part of the story is an anomaly rather than the norm throughout Parabellum, which otherwise moves at a solid clip under the direction of Chad Stahleski. Stahleski, having now directed three movies in this action-packed universe, is clearly comfortable here and it shows in his confident direction that keeps finding new creative ways to capture John Wick taking out people in violent ways. Keanu Reeves exudes a similarly assured presence in his third go-around as John Wick. It’s a both a good sign for this character and a testament to Reeves as an actor that John Wick hasn’t devolved into a self-parody in this third outing like so many other action movie heroes did in their third adventures. Instead, Keanu Reeves is still compelling, John Wick is still awesome and Wick’s pit bull companion is as adorable as ever!