If you know me well, you know I love Keanu Reeves. I will defend him to the death, especially when I hear the tired complaint that he’s a one-note, wooden actor and has no talent. The Matrix franchise shows he knows his strengths and plays up to them, and the John Wick universe is no different. In John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, Reeves transports us to perhaps the strongest film set in his assassin universe.
John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum continues where John Wick Chapter 2 leaves off: Wick has an hour to find refuge after he’s condemned for killing a fellow assassin in the New York Continental Hotel, a consecrated place of neutrality among assassins. With a $14 million bounty on his head and perhaps the cutest pit bull ever at his side, he soon has to pool his resources and secret caches to get himself back into the fold. There are many consequences with his major faux pas, ones that involve the manager of the hotel, Winston (Ian McShane) and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who both must make a choice of loyalty to Wick or fealty to the powers that be when the adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) from the High Table comes to lay down punishments. Anyone who helps Wick falls victim to her ruling, and it’s severe. Her assassin for hire Zero (Mark Dacascos) is bent on fulfilling her wishes and adding Wick’s kill to his trophy wall. Wick must fight his way across the globe with only his skills, determination and reluctant allies to help him find his way back to his status.
The first two movies are primers for this third spectacular action film; they condition the audience to expect the rules of this assassin universe. We clue in by the second entry when you realize people having epic fights in the streets doesn’t make the locals bat an eye. It also allows for some characters, like Russian task mistress The Director played by Angelica Huston or the mystical Elder played by Saïd Taghmaoui, to evade stereotypes and become archetypes to whom John Wick must pay his dues in order to finish his odyssey.
Speaking of fights, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum is a master class from director Chad Stahelski (a former stuntman himself) on how to film back to back fight scenes and break tension up with humor. Fabulously choreographed fight sequences in a library, a stable (with some brutal kicks from the horses themselves), on horseback and in an antiques warehouse dazzles and leaves you winded, and I was pleased to see Yayan Ruhian, fight choreographer for The Raid movies, as one of the shinobi ninjas after Wick. There was also a motorcycle fight reminiscent of a similar scene in 2017’s female assassin film The Villainess and just as insane. The cinematography by Academy Award nominated Dan Lausten (who also worked on The Shape of Water, John Wick Chapter 2 and Crimson Peak) was stunning, with dark rainy Bladrunner-esque scenes to endless sand dunes in the desert. Throughout the whole film was a self-awareness by the characters that was clever and tongue in cheek. Oh, and thank you to the John Wick gods for putting that man on a horse.
As I mentioned before, Reeves knows his strengths and he plays them up in true deadpan style to a “T.” A shout out goes to Halle Berry whose role could have gone to literally anyone but they decided to choose diversity. Berry does the work, gets the knocks-she sustained three broken ribs training for the role- and delivered as Sophia, one of John’s past allies.
The franchise machine is known for watering down beloved characters, but not here. John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum is my favorite of the three films. It’s filled with heart, dark humor, outstanding fight scenes and it’s a must-see for fans of the John Wick universe.