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John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

by Kevin Taft
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday May 10, 2019
'John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum'
'John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum'  

The "John Wick" series has been a consistent surprise. While the initial concept seemed simple and somewhat generic, Chad Stahelski's smooth actioner was a non-stop thrill ride of slick stunts and over-the-top balletic action sequences. While the first film found most of its fan base after its initial release, "John Wick: Chapter 2" proved Wick's popularity was solid.

So here we are with "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum," which takes place shortly after Chapter 2 and ups the action, stunts, and cartoonish violence tenfold. In this go-round, Wick (Keanu Reeves) has escaped The Continental hotel, which caters to hit men and women, after killing an assassin on the property — a big no-no in the world of his profession — and is looking for safety on the rain-soaked streets of New York City. Because of his actions, Wick is considered excommunicated from the High Table (the highest-ups of this world-wide assassin organization), and a $14 million dollar price tag is put on his head. At precisely 6:00 pm he will be fair game for anyone that can take him out.

While this is enough for a non-stop action feast in true "John Wick" style, about thirty-minutes in more plot is injected and we are introduced to The Adjudicator, played by non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon ("Billions"). They have been sent to The Continental Hotel to find out why people had been helping John Wick survive through the last film. Those assassins are put on notice and have seven days to get their lives together before bad things happen.

Meanwhile, Wick is looking for safe passage to make restitution for what he has done, which brings him first to The Director (Anjelica Huston), a Russian gangster/ballet instructor who has a connection to Wick. Later on, he will come across a woman named Sofia (Halle Berry), who also owes Wick a favor. This takes Wick to Casablanca, where a number of excessively choreographed fight scenes take place.

Which is sort of the problem with "Parabellum."

While there is much to marvel at technically - from the neon-soaked set design to the exquisite fight choreography that is so precise and that audiences are (thankfully) allowed to see play out in real time without a ton of edits - this is one time where there can be too much of a good thing.

The film opens with about three stunning fight scenes that are so gloriously extravagant they are both jaw-dropping and hilarious. The "knife fight" alone is worth the admission, but the horse sequence just adds to the gleeful violence of it all. There's another extended scene with both Wick and a very game Berry that is mind-boggling in its execution. The problem is there are so many action scenes, and they go on for such long periods of time, that by the end of the film they've used up the most impressive sequences and you're left with so much excessive punching and stabbing you become dazed and inured to it, and your attention starts to wander.

Which is a little disappointing, because had the filmmakers reined in not only their globe-trotting story but cut many of their action scenes down by half the film would have been tight and more memorable. Not to mention the best fights are at the beginning, so nothing really compares for the next hour and a half.

Reeves is his usual grumbly self here, but it's his stunt work that is truly impressive. Even Berry stuns with her agility and gameness, although her one-note growly character sort of shows up then leaves. Huston, McShane, and Lawrence Fishburne are all dutiful with roles that aren't super-complex, and the stunt cast is, of course, spectacular.

I would say Asia Kate Dillon is probably the most miscast here. Their American accent doesn't help the stereotypical "cold evil British agent" role they've been given. They play it so cliché you'd half expect them to arch an eyebrow and twist a mustache if they had one. The dramatic dialogue-pauses and calculated head turns are dramatically eye-rolling so that whenever they are on-screen you're almost taken out of the film. Yes, the entire series uses a sort of heightened reality, but this character just didn't work.

That's not to say there isn't a lot to love and enjoy here. Be warned though, as violent as the earlier films were, this takes it to another level. Of course, after two hours and ten minutes of knives through the head, cracked necks, bullets through every body part, and bodies slammed every which way but up, it sort of just passes over your eyeballs like a landscape whizzing by the window or your train.

In Latin, "Parabellum" means "prepare for war." It's a fitting addition to the film's title, although it might have been better to call it "Sine Sensu," which in Latin means "numb."

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.


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