Fifteen minutes. That’s how long it takes John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum to blow just about every live-action action movie of recent times out of the water. The accomplishing scene is an early warehouse dervish of flying knives, broken bones, and gory mutilations that will have you deviating between inner – or maybe outer – screams of “HOW THE BLOODY HELL DID THEY FILM THIS?!” and “HOW IS KEANU REEVES NOT ACTUALLY DEAD YET?!” with every jaw-dropping beat of the action.
Reeves’ titular badass is seemingly pointedly ignoring the more fitting advice of his other iconic black-clad character about dodging bullets, but rather this third chapter in the John Wick franchise sees him absorb a hellacious degree of punishment. Returning director and series architect Chad Stahelski stages and directs like a gleefully malicious madman as he puts a heroically committed Reeves – who did about 90% of his own stunts and fights – through the absolute wringer and makes sure to keep every grimacing punch, kick, slash, and body slam in perfect view so that you know that’s really Reeves putting his body on the line for your entertainment.
And hot damn is it ever entertaining. The aforementioned opening scene is only the opening salvo in a rapid-fire barrage of borderline psychotic action scenes across two-hours. As the plot sees Wick crisscrossing the globe to search for a way out of another impossible situation after being deemed “excommunicado” at the end of the previous film, Stahelski just keeps escalating the action in equal amounts brutality and creativity.
That last bit is the important part here as the filmmakers don’t just concoct bouts of bloody mayhem to beat you senseless with, but instead engineer everything with the oil-slick physical choreography and neon-soaked visual flair that has become the John Wick franchise’s trademark. And then they dial it all up to 11 in terms of not just adrenalizing intensity but also stunning beauty. Sitting in the audience, getting caught up in this action to rapturous frothing levels along with everybody else, I felt like a riotous Roman plebian cheering on the bloodletting of the Coliseum with flying spittle and heaven-raised fist. Except here the gladiators were all masterful Circe Du Soleil performers in bespoke formal wear, lit in delicate hues of pinks and blues.
Wick’s actions in Chapter 2 – killing a member of the High Table on consecrated ground – doesn’t just endanger his own life with a $14 million bounty on his head but also puts the folks that helped him at lethal risk. As New York Continental Hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane) and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) soon find out when an arctic cool Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) and her hand-picked group of assassins led by the manic Zero (Mark Dacascos) come knocking with swords in their hands, the High Table is not the forgive and forget type of all-powerful clandestine criminal organization.
Meanwhile, Wick has his own trials to overcome in the blistering heat of Casablanca as a desperate gamble sees him crossing paths with old acquaintance Sofia (Halle Berry) and her two dogs. I have to mention that canine duo as, despite Reeves and Berry’s incredible death-dealing efforts, it’s these two marvellous mutts that proceed to steal the show as they join the humans during the film’s big second-act shootout. Stahelksi does some incredible things with the action in this film – just wait until you see the 1-vs-6 swordfight while on speeding superbikes – but seeing weaponised dogs in gloriously toothy action feels like a genre game-changer.
In the same breath though, true action movie aficionados will recognize that the filmmaker is pulling from other genre standouts, both modern and classic. Enter the Dragon, Game of Death, The Villainess, The Raid, Skyfall, and more… they all find themselves homaged in varying degrees of visibility. A small bloody handful of these action beats also don’t feel quite as tight as their originals, keeping at it just a few punch flurries or bullet barrages too long past making their point. These aren’t especially egregious transgressions though, just slight hiccups.
The same could be said for the film overall though. Stahelski and co continue to pull back the curtain on their incredibly stylized universe like they did in Chapter 2, this time dipping more into John Wick’s own background instead of the hierarchy of the underworld. But with this continued expansion, things again lack the wiry leanness that made the first film such a refreshing delight. The bigger this world and its need to explain minutiae becomes, the more some things don’t make sense (Why are random assassins always just hanging around incognito on the streets until they get a text message they could not have predicted? Why is the admin hub of this global criminal network seemingly staffed by Suicide Girls pinups using Cold War era technology?) and this may irk some viewers a tad.
Luckily, Reeves’ Wick is such a brutally uncomplicated figure himself and the actor does such a fine job in selling this pragmatic stoicism – laced with brilliant moments of sardonic charm – that you just can’t help but be swept along. Forget Theodore “Ted” Logan, Johnny Utah, and Neo, this is easily Reeves’ most iconic and appealing on-screen creation.
The fan-favourite actor has indicated that this will be the final time he dons the black suit, and at 54-years old it’s not hard to see why Reeves would choose to stop pushing himself to the limits and beyond for this role. However, with the way things play out in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – and having my eyeballs popped out the back of my skull due to the face-blasting level of action filmmaking awesomeness on display here – I would be rather disappointed if this was indeed the end to all this exceptional wick-edness.
Last Updated: May 16, 2019