John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (2019)
Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane
Synopsis: Super-assassin John Wick is on the run after killing a member of the international assassin's guild, and with a $14 million price tag on his head - he is the target of hit men and women everywhere.
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive strong violence, and some language)
Runtime: 2 hr 11 min
Release Date: May 17, 2019
When John Wick premiered in 2014, it redefined Keanu Reeves' career as an action star, much like what Taken did for Liam Neeson back in 2008. Sure, Reeves had The Matrix under his belt, but after a string of unsuccessful films, people were starting to wonder if he was something of a "one hit wonder"--it certainly appeared that way at least. But with John Wick's refreshingly strong, well-choreographed and stylized action sequences and an instantly iconic performance from Reeves, it became immediately clear his career was resurrected. John Wick was met with strong critical and commercial success, as was its sequel, John Wick 2. So another sequel that would form a trilogy was inevitable. The only hope, of course, was that it would live up to the first two films.
John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum picks up right where the second film left off--Wick is on the run with a bounty on his head after murdering an assassin on hotel grounds (one of two rules never to broken) and thus has to fight his way out through numerous other assassins to stay alive. It's a plot line that sets Wick up for even more of this violent high-octane action fans crave for, and the third film delivers. Once again, the film is aided by the strong direction of Chad Stahelski, who co-directed the first film and solo directed the second. Stahelski served as a stuntman and stunt coordinator earlier in his career, and it shows in this trilogy. This is not only entertaining action, it's well choreographed and well shot action that utilizes long shots and wider angles so that viewers can follow each action beat step by step. The only word of caution here is the violence--fans of the first and second know what they're getting in to, but outsiders looking to join the franchise for the first time will probably be turned off, at least initially. The third entry ratchets up the violence even more than the first 2 films, incorporating more slow, drawn out sequences than we're used to seeing. Some of these are really unnecessary and more out of a bloodlust than anything else, which, for better or worse, is where this series is headed.
Besides another hefty dose of violent action, John Wick 3 sports a surprising amount of character driven material--something almost entirely missing from the second film. Wick has to confront who he is and who he wants to be for the remainder of his life--a cold-blooded assassin or a retired man living peacefully in the memory of his late wife. There's still not a ton of material here, but it's something of substance that forces us to empathize with him, as we know he's repeatedly tried to live alone peacefully but his former career always comes for him, like an unrelenting force that has come to define him as a person--and one which he can't escape until it finally takes him down.
A primary motif throughout the franchise has been the presence and use of dogs. The murder of his puppy at the hands of thugs was the catalyst event that brought Wick back to the assassin world in the first film. By the end of the first, he found a soon-to-be euthanized dog in an animal clinic, and that dog (that still is nameless) is his partner--it doesn't come with him on his missions, but it serves as a vital connection to his past--to his wife--who gave him the initial puppy as a gift. For all of the killing in the criminal underworld, the world has rules, as Winston (Ian McShane) says, "without them, we live as the animals." So, there's an interesting comparison drawn here separating humans and animals--the criminal organization kills in dehumanizing ways, but still makes it a point to set up guidelines that help retain a sense of order and humanity. On the flip side, these animals--John Wick's dog--serves as a visual reminder of the more human, peaceful life and the wife he once had. The third film expands the animal motif further, as Sofia (Halle Berry) owns two German Shepherds that heavily play into the action. On the logistic side, it's quite the marvel to see such well-trained animals, and the very sparse use of CGI. Anyone who owns a dog (especially a German Shepherd) will be cheering both of them on as they aid Wick and Sofia in relentlessly taking out other assassins.
John Wick 3 delivers another dose of violent, sharply filmed and choreographed action sequences that fans have come to expect with this franchise. The set and production design, aided by the neo-noir atmosphere and lighting also returns to make for an even more satisfying environment for the characters. The film also improves thematically on its predecessor by layering in some depth to Wick's character, as well as subtly expanding on the human vs. animal ideas established in the first film. Reeves delivers another strong and memorable performance, and by the end of this franchise (as of writing, a fourth installment has been announced for 2021) he'll surely be remembered more for this re-defining role than his previous career role as Neo in The Matrix.
Written by Anthony Watkins, May 24, 2019