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'John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum' (2019) Review: Long Live the King

Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.

One of many theatrical posters for, "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum."

One of many theatrical posters for, "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum."

“Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum.” (“If You Want Peace, Prepare for War.”)

Less than an hour after the events of John Wick: Chapter 2, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum begins in the middle of the one hour head start Winston (Ian McShane) gave John (Keanu Reeves) at the end of the previous film after killing another assassin within the sanctity of The Continental. John scrambles to find some sort of sanctuary before, during, and after the $14 million bounty is put on his head and he’s the least safe in the most routine of places; rush hour traffic, at the library, and even the apartment of an under the table doctor. Parabellum explores who is essentially the greatest hitman of all time being cut off from his resources. Who will still stand by his side? Will the odds finally be on an even playing field?

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is the second sequel and third film in the John Wick franchise. The neo-noir action film had a $56.8 million opening weekend and is the film credited for dethroning the firm grasp Avengers: Endgame had on the box office for 2.5 weeks. Parabellum is written to a frustrating extent because it seems to stumble backwards in order to give more meaning to the world John Wick has been launched back into over the past three films and add some sort of depth to The High Table. It makes sense on a certain level since a television series revolving around The Continental is in development, but it feels like the films had to take a blow in order to get the wheels in motion on the TV series. No one is complaining that the writers are trying to add a bit more mythology surrounding the John Wick character, but the fact that he basically runs around in circles and ends up back in the same place is a little lame and disheartening in the grand scheme of things.

Keanu Reeves returns as John Wick in, "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum."

Keanu Reeves returns as John Wick in, "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum."

“The Path to Paradise Begins in Hell.”

However, Parabellum is visually the most satisfying the franchise has ever been. The entire film has John on the run, being chased, and attempting a last ditch effort at staying one step ahead of anyone with the desire to cash in on that massive bounty. The first half of the film nearly all takes place at night in the crowded city streets of New York City as steady rainfall bounces off asphalt and drenches everything in sight. The fluorescent lighting that is the beating heart of a city at night gives Parabellum this pleasant neon glow that makes impressive action sequences even more appealing. It’s as if cinematographer Dan Laustsen (The Shape of Water, Crimson Peak) took inspiration from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives.

The brutal action seems to somehow take things to another level in comparison to the previous two films. There’s the opening library fight with a man who towers over John. You notice the music fades and all you hear is the repeated sickening squish of a knife as it's being plunged into someone’s flesh along with inhuman grunts, thuds from books colliding with the human skull, and explosive gunfire. The horse stable sequence has John using horses kicking their back legs to his advantage and the motorcycle scuffle on the closed bridge is pure fast paced mayhem. There’s also a scene where John shoves the blade of a knife into someone’s eyeball that is just slow enough to get an eruptive response from the audience. Mark Ducascos (Brotherhood of the Wolf) portrays John’s biggest threat in Parabellum. His humorous dialogue and exchanges with John add an extra element to the chemistry Mark Ducascos shares with Keanu Reeves whenever they’re on screen together. Their final encounter within the glass walls of the interrogation suite is practically a direct homage to Bruce Lee’s Game of Death with its multiple layers, new foes on each floor, and a final boss residing at the top.

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“Sometimes You Have to Kill What You Love.”

The Morocco sequence is easily the most repetitive of the action sequences. It’s mostly John, Sofia (Halle Berry), and her two German Shepherds shooting, stabbing, biting, and jumping in the air for five to seven minutes straight. Sofia’s dogs are great and a worthy addition to any action sequence, but their novelty wears off quickly and the Morocco sequence grows stale exponentially fast because of it. This is also the most emotional and genuine Berry has been in years, but that may not be saying much especially if you’ve seen anything she’s done in the past decade. As a quick little side note, it’s funny that Ian McShane references the Baba Yaga in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum and Baba Yaga is a character in this year’s Hellboy, which McShane also co-starred in and Lionsgate also distributed.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum isn’t without its faults with its clunky writing and often repetitious gunplay, but it certainly knows how to showcase a memorable action sequence when it wants to as there’s easily three or four exquisite displays of bone-breaking bloodshed. Once The Continental TV series finally arrives and the next John Wick film (which is already confirmed for a May 21, 2021 release) is unleashed upon the world, hopefully Parabellum can be seen as a frustrating yet necessary and still worthwhile occurrence in John Wick’s existence.

Halle Berry as Sofia in, "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum."

Halle Berry as Sofia in, "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum."

© 2019 Chris Sawin

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