*Thanos snaps his fingers; John Wick’s dog disappears.* John Wick: Has anyone seen my dog? It was a gift from my dead wife. Thanos: … oh God.
On the run from an international guild of assassins, John “The Boogeyman” Wick is forced to turn to a series of dangerous and questionable allies as a means to stay alive.
The third installment in easily the most consistent action franchise operating today, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum prepares for war in the most thrilling of ways. Now, I love the Mission: Impossible films and would even go to consider the last three installments in that franchise as bonified classics… but even Tom Cruise in that department has slipped up on some occasions (Mission: Impossible II, anybody?). Although not as large-scaled and bombastic as the Mission: Impossible films, the John Wick franchise has learnt to revel in the dark, low-levelled sewers of neo-noir cinema whilst still managing to deliver nothing but effortlessly energetic and bloody action unlike anything else from the recent crop of Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking. Unique and in complete servitude of its action beats, Parabellum was like the refined, perfected version of the first two John Wick films – utterly indulgent in its world and paced in sync with the movements of a unstoppable Keanu Reeves.
I was a big fan of the first John Wick upon its initial release, but didn’t come to completely respect the franchise for its scope and imagination until I saw John Wick: Chapter 2. In a retrospective look at the first two films now, I cannot help but refer to the John Wick franchise in total, and individually, as a pretty perfect example of what action cinema should be… and Parabellum may just be the best of the bunch. Although not as rich in story as the first two films, Parabellum knew exactly its purpose and reasoning for existence – to screen a series of superbly executed action sequences, one after the other, all with Reeves as the centrepiece.
In Parabellum, the narrative didn’t entirely matter. Little was said as, in dialogue’s place, action was used as the primary storytelling tool. Whereas John Wick: Chapter 2 purposely inbuilt the appeal of notorious stuntman, Buster Keating, Parabellum had me instead reminiscent on The Raid movies – just brutal, unrelenting action. The set pieces delivered in this film were remarkable; expertly paced, scene after scene wide takes with in camera stunt work to die for (like literally die for). What Parabellum lost in narrative it made up wholeheartedly in its action.
Sequences of weaponised books, horse hooves in faces and street fights that would, well, put Street Fighter to shame, Parabellum was home to, perhaps, the best executed, most memorable action pieces in the entirety of the three part franchises. The inventiveness and nuance in the set pieces as well just made for a much greater viewing experience, with one sequence involving attack dogs being easily the franchise’s highpoint in set pieces. Chad Stahelski directed the hell out of this film, placing his utmost trust in Reeves to deliver on all fronts… and like hell he did.
An incredible actor does not always need to be one who emotes the most or convincingly sells a pompous performance; some times incredible actors are just the ones who are solely committed to their craft. Yes, Reeves can be wooden when delivering lines, but other than that quite literally being the point of his hard-edged character, its not the traditional “performance” you must look at to notice what makes Reeves so great in this role. The raw commitment to his delivery of action scenes and his general physicality for that matter made Reeves unbelievably brilliant in his performance of John Wick in Parabellum. Throwing himself into the extreme, purely for the viewer’s entertainment purposes made for an excitingly compelling story of fox-on-the-run.
Another performer who must be truly acknowledged for Parabellum was Halle Berry. An actress who has failed in the past to launch her own stardom in the realms of action cinema with the James Bond franchise and Catwoman, Parabellum finally gave Berry a platform to completely sell audiences on the idea that she is a solid action star who, when pushed far enough, can match the heights of Reeves. It was also nice to see appearances from veteran actors like Ian McShane, Laurence Fishbourne, Anjelica Huston and Lance Reddick own their assigned screen time. One other actor I also feel compelled to bring up is Mark Dacascos; another great physical actor who delivered a rather off-kilter, electricity to his performance being both intimidating but also rather comical.
Aside from the cinematography also generally looking beautiful with vibrant colours and, as I noted before, fluent long shots, the lighting also really made for an exceptional palette when it came to setting the film’s neo-noir scene. The production design as well and its assistance in the fleshing out of the world of John Wick was practically terrific – from the hotels to the call centres, everything felt so meticulously planned out and designed with such detail that I found myself infatuated with what the filmmaking team had dreamt up.
Now sure, you could say Parabellum was a bit too fantastical to fit in with the rest of the John Wick franchise. Yet, I believe this casual build to action-heavy absurdity was earned in this third installment. Some truly crazy shenanigans happen in this movie, but never did I feel anything was too out of the blue for the world the filmmakers had been subtly building. There’s also the argument that John Wick, as a character, did not go through much change or growth in Parabellum and ended the film exactly how he begun it… but I like to think for one, this negative isn’t entirely true, and two, does it really matter?
I know I am stickler for character and its importance in the strength of a narrative, but looking at Parabellum from the angle its meant to be viewed in, this film is first and foremost meant to be an action spectacle, nothing more and nothing less. Considering these films are meant to be taken very literally as “chapters” to one larger story, its almost acceptable to acknowledge the first John Wick as the character based film and the sequels as more-or-less collateral from that on event. In summary, Wick is on the same path as he was in the first film, harbouring the same struggles and concentrating on the same motives he has always applied himself to. The thing with these sequels are just that they purely exist for an already established, likeable character to be seen in highly entertaining action scenarios, without the bogged down, slow paced building of character. Think of John Wick as Captain America in the Marvel movies; he has an established set of rules and a code of ethics. You can identify whom both characters are from their actions and furtherly can come to a conclusion on what they then stand for. These sequels are purely meant to throw John Wick into situations of desperation to see if he stands his grounds or not. John Wick is not necessarily about growth, but more the refusal of it and instead an embracing of strength. And if you’re still not happy with the character of John Wick in this movie, then focus on Halle Berry’s Sofia, whom had enough character to carry everyone else in the film’s runtime.
So for an action film, Parabellum was everything I could have asked for. The John Wick franchise has continued to grant us with impeccable action after impeccable action… and we don’t deserve it. If you want to experience expectedly done, ingenious modern blockbuster filmmaking, then look no further than Mission: Impo– ah, I meant, John Wick. Well, actually, both work.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is, in fact… LOST ART
- LA 2019, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019), IMP Awards, TMDb, viewed 21 May 2019, <http://www.impawards.com/2019/john_wick_chapter_three_ver2.html> (Featured Image)
- Catsoulis, J 2019, ‘John Wick: Chapter 3’ Review: Keanu Reeves Is Back for Another Brutal Round, The New York Times, The New York Times Company, viewed 21 May 2019, <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/16/movies/john-wick-chapter-3-parabellum-review.html>