Character 3 - Parabellum offers enough dynamic set pieces and dazzling fight choreography to offset its flaws as a continuation of John Wick's story.
For many, 2014's John Wick was a breath of fresh air that combined stylishly brutal action with comic book-esque worldbuilding to great effect, rescusitating Keanu Reeves' action movie career in the process. 2017's John Wick: Chapter 2 doubled-down on these elements and earned far larger box office returns for its efforts, in turn assuring that John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (to use its full title) would come to pass. And while the third chapter continues to do right by the franchise's bread and butter, it's guilty of prioritizing these aspects at the expense of the series' emotional core... though, to be clear, that's far from a deal-breaker. Character 3 - Parabellum offers enough dynamic set pieces and dazzling fight choreography to offset its flaws as a continuation of John Wick's story.
Like its predecessor, Chapter 3 - Parabellum picks up immediately after the ending to the previous John Wick movie. John (Reeeves), having only just broken the Continental's number one rule (no business on hotel grounds) and killed Santino D'Antonio, has less than an hour before a $14 million contract on his life is opened to every single assassin in both New York and the world at large. Chapter 3's opening thirty minutes take advantage of this scenario to deliver some of the best pure action filmmaking in the John Wick franchise to date, including several exquisitely-staged brawls where John uses everything from library books to antique guns, various knives, and even horses as deadly weapons to murder his enemies in the face. And much like the previous John Wick films, Chapter 3 is sure to delight cinephiles who glean the classic martial arts films and/or works of Hong Kong action cinema homaged here.
From there, Chapter 3 shifts its focus back to its worldbuilding, as John finds passage out of New York with the help of a powerful figure (Angelica Huston) with ties to his past. The movie offers some insight into John's backstory in the process, but skips over diving deeper into what makes its protagonist tick in order to explore a narrative that involves John trying to negotiate a peace with the High Table and reversing his excommunicado status. In doing so, though, Chapter 3 moves even further away from the simple, but effective emotional throughline of the original John Wick than the second film did. It subsequently robs John of the agency he re-claimed at the end of Chapter 2 by having all of his major decisions here dictated by someone else, leaving the character to serve as little more than a vessel for other people's wills. Admittedly, this could have made for an interesting arc for John (one that asks whether he can break this destructive cycle), but Chapter 3 fails to provide a fully satisfying payoff to his existential dilemma in the end.
That said, Chapter 3's writers - which include Derek Kolstad (John Wick 1 & 2), Marc Abrams (Entourage), Chris Collins (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), and relative newcomer Shay Hatten - do a better job of expanding the John Wick mythology, when it comes to both explaining how this universe works (without getting bogged down in exposition) and skillfully introducing a new set of characters. Returning costars Ian McShane (Winston) and Lance Reddick (Charon) still have a meaty role to play, though, as does Halle Berry as fresh addition Sofia: a deadly assassin and begrudging ally to John who gets some good development here, on top of a sequence where Berry's able to further prove her action star bonafides (which she does, with a little help from Sofia's highly trained - and efficient - dogs). Asia Kate Dillon and Mark Dacascos are also memorable here as, respectively, a no-nonsense Adjudicator to the High Table and Zero, a seasoned killer who (in a funny twist) turns out to be a giant John Wick fanboy.
In a movie as crowded as this, it's no surprise that certain characters (like Laurence Fishburne's Bowery King and Jason Mantzoukas as a newcomer called the Tick Tock Man) end up getting the short end of the stick. Still, John Wick 1 & 2 director Chad Stahelski does an overall sturdy job of finding room for Chapter 3's many players here, in between all the plot developments and set pieces. But of course, the stunt expert-turned filmmaker's real forte is still action, and he once again puts his experience to great use during the film's many close-quarter skirmishes (whether they involve gun fu or even old-school sword battles). The movie is also vibrantly photographed as a blend of neo-noir colors and (during its Morocco-set second act) desert hues by Chapter 2 DP Dan Lausten. Between all that and another propulsive score by franchise composers Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard, it's fair to say Chapter 3 delivers the goods when it comes to craftsmanship.
When all's said and done, John Wick: Chapter 3 is a very good sequel that could've been great, had it found a way to handle John's personal journey with the same tender loving care that it spent on fleshing out its mythology and delivering top-notch action scenes. Instead, it's starting to feel more and more like John himself is far less important than the world around him, which is too bad considering how essential his personal struggles were to the original John Wick. Even so, fans will definitely want to check this one out on the big screen (where it looks terrific), and should find plenty of other things to enjoy here. And as for the future of the franchise... well, without spoiling anything, let's just say this isn't necessarily the "ending" it was once described as being.
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 130 minutes long and is rated R for pervasive strong violence, and some language.
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- John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019) release date: May 17, 2019