John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum puts its stamp on what is the best action franchise of the past 20 years.
Keanu Reeves seems to always be up for a franchise every decade, give or take, with more misses than hits in between. What is really impressive about the Hawaiian Soft Breeze is the manner in how he has consistently reinvented himself. How many actors or actresses would perform even more physically demanding roles into their late forties and into their early fifties? With John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, it’s the equivalent of a Benjamin Button filmography. His action sequences in the latest John Wick chapter had me doing something I never do during a film – I actually cheered out loud.
The film picks up where Chapter 2 ended, where a dark international assassin’s network called the High Table (think LinkedIn for hitmen) have out a 14-million-dollar bounty on John Wick’s head. He begins to fight waves of paid killers to stay alive long enough to figure a way out. The manager, Winston (Deadwood’s Ian McShane), and the concierge, Charon (The Wire’s Lance Reddick), have turned their backs on America’s second favorite hitman (Bill Hader on Barry is still in the lead). He must do it without the hospitable protections of The Continental Hotel.
John Wick: Chapter 3 is essentially a martial-arts Western trapped inside a fluorescent colored neo-noir, anchored by a physically demanding performance by Keanu Reeves. With the barrage of summer action films and the comic book fare, you tend to become immune to it all after a while. Director Chad Stahelski’s John Wick franchise’s relentless action sequences are so balls to the wall, with blood shooting out of bodies like exploding pudding cups. There is something about the coordinated, stunt-driven action scenes that make for a visceral experience that is a lightning bolt to the senses, that can wake up any movie fan whose emotions have been numbed by the same computer-generated action films of the past decade.
Yes, the action is physically relentless, which is a shift in experience from what we talked about above. In this chapter, when Wick goes from instant-classic action sequences to trudge through the desert to meet leaders in shady organizations the audience doesn’t quite understand, it makes for a pacing problem within the story’s narrative. This forces the third film in the series to be the first one to feel uneven. The latest installment suffers from pacing issues, as this chapter expands on detailing the film’s almost mythological back story.
What is clear is the mythical origin story was created in Chapter 2 to start a franchise of films in an effort to get everyone paid. While that has ultimately changed an overall tone from the franchise’s first to the third installment, they delve so thinly into the origin you are never quite totally bogged down by the screenwriter Derek Kolstad’s backstory that never quite takes over the film. These are relatively mild complaints. Even the obvious attempt to set up a sequel didn’t bother me, which usually is my pet peeve, since the filmmakers and actors involved clearly have done everything they can do to give their viewers their money’s worth. The filmmakers give you an extra exclamation point by giving you an extra bullet or two with every kill.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is a physically arresting, visceral, and ultimately gloriously choreographed action-packed film that doesn’t so much push the envelope as it tears it apart. Anchored by a Keanu Reeves performance that has not gotten the credit he deserves in commanding this physically demanding role, along with a knife fight sequence that should go down in Hollywood history, this has John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum putting its stamp on what is the best action franchise of the past 20 years.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.