From the first movie with solid action and sophisticated character motivations in order to become a cult classic, to the sequel that sacrificed story for the single-handedly best and most vibrant gunfighting ever caught on film, we’ve now reached the third film, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum that seeks to be the culmination of all the strengths of the previous movies. By now, the action of John Wick fits recurring director Chad Stahelski and huggable badass Keanu Reeves like a glove, both refining their craft and knowledge of the genre in order to create some of the most seamless and intense fight scenes ever caught on film. But while John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum features plenty of dazzling spectacle, colorful violence, and crowd-pleasing moments, its pacing and writing departments can’t quite catch up.
Parabellum takes place mere moments after where Chapter 2 left off; after killing Santino on Continental property, John Wick is labeled excommunicado on a global scale, his bounty reward doubled, and has a target placed on his head for any interested assassin. Parabellum opens with John and his dog companion running through torrential downpour, neon lights beautifully lighting up the streets. John finds himself in a crowd, unsure who to trust or where to go.
It’s a thrilling opening, and perfectly segues from Chapter 2’s intense cliffhanger to an equally-climactic opening in the following movie. As John’s official excommunicado approaches, we get our first fight scene: a fight with a giant of a man named Ernest, played by real-life NBA star Boban Marjanović. He’s instantly threatening, as Ernest towers over John in terms of size and muscle. Though Ernest’s intimidating size and strength gives him a slight advantage, John using a book to bring the giant down to his knees is all it takes for John to then use the same book to fracture Ernest’s jaw and break his neck. It’s a fun fight and perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the action to ensue soon. It’s always a ton of fun to see John using random objects around him to his advantage in order to fight his enemies.
After his encounter with Ernest, John finds himself in bad shape and seeks an old colleague; the doctor from the first movie who treated his wounds from the Red Circle. However, in the middle of treating his wound, time is up for John and he is now excommunicado, meaning all professional service and assistance is expelled for him. To hide the fact he helped John, the doctor asks John to shoot him – non-fatally- in his sides, making it look like John stole medicine by force. John doesn’t hesitate, instantly shooting him exactly where he wanted. He didn’t think it would be enough though, and asked John to shoot him again in a separate spot. Once again, John doesn’t hesitate and shoots him again. This is a humorous scene, but it also shows John’s pinpoint accuracy; how he knows exactly where to shoot without hitting any vital organs. But consequently, it’s a subtle and darkly amusing way to show John knows where TO shoot to kill.
After the fact, John Wick is pursued by a group of men who chase him into an old antique shop. John barricades the door and searches for a new weapon. He finds an old Wild West revolver, but none of the ammunition seems to fit the gun. With the men beginning to break in, John takes a last measure and assembles a custom gun. I love this scene for many reasons; firstly, it’s a scene that perfectly displays John’s ingenuity, resourcefulness, and his knowledge of weaponry. Secondly, the usual John Wick soundtrack plays during this, but it eventually incorporates Wild West music, complete with the sound of a Wild West revolver once fired. Third, I just think it’s hilarious that John stops dead in his tracks, has a dramatic moment of assembling a custom gun, uses it on one assailant, then tosses it away.
After this, we get the single best action scene in the movie, if not of the entire John Wick canon. John and the multiple assailants find themselves in a hallway with displays of various knives. They smash the glass and attack with each other with knives, until it becomes a shoot-out; but instead of bullets, it’s just people hurling knives at each other. Bad guys get knives all over their body like they’re a pin cushion, and it’s a sight to see. No epic fight music, just atmospheric noises, and the sounds of blades being tossed around and dudes crying out in pain. The fight eventually culminates into a good-ol’ eye stab, and John hurling an axe at someone who’s already bleeding out. We’ve already gotten a chilling opening and two amazing fight scenes, and the movie has just begun.
As wonderful as the action has been up to this point, the movie pretty much reaches its peak after about the 15-minute mark. After a fight through a horse stable, John goes to a ballet studio and encounters he Director, played by Anjelica Huston. We get some backstory on John, where we find out he was trained since a young man at this very school. We see ballet dancers going through harsh training regiments and a room of young men wrestling. It makes sense to see this is where John grew up, considering the man has the grace and movement of a ballerina dancer and the grappling and acrobatic abilities of a wrestler. It’s some cool backstory, but they didn’t go too far with it and still left John’s life continue as a mystery. John requests safe passage into Morocco, whereupon the pacing of the movie dies John Wick-style.
There’s still some interesting stuff going on in America; Winston is being harassed by the Adjudicator, played by Asia Kate Dillon, who threatens Winston’s way of life as the Continental is not pleased with business being conducted at the hotel and how he let John Wick escape. The Adjudicator is a threatening and very cold individual, looking like they’re always one step ahead of everybody. They threaten the Bowery King for giving John the gun that killed Santino Dantonio, but the Bowery King laughs in their face. Seeing no alternative, the Adjudicator enlists Zero and his army of ninjas. Zero is played by Mark Decascos, an actor and renowned martial artist, and he’s very cool and threatening but also quite funny when the situation calls for it. Later in the film, he confesses to John Wick that he’s a big fan. A clear nod to John Wick fanboys, and one person who would love to have the honor to either kill John Wick or be killed by him. Zero and his army go on a rampage against John Wick’s allies, showing they mean business and the shadowy conspiracy of the Continental appears to be erupting at the seams.
Another new addition to the cast is Halle Berry as Sofia, an old friend of John who owes him a debt. Sofia laments about her history with John, and how scared she is of putting her daughter in danger because of him. She’s at first hesitant to help him, but decides she has no choice, as she must honor the Marker. The way she talks, it appears to be linked to the planned John Wick spin-off film Ballerina, details of which are being kept fairly low. Sofia is a cool and collected person with two Belgian Malinois, but her upcoming action scene leaves a lot to be desired. There are some cool dog stunts as they pounce on bad guys and jump over obstacles, but I find the scene to drag on way too long and it doesn’t have the John Wick charm.
John Wick 1 & 2 set up a beautiful and intriguing universe, but kept it on the down-low because the less we knew about the mechanics of everything, the better. It added an aura of mystery and I always felt like John Wick worldbuilding worked best in the background. In John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, once John Wick escapes and is trekking through the scorching desert in search of the Man Who Sits Above the Table like it’s Uncharted, any semblance of this being a John Wick film is all but gone. I hesitate to say this is the jump-the-shark moment at this point, but it’s one that leaves me scratching my head in confusion. Once John does encounter The Man Who Sits Above the Table – known as the Elder – John is forced to give up on something he loves, which leads to him being forced to cut off his ring finger, offering the ring up to the Elder. The Elder tells John his answer to freedom is killing Winston. Knowing he must do what the Elder suggested, John immediately flies back to America, proving his entire trip to Morocco was basically all pointless.
Parabellum marks, in my eyes, the low-point of John Wick. It has the very best action in the series, possibly in any American action movie out there to date, but the slow pacing and the convoluted story makes this a difficult and tiresome movie to sit through time-and-time again. The only reason I DO watch it often is because of my undying love for the John Wick series. John Wick is an interesting and complex character, surrounded by an enchanting world and vibrant mayhem and death. I’m more than excited for Chapter 4 coming out this month, but I must also brace myself to be disappointed in case it gets as confused and unfocused as the third film. Chapter 5 could be the last of the series, but I can also see them making more as time goes on. All I know is, I’ll still be there to watch them all regardless of quality because I’m that committed to this franchise I love.
1 thought on “‘John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum’: Descending Action”