Movie Curiosities: John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum
“Si vis pacem, para bellum.” –De Re Militari, by Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus
At this point, I’m pretty sure the John Wick franchise has attained critic-proof status. You should already know by now exactly what you’re getting and whether or not you’re on board, regardless of whatever comes out in the reviews or promos. The filmmakers are certainly sure of what the audience came to see: Not even twenty minutes into John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, Keanu Reeves’ eponymous assassin has already engaged in the greatest knife fight in cinema history, shortly after using a common hardback book to beat a giant to death.
The action is exactly the same high caliber of visceral, creative, and abundant you’d come to expect. Bonus points are due for bringing in Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian for an extended fight sequence — it’s about damn time someone in Hollywood made effective use of the martial arts talent behind The Raid. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the use of live animals in certain action sequences, though you’d think the horses would have been considerably more scared and upset by all the gunfire going off around them.
We also get an extended shootout with attack dogs, utilized in brilliant ways. The inclusion of attack dogs is doubly brilliant because it serves as a neat callback to John Wick’s own notorious soft spot for canines. The movie never lets us forget (because the characters have a nasty habit of recapping the plot every ten minutes) that all of this death and destruction only happened because of one entitled asshole who killed the wrong guy’s puppy for no reason at all. Seriously, look back at these three movies and think about how many more people would be alive and happy if that Iosef Tarasov prick had decided to mind his own business and take someone else’s car.
Oh, and if you’re curious, CinemaBlend counts 84 kills in the first movie and 118 in the second. It’s obviously too early to get a count for the third movie, but there had to be at least 85 headshots alone. Even when the nameless thugs are clad in the latest impenetrable bulletproof helmets and armor, the filmmakers still find ways to make a motherfucker’s head blow up. So… very… many… headshots.
Back to the point, what I personally associate most strongly with the John Wick franchise is the constant recurring theme of escalation. “Rules and consequences”, as the characters in the third movie keep putting it. Actions beget reactions, trespasses bring reprisals, and bodies keep piling up higher because virtually every last character in the whole damn franchise is too proud to get hit without hitting back twice as hard. You’d think that after John Wick went and killed over 80 people because of a dead dog, everyone else in this criminal underworld would’ve gotten the message that the best way to deal with John Wick is to leave him the high holy fuck ALONE.
For the latest case in point, John Wick killed a new member of the High Table, some nebulous governing body in the world of this franchise. Of course the High Table wants him dead, but they just can’t stop with that. No, they have to go after anyone who ever helped out John Wick along the way. Even after all of John Wick’s allies publicly disowned him, the High Table has to have their pound of flesh and they’re going to take it out of anyone with even the slightest connection to John Wick’s transgression.
Thus we have the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), who works on behalf of the High Table to hunt down John Wick’s allies. Naturally, this results in the High Table making many powerful enemies, destroying central pillars of the system they’ve built, and making a whole ton of unnecessary headaches for themselves because making an example out of John Wick wasn’t enough. No, the High Table simply must take any excuse to kill people, or demand their subjects brutally maim themselves in a show of fealty.
Given that assassins need peak physical performance to do their job, I question the wisdom of forcing them to mutilate themselves for no reason. Furthermore, I question the High Table’s wisdom in burning bridges and killing off potential allies. Between their own harsh brand of justice and John Wick’s ongoing murder spree, how many loyal assassins could they possibly have left?!
And what of John Wick himself? Well, we’re treated to a few fleeting glimpses at his early origins (I’m still waiting on that prequel, by the way), courtesy of Anjelica Huston’s character. We’re also introduced to an old friend (Sofia, played by Halle Berry), now the manager of the Continental branch in Casablanca, and she still grudgingly owes John a favor. But more than that, the movie answers two very important questions left over from the cliffhanger of the second film: Where does John think he’s running to, and why does he still want to live? I’m not going to spoil the answers to both questions, but they’re both so beautifully perfect that I kinda hate myself for not thinking of them sooner.
Yes, this movie has everything the fans could have possibly expected from it, with one glaring exception: A conclusion. There was always the implicit promise that this would be the capstone of a trilogy, but that turned out to be dead wrong and we’re treated to yet another cliffhanger in the final scene. The filmmakers seem intent on extending the series indefinitely, in addition to the video game, the television series, the spinoff film franchise, and who knows what else in various phases of development.
The drawback to all this breathing room is that the filmmakers apparently felt less pressure to go into the world-building. Why drop any major developments now when they could space out the exposition across so many films and TV episodes? Thus we get a film in which the High Table is constantly name-dropped, but we don’t learn anything new about precisely what it is and how it works. We’ve got a new Continental location and there’s a neat glimpse of the place where the gold coins are manufactured, but that’s not really anything huge. We do at least get a couple of great new characters, though — Anjelica Huston’s character introduces a whole new avenue of world-building possibilities to be explored in the spinoff movies, and Halle Berry took to this franchise like a penguin to snow.
Overall, unfortunately, it feels like the movie takes a step back for every step forward. I was especially disappointed to see a huge decision halfway through that might have had far-reaching implications for the franchise, if only the filmmakers hadn’t chickened out and reversed it at the last minute. In the end, while some developments happened, a few characters were introduced, and a whole lotta people got killed, I’m at a loss for any reason as to why the opening of Chapter 3 couldn’t have been its first scene and gone from there. Couple this with all the godawful exposition getting flung every which way, incessantly recapping the plot at every opportunity and I’m struggling for an explanation as to how this script could possibly have been the work of four credited writers.
Come to think of it, who are the four writers? * checks IMDb *. Well, one of them is series co-creator Derek Kolstad, obviously. Then we’ve got Shay Hatten, who’s also writing… the upcoming Ballerina spinoff. Another writer is Chris Collins, the writer and showrunner of the upcoming The Continental TV show. I can’t find confirmation that Marc Abrams is involved with The Continental, but given his extensive history in writing television, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Moving on to the cast, of course Keanu Reeves is outstanding. Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne look like they’re having a great deal of fun. That goes double for Halle Berry, Lance Reddick, and Mark Dacascos, all of whom get extended action sequences to go with their larger-than-life characters. Alas, Anjelica Huston is stuck with a mediocre performance (by her standards, anyway) for want of better direction or anything interesting to do.
As for Asia Kate Dillon… God, what a waste. A nonbinary actor playing a nonbinary character might have given the Adjudicator a kind of off-putting edge if anything was done with that angle, but no such luck. Moreover, while Dillon is clearly giving it their all and they do have a nicely unique screen presence, they simply do not have anywhere near the gravitas to hold the screen against Reeves, McShane, Fishburne, or Reddick; much less pose a legitimate threat to any of them.
I’ll say this about John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum — you certainly won’t be bored watching it. Between the larger-than-life characters and the mind-blowing action sequences, this latest entry delivers more of the adrenaline-fueled fun you know and love from the previous two. That said, the plot and world-building still feel half-baked, most likely because this was built as a primer for all the Extended Universe stuff in development and not as the end of a trilogy. Seriously, just look at how many “writers” were credited with this limp script and how many of them are going off to other projects in this franchise.
But as I said before, none of this ultimately matters. If you’ve seen the first two movies, you’ll want to see the third one and I’m sure you’ll have fun with it. And if you haven’t seen the first two movies, you should get on that because they’re fucking awesome.
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