For the past five years, the John Wick franchise has prided itself on simple narratives buoyed by clever world-building and near-flawless action scenes. However, there was no doubt that a follow-up to John Wick: Chapter 2’s cliffhanger ending needed to live up to high expectations. Even with director Chad Stahelski returning for this new entry, “John Wick vs The World” seemed like a tough premise for a full-length feature. Thankfully, it turned out the odds were largely in favor of the filmmakers. Not only does John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum excel at bringing its insane hook to life, it further cements this series as one of the best action franchises out there.
Much to its credit, Chapter 3 is great because it refines the series’ pre-existing elements. Arguably the series’ best feature is the creative elegance in which John (Keanu Reeves) executes his enemies. Between the endless flips and the headshots, the previous movies beautifully display Reeves’s fighting skills and this one is no different. Better still, the delightful kills extend beyond the tried-and-true gunplay this time around. In fact, one early moment in a library is by far the franchise’s most gruesome death.
It should come to no surprise that John’s strengths as an action lead serve as the backbone for the film’s incredible action sequences. In the first act alone, John takes part in an increasingly elaborate and comical knife fight. Not long after that, there is a chase scene that involves him using horses for transportation, defense, and offense. Most films would be glad to have just one of these meticulously-crafted sequences, Chapter 3 flexes harder than its competitors by placing these action beats in succession. As such, the film only takes a few minutes to justify itself as violent, energetic spectacle at its finest.
Also impressive is how Stahelski and his writing team weave in humor at a regular frequency. Every time it seems like an action scene might lose steam, the filmmakers recover by embracing its ridiculousness. Even the movie’s most intimidating figure, Zero (Mark Dacascos), has his share of light-hearted moments. In the moments where he is not killing people, he shows his one-sided admiration towards John. By the time we see trained dogs repeatedly attacking enemies in the crotch, it becomes clear that adding comedic beats to the action was exactly the right choice.
For those who adored Chapter 2’s embrace of mythos and world-building, rest assured that this follow-up continues to make its universe denser. This does not just apply to the vast number of locations in the script, but also to the smaller details. Immediately, the script establishes that rules and consequences of the powerful High Table are everlasting. Additionally, individuals like The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) see messenger birds as more effective at sending information than the Internet. We also have newcomers like The Director (Anjelica Huston), who provides insight into John’s undying loyalty and his true origin.
The film is so good at thrusting the viewer into its world of assassins that it almost feels shocking whenever it stops for quieter moments. However, this is not to say that its shift in pacing is bad in the slightest. How can it be when series favorites like Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick) remain exceptionally charming? Moreover, it gives itself opportunities for Reeves to convey the tragic place in which his character finds himself. Just by observing his rushed walking in public, one can really feel John’s awareness of the dangers ahead.
While most of what works in Chapter 3 is a strength from a previous entry, one strong new element is the terrific dynamic between John and Sofia (Halle Berry). It helps that Berry commits to her character’s tough persona and action beats without much effort. But what makes Sofia truly shine is her damaged humanity that mirrors much of John’s. At some point, both characters became average people with strong family bonds, but needed to fall back into hard-edged personalities to stay alive. On top of that, Sofia loves her dogs so much that they roam around wearing bulletproof vests. In this respect, she resembles the person that John was in the beginning of the first movie.
As great as the series has been, each entry has at least something that keeps it from absolute perfection. If John Wick has a final fight that is far less pulse-pounding than everything preceding it and Chapter 2 has an overly dense storyline, Chapter 3 features a middle portion that briefly slows the narrative to sluggish levels. There are good things to be found in this overlong section, to be sure. In this point of the story, John reaches his most vulnerable state as he begs to escape from this scenario. It is also the one sequence in which strikingly bright desert shots replace cinematographer Dan Laustsen’s delectable neon nighttime aesthetic. Yet there is little else to justify its leisurely pace, especially when the surrounding movie aims to achieve the opposite.
That said, it would be wrong to say this ruins the rest of its 131-minute runtime. Once the film reaches the climactic battle in a glass building, its flaws almost become non-existent. Words simply cannot describe how perfectly the final set piece’s episodic structure matches its multi-level setting. Even the gradual destruction within the building is a pure joy to watch. The amount of glass that John and his enemies break throughout the fight is appealing in its own right. Lastly, it allows Reeves and Dacascos to show off their impressive combat experiences in the franchise’s most evenly-matched duel.
Ultimately, the filmmakers spend so much energy in the right places that it would be ridiculous to not adore the final product. Yes, it probably could benefit from a few scenes trimmed. However, that hardly matters when a movie as superb as this improves upon itself with each subsequent fight scene. Chapter 3 does not prove anything new for the genre as a whole, yet this is an occasion where doing so would be completely unnecessary. After all, what must the film prove when it is already superior to 95% of modern action cinema?
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is now available in theaters.
The film stars Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, and Anjelica Huston.