What makes the John Wick movies so impressive is how fully formed they are. The trilogy is so incredibly detailed that it’s astonishing that it isn’t part of an established canon. Besides all its mesmerizing combat, the dry wit and the emotional hook for dog lovers, the fetishization of underworld etiquette (the code shared by assassins, the operation of the Continental Hotel and the slick attire everyone wears) makes for an immersive crime world to delve into.
In John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, the franchise’s Wick-ipedia expands. We see how other parts of the world coexist with what’s been established in New York, and we learn how anyone on the street could be a ruthless assassin. It could be someone working construction around the corner, someone making sushi at a street-side bar or a homeless person begging for change in an alleyway — anyone trying to appear to live a quiet, normal life like you and me, but with an Uzi tucked into the belt or a knife hidden up the sleeve. It’s intense to explore, and it only raises the stakes for what’s to come.
So, get ready for a two-plus-hour symphony of violence and mayhem. Like Mad Max: Fury Road, Chapter 3 starts running and swinging, and it doesn’t stop until the credits roll. It’s some of the greatest action you’ll ever see and it’ll, no doubt, have everyone in your theater moaning like Meg Ryan in the famous scene from When Harry Met Sally.
Chapter 3 picks up seconds after Chapter 2. Legendary hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has just killed a member of the High Table on Continental grounds and has been declared “excommunicado,” meaning he’s been stripped of the organization's protective services. There’s a $14 million bounty on his head, too. John has one hour to formulate a plan, collect his strength and find some weapons. Once his time is up, it’s a nonstop battle to the death — which is exactly what Chapter 3 becomes.
John Wick faces off against people twice his size and armed with every weapon you can think of. It can’t be easy for John. He needs to take some punches in between all the arm snapping and bullets to head he delivers. It has to be believable, and Reeves and director Chad Stahelski (who directed the previous two films) are all about creating an authentic-feeling experience for the audience. So, don’t expect to pause and say, “Yeah. Right …” at any moment during the film. Every move is carefully thought through and no stones are left unturned. Stahelski keeps things simple and moving.
In addition to improving the story flow, the new characters elevate the franchise as well. The primary suspects being Halle Berry as Sofia (a retired assassin with a pair of vicious German shepherds), Asia Kate Dillon as The Adjudicator (a saucy High Table overseer who makes sure everyone is doing their jobs according to the rules) and Mark Dacascos as Zero (a scene-stealing super-assassin hired by the Adjudicator).
Berry is one of the most fascinating characters to be added to the series roster. In little screen time, you know who she is, where she comes from and what her principles are. Like John, she will do anything for her family, including her dogs. Her dogs do what we’ve been craving from this franchise ever since John’s puppy was killed in the first film: kill. They take people out left and right, scale walls and hop over ledges in ways that’ll leave your jaw on the theater floor. Word is Berry trained with these dogs for months to develop that bond and broke three ribs during her combat training, and all that hard work and seamless fight choreography shows on screen.
Dillon (of Billions and Orange is the New Black fame) is savage as hell. Rather than repeat Ruby Rose’s ass-kicking character in Chapter 2, Dillon brings a level of menace without ever throwing a single punch. She strikes fear in people only by her ability to turn a phrase. Scenes where she strips certain characters of power are a sight to behold.
The most engaging character, however, is Dacascos’ Zero. Most antagonists in this franchise have been crime bosses and skilled fighters. Zero is undeniably a skilled fighter (perhaps more than we’ve seen before), but Dacascos adds another element of intrigue by playing him as a fan of John Wick. It’s like imagining the fighting skills of Wick combined with the personality of Agent Coulson from The Avengers. Zero and John will brawl to get your blood pumping, but they will release the tension between those battles with their funny banter. The final showdown in a glass house is simultaneously gripping and hilarious.
In terms of action, there are quite a few set pieces that will go down in cinema history books. There’s an unbelievable sequence between John and some thugs tossing daggers, knives and axes at each other. The scene shows the opponents grabbing whatever weapon they can off the shelf to use on each other. Another scene that’s just as exciting is when John is being chased down by a biker gang armed with swords. You get goosebumps from the camera zooming down the highway as the outfit flashes its weapons and proceeds to take John out.
Unfortunately, some of the fight choreography displayed in the hand-to-hand combat sequences occasionally render as slow. You can almost feel the talent waiting for their cues to strike. That said, I appreciate the level of authenticity that Stahelski brings to the film by letting actors battle with long takes. It truly appears as though everyone is hurting each other, no matter how slow the fighting may appear.
It’s amazing how many believed the first John Wick film was going to be an average action flick, myself included, yet it has grown to become one of the best franchises of all time. It’s so layered with rich complexity and incredible world building that you’ll find yourself lost in thought once the films send you back out into the world. The possibilities of this universe and the places it can take our characters are endlessly fascinating.
Chapter 3 blows the doors off the summer movie season. It’s a film that will outlive us all and will be studied by filmmakers and stunt operators for many years to come. It’s a groundbreaking feat and one of the year’s very best.