Synopsis – Super-assassin John Wick is on the run after killing a member of the international assassin’s guild, and with a $14 million price tag on his head – he is the target of hit men and women everywhere.
My Take – Apart from his lead roles in The Matrix trilogy and the Bill & Ted series, Keanu Reeves as an actor has mostly stayed absent from the blockbuster scene for a good part of his career. While he has appeared in stock action thrillers from time to time, his appearance in 2014’s John Wick, a violent, low-budget epic about a retired hit man who goes on a revenge spree after a group of assailants kill his puppy, a gift from his dead wife, putting him back on the map. In an unexpected turn of events, the 2017 sequel, turned out to be even better.
A major factor in play here is how the film’s director Chad Stahelski, his Matrix stuntman, who despite his attachment to various projects, continues to guide the series with writer Derek Kolstad, re-energized each time. And like anyone would guess by now, yes, this latest installment, raises the bar further more.
Sure, this film isn’t the world’s most intricate or intelligent thriller. But if you have the earlier films, you know you can’t walk into this expecting an exceptional plot or to marvel at Keanu Reeves’ acting prowess. The appeal of this series has been its unrelenting, ultra-violent, theatrical action sequences, and the practical stunts known for being thrilling, propulsive and almost ballet-like in their choreography providing an invaluable sense of fun.
Following on from two deliriously entertaining, visually gorgeous and blissfully simplistic action flicks, this film successfully keeps up the franchise’s unique appeal in stunning fashion and the film is pretty much as purely joyful as action thrillers get, proving two hours of brilliant entertainment.
Picking up right after the events of John Wick: Chapter 2, the story follows John Wick (Keanu Reeves), a rogue hit man, who after killing a man in the New York Continental Hotel, a designated safe space for the underground world of assassins that the reluctant killer once belonged to, has been deemed ‘excommunicado’, bereft of all support from the underworld, and now the top target all over.
Given a merciful head start by its manager Winston (Ian McShane), Wick now with a $14 million bounty on his head, must seek out his old contacts, ranging from the Director (Anjelica Huston), a member of the Ruska Roma and Sofia (Halle Berry), a former assassin who is now the manager of Morocco’s Continental, to find his way back into the good graces of The High Table, the leaders of the assassin society.
In this hunt, he comes across new dangers, chief among them being the ruthless Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) along with her maniacal hired gun Zero (Mark Dacascos) and his gang of ninja-like killers.
The film not only picks up immediately after the ending of its predecessor, but also maintains and delivers the same fantastically high degree of carnage, momentum, and beautifully kick-ass style. It’s a 131 minute long blast of adrenaline and awe that revisits old characters, introduces new ones, and continues to expand its world in electrifying ways. There are some bumps, to be sure, but they take a back seat to personality, wonder, and throat-crushing glee.
The action franchise is a breathless mix of flash, action, drama and intensity, and despite being three films deep director Chad Stahelski shows no signs of losing his very firm grip on this universe. Like its predecessor, this film too ups the ante on the action while opening new doors on its world-building, and it does it all while walking a fine line between the serious and the ridiculous. These characters are playing with life or death stakes, but that doesn’t stop the filmmakers from having fun in the process.
I call it a universe because that’s what it is. The series does not take place in our world. It’s a fully, crazily realized dimension wherein all of the denizens of its underbelly comprised of the homeless, the street urchins, the taxi drivers, the bodega workers, all of them are a part of this fascinating, deadly construct wherein assassins roam the streets hunting the targets (and each other).
Where there exists a secondary economy of gold coins and rings, necklaces and other odd bits and pieces that are somehow universally recognized. The opening act itself is astonishing, filled to the brim with insane action that features seamless fight choreography, brilliant camerawork and a fantastic sense of self-awareness that allows you to laugh at the most ridiculous moments.
From then on, the film continues to burst into life with mad, energetic and dazzling action sequences again and again, only furthering the sheer entertainment appeal of the whole affair. There’s almost never a moment where storytelling takes precedence over action thrills, with the film bursting into life by way of an exhilarating opening act.
However, much like the first two films, not every moment is fighting and shootouts, with the mystery, the tension and the intrigue all playing a part as John Wick encounters numerous people from his past in all manner of different scenarios.
Here, director Chad Stahelski once again makes the inarguable case for letting former stunt/action coordinators take the reins on an action film as they understand what’s possible and how best to achieve it for the camera. The choreography here is a bruising blend of gun-play, martial arts, blade action, and straightforward scrapping, an extended fight in an antique weapons shop is a set-piece for the ages, with director Stahelski and Reeves proving once again they’re more than capable of delivering jaw-dropping sequences that are wholly their own too.
A Morocco-set fight featuring Berry’s hotel manager and her two canine friends is a mesmerizing stunner of deliberate chaos as humans and dogs work in beautiful tandem. But the highlight has to be the frenzied climactic fight between John and Zero and his ninjas (The Raid 2‘s Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian) set in an expansive and aesthetically impressive glass and neon multistory gallery space where every surface is threatening to shatter upon contact.
As with the previous two installments, Keanu Reeves is fantastic in the role as always. This is a role that was tailor made for him, and he seemed more comfortable here than before. Halle Berry is even better as an assassin who owes Wick a favor. Her action sequence with very well-trained pair of dogs, is just brilliant.
Asia Kate Dillon and Anjelica Huston give excellent scenery-chewing performances as members of the high table, tasked with reining in the rogue hit man, while displaying the appropriate respect for his skills. Mark Dacascos also stands out as Zero, and brings some much needed humor and levity to the film, and reminds audiences that these action-packed flicks are, above all, supposed to be a lot of fun.
In supporting roles, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick, Jason Mantzoukas, Saïd Taghmaoui, and even 7’3” NBA player Boban Marjanović manage to stand out. On the whole, ‘John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ is a big, loud, fast, fun and silly action thriller that manages to provide once again unquestionably entertainment.
Directed – Chad Stahelski
Rated – R
Run Time – 131 minutes