Should I Watch..? 'John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum'
What's the big deal?
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is an action thriller film released in 2019 and is the third instalment of the John Wick series. Once again starring Keanu Reeves as the titular character, the film takes place almost immediately after the events of the second movie and sees Wick pursued by countless assassins after a vast bounty is placed on his head. Directed once again by Reeves' former stunt double Chad Stahelski, the film also stars Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick and Anjelica Huston. Released to a warm reception from critics, the film was hugely successful at the box office. Earning more than either of the two previous films in just ten days, the film went on to earn more than $321 million and will be followed by a fourth film - in development at the time of writing - due for release in 2021.
What's it about?
Following the events of the previous film, underworld assassin John Wick finds himself in real trouble. Having murdered a member of the High Table within the sanctified grounds of the New York Continental, John suddenly finds himself "excommunicado" and the subject of a $14 million bounty. Knowing that every other assassin, killer and low-life thug will be out for his blood, John finds himself turning to his former mentor - a ballet director who used to raise him - in order to help smuggle him out of the US in order to find the one man above the Table who can help him, a mysterious and mythical figure known as the Elder.
After John fights his way through legions of assassins, the High Table decide to raise the stakes by targeting individuals who has helped John such as Winston, the enigmatic owner of the Continental, and the larger-than-life Bowery King. With the Table's Adjudicator working alongside fellow assassin Zero, John must not only fight to remove his bounty but also protect his friends before he finds himself completely alone. Forced to return to New York, the scene is set for war...
The Bowery King
Asia Kate Dillon
Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins & Marc Abrams*
Release Date (UK)
15th May, 2019
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
Both John Wick films have established Stahelski as one of the best directors of action films currently working, innovating new and exciting sequences but with a fantastic sense of knowing what looks great on screen. Parabellum takes things even further with scenes of brutal, visceral violence that manage to look almost beautiful at times despite what's happening on screen. And in terms of violence, this film is the most hard-hitting yet - knives getting shoved into eyes, heads split open with axes and frequent mutilations are shown on screen in graphic detail as well as the bloody gunshot wounds inflicted on hordes of anonymous bad guys. However, the action scenes are also inventive and carefully choreographed - many of them involve long uncut sequences that feel like a bloody bullet ballet, punctuated by fisticuffs, gun fights, hungry dogs and even kick-happy horses.
Reeves now has become arguably the most captivating of action heroes as he is able to not just fulfil his action obligations but give the character a depth you don't often see in these kinda films. But he is matched by Berry who astonishes in her all-too-fleeting appearance as Sofia, a fellow assassin who escaped the life and finds herself dragged back in. Berry might be a couple of years younger than Reeves but she is every bit as engaging in the action scenes as her co-star, maybe even more so. I can't believe that I'm alone in wishing we could have seen more of her. Dillon makes for an intriguing villain, an unflappable figure who wields enormous power without having to get her hands dirty. Between the new additions to the cast and the old favourites, the film serves up plenty that fans of the series will love as well as furthering the narrative and backstory of the John Wick universe.
- Like the earlier films, Parabellum contains references to other action scenes and movies. The lighting in the final scene is reminiscent of The Matrix, as is the use of the line "Guns. Lots of guns." Another example is the scene when John finds himself assembling a working gun from a variety of gun parts, the same way Eli Wallach does in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.
- Indonesian martial arts Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian appear in the film as two Shinobi ninja also appeared in The Raid 2, another film that influenced this one. The curved knives they use are not only a reference to their previous work but also integral to their style of martial art. Rahman also acted as a translator between the English cast and crew and his Indonesian colleagues - he used to be an English teacher.
- Berry spent six months learning to train the dogs for her scenes in the film. Five different dogs, all Belgian Malinois, were used and were taught a specifically designed style of martial arts for dogs by Stahelski. According to their trainers, the dogs regarded Berry as their new trainer by the end of the shoot.
- Reeves complimented Berry on her strict training for the film as not only did she have to learn dog training but also improve her physical endurance, learn martial arts and train with guns. It wasn't without some pain though, as Berry broke three ribs while training for the role.
What's not to like?
I confess that I was thoroughly impressed by John Wick: Chapter 2 which expanded the universe of the film as well as broadening the scope and style of the action scenes of the first film. It wasn't just a string of elaborate action sequences stitched together but it provided a deeper context to frame the action on. Alas, Parabellum doesn't quite repeat the same trick - while the action scenes are just as enjoyable as before, the film sags when the fighting stops and it isn't as interesting as before. The narrative feels muddled as though two separate stories were squashed together to make a whole and while the scenes set in Morocco and the Sahara desert are visually spectacular, I couldn't exactly figure out why they were there in the first place.
The film also suffers from repetition - it lacks the element of surprise you got from the first two films, besides Berry's blistering appearance. Take the climatic battle between Wick and Zero in the glass-filled arena which feels too similar to the fight in the second film between Wick and Ares which itself was based on the final scene in Enter The Dragon. There also isn't as much expansion as there was in the second film and what is there is left unexplained and unfulfiled. What is the past relationship between John and Sofia or The Director? Both are hinted at but never fully explained. It was almost inevitable that Parabellum would be a step back from the wonderfully energetic heights achieved by Chapter 2 but the film throws its efforts into making more action scenes instead of telling a story, which wasn't what I was hoping for.
Should I watch it?
Fans of the series will enjoy the trademark action sequences and inventive scenes that continue to set the benchmark for action movies. But a lack of narrative and incoherent storytelling make this the weakest of the three film so far. Parabellum still contains plenty of bloody violence and stylish visuals that have made the series so enjoyable but I was left feeling disappointed instead of exhilarated as I was last time out.
Great For: action fans, dog lovers, raising the bar for forthcoming action movies, Halle Berry (someone please give her an action movie of her own!)
Not So Great For: the squeamish, high expectations, Moroccan henchmen
What else should I watch?
The first John Wick was a surprise hit, coming out of nowhere with a then-untested director and a Keanu who hadn't really enjoyed a decent action outing since the end of The Matrix trilogy. Despite this, I still didn't have much expectation for Chapter 2 but I was stunned by the film's imaginative expansion of the first film's setting while still providing visually stunning action sequences that offered not just exciting set pieces but enjoyable throwbacks to action films of yore. Both films have helped established Stahelski as a genuinely innovative action film director and I can't wait to see what else he can do once Reeves get bored of playing Wick.
There are countless action film franchises, many often produced simply to cash in on the strength of the first film as opposed to expanding ideas and creative film-making. From the multitude of films based on Marvel characters to action film staples like Die Hard or The Expendables, action films are among the most popular and successful films but there are always some that are worth avoiding. Sniper features Tom Berenger as a... umm, sniper whose initial mission in Panama would lead to a series that quickly fell into straight-to-DVD infamy but even that was better than the critical mauling that greeted subsequent films in the Transformers series, despite huge takings at the box office. The most recent film, spin-off Bumblebee, may be seen as an attempt to reboot the franchise but it's the most welcome film since the original film in 2007.
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© 2019 Benjamin Cox