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Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Directed by: Chad Stahelski

Premise: Immediately following the events of the previous film, John Wick has a multimillion dollar bounty on his head and he has been excommunicated by the assassination guild. He seeks a safe harbor while fighting off various hitmen.

What Works: The John Wick series has primarily been a showcase of action set pieces. The third film outdoes earlier installments in this regard, which is saying something, and John Wick 3 is one of the most extraordinary films in the action movie genre. The choreography and stunt work on display in this film is exceptional. Some scenes were almost certainly achieved with digital tools but they are used sparingly and to great effect. The film moves along breathlessly, featuring a new set piece at a regular pace and each fight sequence is different enough so that the film never gets repetitive. There is also a sly sense of humor to John Wick 3 that is distinct from the previous films. A few of the stunts and kills are so outrageous that they become physical comedy and the moviemakers punctuate the hits with little gestures that acknowledge the absurdity. John Wick 3 also impresses in the way that it builds upon the events of the previous film and takes the story further into the world of the assassin guild. The inciting incident of John Wick 3 is the finale of the previous film in which the titular assassin broke the rules of his guild and the third chapter is about the consequences of that action and how the power structure tries to reinforce its authority on everyone they deem to be out of line. That authority is embodied by an adjudicator played by Asia Kate Dillon; the actress is a threating presence without ever picking up a weapon. This aspect of the story is also fascinating for all of its implications. As explained by a new character played by Jerome Flynn, rules and commerce and authority are intertwined and this imbues the action of John Wick 3 with substance and subtext beyond the average shoot-’em-up film.

What Doesn’t: John Wick 3 suffers from an episodic structure. The movie doesn’t always move logically from one place to the next, especially throughout the middle of the story in which John Wick travels overseas in search of a resolution. These scenes feel disconnected from the action in New York City and the film gets into a predictable pattern in which John Wick meets a new character, gets new information, and then goes on a killing spree. John Wick 3 is a revolving door of new characters who enter and exit this story very quickly, namely an assassin played by Halle Berry. The John Wick films don’t appear to have been made with an overarching story in mind; with each new installment, the filmmakers concoct new conflicts with new characters and so the series has a villain-of-the-week approach. It would have been preferable to introduce some of these characters in earlier films and playout their stories. As it is, the major fights and deaths of this film don’t have much dramatic impact because we’ve just met these people. In the effort to showcase elaborate fight scenes, the filmmakers also lose sight of the central appeal of the John Wick character. As introduced in the original story, John Wick doesn’t want to kill anymore but he is compelled back into his old life. With each installment, the John Wick series gets further from the original conceit and it’s almost an afterthought in this film.

Bottom Line: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is an extraordinary action picture. Despite its narrative shortcomings, the movie offers an array of exceptionally crafted set pieces and matches them with an intelligent subtext.

Episode: #751 (June 2, 2019)