“Guns. Lots of guns.” That’s what John Wick (Keanu Reeves) says he needs at one point in John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, a movie with a subtitle that is Latin for prepare for war. In other words, this movie makes it perfectly clear it is one long, 130-minute setup for Chapter 4 (already confirmed for 2021). The ridiculous obsession with guns notwithstanding, I just can’t help myself anymore: I’m looking forward to it.
And that, really, is perhaps the great surprise of Parabellum. I actually found Chapter 2, released two years ago, to be slightly more fun than this franchise’s first installment, released two and a half years before that. Every one of these movies is about elaborately staged, beautifully photographed gunfights and hand to hand combat, all in the name of revenge. It was only the first one, however, that wallowed in John Wick’s grief. That made it less fun, being weighed down by the grief of a super-assassin whose wife, and particularly whose dog, is dead.
Everybody worries about how John’s new dog will fare, never batting an eyelash at the massive human body count. I’m going to half-spoil something (gasp!) for Chapter 3: two new dogs are introduced, who get their own stunts that are pretty awesome in one action sequence in particular, and one of those dogs does get shot. But does it survive?? You’ll have to see the movie to find out!
Although they all average out to pretty solid B-grade movies, the John Wick franchise accomplishes the rare feat of getting slightly better with each installment. It’s the writing in particular that gets better; the action is consistently great. Granted, the dialogue only improves slightly. Even with great new actors added to the supporting cast — in this case, Halle Berry, Anjelica Huston and Asia Kate Dillon — the parts don’t offer any great acting challenge. At least Halle Berry gets to participate in some of the action. She’s the one with her own two dogs. They do a lot of chomping down on guys’ crotches.
I found myself thinking about Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies while watching Parabellum. These movies have a lot in common, right down to the revenge plots. The difference is that the John Wick scripts don’t have a fraction of the wit. Neither do they marinate themselves in self-love in the form of pop culture references. I’d say John Wick is a much more straightforward continuation of a particular action thriller tradition.
The whole revenge figures far less prominently this time. Rather, Parabellum is about, as gets stated more than once by more than one character, “Consequences.” It’s the butterfly effect of rogue super-assassin actions. Director Chad Stahelski (who directed both the other John Wick films and fittingly began his career as a stunt coordinator) drops us into the middle of action from the opening shot, as a $14 million bounty has been placed on John’s head. With every other assassin alive eager to collect, Parabellum opens with a thrilling sequence of John getting chased, fought, and escaping several close calls. In the first fifteen minutes or so alone, we see John running on foot, on a motorcycle across a bridge, and even riding through Manhattan on a horse. (While still in the stable he randomly finds himself inside, he uses a few horses ingeniously as kicking weapons.)
And so it goes, through pretty much this entire movie, with John Wick making deals, getting double crossed, collecting debts, incurring debts, and fighting all along the way — in often ingeniously designed sets. We see the return of Ian McShane as Winston, the manager of the Continental Hotel that serves as a haven for assassins, Lance Reddick as its concierge, and Laurence Fishburne as the “Bowery King,” whatever that is, I haven’t quite figured that out. It’s best not to question logic too much in these movies; that’s not what they’re here for.
How long will Keanu Reeves be here for these movies, I wonder? The guy was 50 years old the year this franchise started, five years ago. It could be said, I suppose, he’s the new Liam Nisson; John Wick is Keanu Reeves’s answer to the Taken movies: senior citizen as action movie star. Reeves is arguably a less talented actor, but he fits the part a lot better. Quiet stoicism might be this guy’s greatest talent. These movies get just-so slightly better each time, and the man at their center is a consistently useful avatar for their admittedly shallow themes. Their cleverness exists in the execution of their action choreography, and that’s what gives them a thrill all their own.