If you don’t know who John Wick is, you will soon find out within minutes of his third film. A bogeyman or spectre of sorts, John Wick is an elite assassin, known by many, feared by most and if he’s after you or you stand in his way, you will die in dramatic fashion.
With a mysterious past, the first chapter of Wick’s films set up an intriguing lore based world of highly trained killers, in which Mr. Wick had been part of, been able to retire from and ultimately dragged back into. Film two explored the rules of this world more, with a blood oath from John called upon despite his target being a High Table member. With some reluctance, the actions John takes in his second chapter, leads to him being excommunicated from the fraternity of assassin’s and a bounty placed on his head for breaking the assassin’s High Table (a governing body that self regulates the killers world) rules.
This leads us directly into John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Expanding on a shared set of ideologies and mutual respect among each other, we find out what happens when rules are broken – consequences are suffered. John is on the run and all the amenities that he once enjoyed are gone. He has no back up, no gunsmith, no safe haven and no time to stand around, as a world of trained killers, that hide in plain sight, now try to kill John for a $14 million reward.
From the get go, John Wick’s bloody and visceral combat is on show, with the balletic gun-fu of the previous movies, turned up to eleven. With the standard weapons like guns and knives you expect in an action movie, to books, belts and vicious animals, kills are bone crushing and eye squintingly brutal. Early in the film, the score is minimal and seems to lower or halt during fight scenes. This allows the thumping beat of the hand-to-hand combat, create its own soundtrack, with the hordes of adversaries acting as the instruments. It’s strangely satisfying to see the fantastic choreographed fight scenes speak for themselves. The music from Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard is great when used, ramping up tension, while complimenting the action perfectly, especially in the latter acts.
Needless to say, with a bounty on Wick’s head, the body count is huge. This would be a problem in most action films, but thanks to creative kills, fantastic setpieces and beautifully shot scenes, Parabellum is a roller coaster ride full of style, colour and heart pounding action. Having to escape New York to survive, a trip to Casablanca gives a refreshing pallete swap. From dark and neon lit city streets, to a hefty stint in the sand dunes of Morocco, the film is vibrant and stylish throughout. The fight scenes are dotted throughout back alleys, across city streets on motorbikes to a gold manufacturing sandstone palace and a three floor glass construct, Parabellum is like playing a high octane video game at time. Wick never gets too much time to catch his breath before engaging in another showdown with his enemies.
Along with more screen time for Winston (Ian McShane), Charon (Lance Reddick) and The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), the world of John Wick is brilliantly fleshed out with some new faces. Anjelica Huston plays The Director and is revealed to be highly involved in Wick’s past. It’s inferred that she has some responsibility to his gritty hand-to-hand training when he was younger. Her scenes are some what operatic, being shot in a theater while directing ballet. Halle Barry’s Sofia plays the manager of a Casablanca safe house. Sofia and John have some past history and he calls upon a favour that leads to some of the more creative fight scenes involving some fantastically trained dogs. Finally Mark Dacascos plays Zero, introduced well into the movie, plays the role of main antagonist and hunter. Zero seems to be a match to Wick’s skills for the most part and leads to some heavy hitting scenes and is involved in a lot of the final act. All are enjoyable in their roles and I felt intrigued to learn more about each of them.
There are some more supporting characters with Asia Kate Dillon as the steel faced Adjudicator, sent to investigate the actions of Winston. Saïd Taghmaoui plays the Elder, the man above the High Table. Jason Mantzoukas as Tick Tock Man, a follower of the Bowery King. Several of these characters expand on the lore of previous movies and flesh out some of John’s past. Other characters seemed under used, as I was personally looking forward to seeing Jason Mantzoukas wackiness, but had little screen time. Keanu Reeves is again fantastic as John Wick. Somewhat a conflicted man at times, Reeves portrays Wick’s vulnerability and humanity, while showcasing his grit and determination to survive this world. Wick’s desire to get out of this hole he is in by any means necessary, has you shouting for his success, while wincing at every punch he receives.
The lore expansion is only touched upon, but somewhat asks more questions than answers at points, only hinting to a bigger hierarchy and history. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see more of the lore and see who’s behind the High Table. It’s nice to get little bits of John’s past teased upon too, but in a two hour film, there is only so much you can include without slowing down the pace. In that way, there is a good balance between new and old information. Maybe future spin-off The Continental TV show will allow more lore exploration.
Overall John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is run at a breakneck speed. Definitely not for the squeamish, the action is fun, heavy hitting and gruesome at the same time. The cast of characters are great for the most part and the stylish world built by cinematographer Dan Laustsen and director Chad Stahelski is beautiful. Like reading an over the top graphic novel or playing an insane action game, Parabellum is crazy in nature, but a believable world in its own right. It’s a triumph to have the third chapter of any franchise stay interesting, nevermind entertaining, but John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum pulls both off magnificently. If you are an action fan, it’s hard not to enjoy Parabellum.
John Wick releases in Irish cinemas May 15th!
John Wick, lots of John Wick
A jaw breaking, white-knuckle thrill ride, that entertains and excites throughout. Reeves is great again as Wick, while most of the returning and new cast help underpin the believably over the top action. Could be enjoyed alone, but I recommend watching at least the first John Wick to accustom yourself to the crazy action.