Having been labelled “excommunicado” and with a $14 million bounty placed on his head for killing someone on the grounds of the Continental hotel for assassins, legendary hitman and “baba yaga” John Wick (Keanu Reeves) must evade a city full of dangerous assassins in order to get to safety, eventually having to call in assistance from former associate Sofia (Halle Berry), who owes him a blood debt, and eventually seeking to gain an audience with the head of the High Table of assassins. Meanwhile, an unforgiving adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillion) casts judgement on all those who have helped John, including Continental manager Winston (Ian McShane), The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) and The Director (Angelina Huston), a mysterious figure from John’s past.
I guess that I’m a relative latecomer to this film franchise because I didn’t see the previous two chapters in cinemas and only caught up with the two of them on Netflix and Amazon. I thought the first one was good, though nothing extraordinary, and I actually doubted that I’d be investing further into the series, but Chapter Two was a big improvement as the plot was stronger and the famous fight scenes were incredibly stylish, cleverly choreographed and just very exciting to watch – one of the better action films of recent years, I thought. So I’m jumping on the bandwagon and I went to see the third instalment in this popular action franchise, the first John Wick film that I’ve seen in cinemas.
And I’d say that Parabellum is a very impressive action film that continues to show off the amazing fight choreography, slick direction and colourful action setpieces that the series has become known for and it will surely provide plenty of adrenaline fuelled entertainment for cinemagoers everywhere. But it’s not as good as Chapter Two, in my opinion.
Well, where better to start than the franchise’s bread and butter – the action sequences? As we’ve come to expect by now, the fight scenes in Parabellum are truly top tier because they are uncompromisingly brutal, imaginative and it’s clear that a lot of hard work went into properly choreographing them; they are captured smoothly and there’s no frantic editing or annoying quick cuts: you’re fully able to see just what’s going on and the camera moves gracefully around the central players as the fighting is happening. Like in the previous chapter, there’s also some very refreshing humour that’s seamlessly integrated into the fight scenes and in between the flying of bullets, characters are forced to pause and reload and some even take a break to express just what an honour it is to be fighting the legendary John Wick.
So it seems that the filmmakers have strived to “one-up themselves” when it comes to the action scenes, to create more imaginative and clever setpieces for our action heroes to play around with and in Parabellum, I’d say they have succeeded. In the film, we start off with a brutal “warm up” library fight where we get a taste of just what we’re in for and from then on, we are treated to a veritable knife throwing bonanza just a few scenes later (featuring one particularly unlucky chap), an appropriately epic finale (which is slightly reminiscent of Chapter Two’s marvellous hall of mirrors sequence), and the best of them all is a sequence set in Casablanca which features John, Sofia and her two incredibly well trained German shepherds – the absolute stars of the show.
And a LOAD of enemies seem to get hit, kicked, bitten or shot in the nuts during this film! Just a random observation.
But despite all the slick visuals and entertaining nature of the film, the story of Parabellum is a little too thin and that’s what holds it back from being as good as its predecessor. I think that John Wick had a better story than action sequences and with this film, it’s the reverse (Chapter Two achieving the ideal blend of both); the action sequences dominate most of the film and when there’s no fighting going on, the ongoing plot is only advanced a teensy bit more and even then, it’s nothing that we haven’t seen before – the assassins come after him (just HOW MANY assassins are there in the city?! Everyone’s “in on it” and civilians don’t bat an eye when violence occurs), John seeks out some assistance, there’s a bit of globetrotting, and then he’s back to where he was before.
By the end, not much has actually changed and this is ultimately just a small stepping stone in the overall narrative of the franchise and on that note, I have to admit that I thought this would be the final chapter of the series – a grand finale to conclude the John Wick trilogy – but somewhat disappointingly, the film is left open ended and with the apparent promise of more films on the horizon. I believe that John Wick’s adventures would’ve been ideal as a compact trilogy, with Parabellum acting as the showstopping conclusion, and I don’t see how much more story they can offer us. Just more excellent and innovative fight sequences, I guess, but can the franchise survive on that alone? But you never know, a further chapter could take the story in ways I can’t yet imagine. We’ll see.
The returning players all perform well: the perpetually suit-clad Keanu Reeves is still cool and fully commited to this badass role (even throwing in an old Matrix quote like a good sport), Ian McShane is still charming and magnetic as Winston, regaining a little bit of street cred after the abysmal Hellboy, Laurence Fishburne gets a little bit more to do as The Bowery King, and Lance Reddick is again so supportive, graceful and just lovely as ally concierge Charon, actually getting to shoot some bad guys in this one. And again proving just how good he is with John’s dog. As for the new additions, it’s great to see Halle Berry back on screen (though in a smaller capacity than you might expect) and she proves herself to be Reeves’ equal as she kicks ass and takes names in the film’s excellent Casablanca shootout, Asia Kate Dillon is effectively quite cold and unforgiving as The Adjudicator (though ultimately a rather forgettable and basic villain), Jerome Flynn pops up as a smarmy secondary antagonist, and Anjelica Huston is mysterious and dignified as The Director, though her character is ultimately a bit of a blank slate.
As you may have gathered, the film really succeeds on the technical front as the cinematography and production design is spot on and the pumping score by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard is an ideal accompaniment to all the action.