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

Keanu Reeves is back with a vengeance in this stone cold action classic that certifies the Wick series as a gift to action cinema

“If you want peace, prepare for war”, the title of this latest outing for Keanu Reeve’s un-killable hitman John Wick is taken from this very adage and it is most appropriate. As the “Baba Yaga” is back and in his greatest fight yet. When retired, recently widowed, master assassin John Wick opened the floodgates of wrath upon those who stole his car and brutally killed his puppy (his last hope at a loving companion in a time of grief and final gift from his late wife), who would ever have thought we would get where we are now. Not only have the films led a renaissance and long-overdue appreciation of star Keanu Reeves, they have secured themselves a place in history, as the best action franchise in decades and in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, director Chad Stahelski does the seemingly impossible by raising the bar.

Believe the hype. This is the real deal and – like the others – an undisputed action classic. Picking up almost immediately after the events of the last film, Parabellum finally comes to show us the rebirth of “the bogeyman”. The legend of Wick throughout the movies has given the character an enticing aura, as his foes/friends fearfully relay the stories of his past feats and in this film, not only are some of his deadliest enemies his biggest admirers, but we see the methodical re-emergence of the John Wick of old, only this time he’s arguably more dangerous as he finds purpose, alongside the will to survive and endure the pain.

This is first and foremost an action spectacle but what really impresses here, is how this onscreen world is expanded, furthering the work of Chapter 2 in showing how this realm of rules, loyalty and death runs decisively and concurrently to our own. The plot travels along, seeing old favours delivered, obstacles tackled and risks taken, as the story admirably handles some bold developments that may prove a tad controversial for some fans. This sequel takes risks physically and narratively, whilst delving into the soul of Wick himself, showing us how and why a man who has lost this much still needs to live, and asking whether his past has irreparably set his future. Parabellum dares to deal in the stakes and consequences that surround tough decisions, the inevitability of age and the strength of past promises. This is truly a tale of personal and physical resolve and how “the path to paradise begins in hell”, which opens with a shocking bang and closes with developments that promise a compelling future.

The cinematography by Dan Laustsen is without flaw and even the most stomach-turning and toe-curling acts of violence (and there are loads) are backed by imagery that keeps intact this series’ grasp of style (influenced by various other genres and films). While Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s score once again acts as the perfect dignified yet pulsatingly exciting audible accompaniment to onscreen mayhem and engrossing visual aesthetic.

Stahelski directs some of the most breathtaking action we have ever seen put to the big screen, with choreography so seamless you forget that you are not watching real assassins at work, and some absolutely insane stunts. Everyone is hands on and every inch of it shows, as the focused camerawork captures coherently every beat of the fist, every slice of the sword, flip of the bike and leap of the dog (a canine-assisted set piece in Casablanca is one of the most jaw-dropping action cinema accomplishments I’ve ever witnessed). As the film unfurls, it uses this exemplary action as a bloody full-stop at the most appropriate parts of this intense, bullet-flying and ambitious story.

Reeves continues to be a relentless and immense figure as Wick, bringing the quiet cool and contained torment that made us fall in love with his animal-avenging assassin in the first place and also delivering perhaps his most impressively physical performance yet. Halle Berry offers fantastic support as fellow dog-loving assassin Sofia, while Ian McShane and Lance Reddick’s returns as Continental manager Winston and concierge Charon are excellent, and Laurence Fishburne – who is wholly invested to this story and his character – is clearly loving every minute of it, just as the viewer undoubtedly will. Meanwhile new addition Mark Dacascos as assassin Zero is a charismatic and very appropriate main villain.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, like Mad Max Fury Road or Mission: Impossible – Fallout, is an innovative display of action and high-stakes but also a story filled with soul, ambition and risk and if you love this series, groundbreaking action sequences, painstaking craftsmanship or animals…you will not be disappointed. Bring on Chapter 4!

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