Saturday, May 18, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)

Director: Chad Stahelski
Notable Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Mark Dacascos, Laurence Fishburne, Asia Kate Dillon, Halle Berry, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Jason Mantzoukas, Yayan Ruhian, Cecep Arif Rahman

There is a delight in knowing that the John Wick franchise exists. Each film, in its own way, exists as a love letter to classic worldwide action cinema. From the 70s style revenge plot of the original to the excess of style reminiscent of Seijun Suzuki’s later yakuza films of the second, each film wears its influences proudly on its sleeves while introducing a “new” audience in the US to what great action cinema looks like. The third entry of this series, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, is perhaps the weakest overall in terms of narrative, but it’s also one that gives the audience what it wants the most: a gauntlet of non-stop action, dark comedic moments, and bold characters. Chapter 3 struggles occasionally to stand on its own. Yet the sheer intensity of its wild pacing and punchy action set pieces are more than enough to keep fans hooting and hollering for more. John Wick is back and he’s ready to slap a horse into kicking his audience in the face.

Calling this film Chapter 3 is a bit of a ruse. A more fitting title might have been John Wick: Chapter 2Part 2 as the film doesn’t necessarily have an identity of its own compared. The first sequel stood out on its own as a sequel, but this film stands boldly on being a continuation. Although it could be argued that those are one and the same, it’s a case in this franchise where there is a distinct difference in the narrative. Chapter 3 features three very distinctive acts, to the point of feeling episodic, but the overall narrative is not it's own. This is not John Wick on a new mission. This is John Wick finishing his mission from the previous entry.

To its benefit, this is what gives Chapter 3 such a fast pace and endless barrage of action. The film doesn’t necessarily need a traditional first and second act. It feels like the third act of Chapter 2 for the entirety of its run time. Just in the first third of the film, the audience is graced with a plethora of action set pieces including a library fight, one of the most unhinged knife throwing competitions ever put to cinema, and the bold choice of having John Wick use a horse as both transportation and a weapon of mass face destruction. That’s just the opening. Even when the film decidedly slows down, showcasing some of Wicks past as he attempts to find a person to lift the price on his head in Casablanca, the film is just boldly filled with non-stop action. Halle Berry pops up with two pups to steal most of the second act and then Mark Dacascos pops up in the third act as the head of a ninja clan sporting two of the iconic villains from The Raid series for the finale. You can guess where it goes from there. Chapter 3 feels like a marathon of epic proportions. It’s beautifully shot, showcasing the brutal mixture of martial arts stunt choreography, chase sequences, and gunfights, in a way that the series has done right from the beginning. Action junkies beware, there’s a good chance you could overdose on this film.

This relentless 2-hour third act intention is also a problem. The film is delivering on promises set up. It doesn’t have the knack for taking moments to re-establish Wick’s personal growth as a character. Having him look at a picture of his wife for 5 seconds or chat about what kind of man he wants to die as for 2 minutes doesn’t constitute enough material to fully give the character an arc. Smaller characters seemingly get better arcs, like Halle Berry’s Sofia or even the rather comedic fanboying of Dacascos, which bodes well for potential spin-off franchises, but leave the main character feeling a bit undercooked. Fortunately, the cast in this film is so incredibly stellar that they can pull it off. Keanu Reeves once again shows that he can do a lot with his brand of acting in the right role and director Stahelski litters the film with action icons who are all given roles to strut their stuff. The world expansion is worthy of mention here, adding in new layers to things which fans will certainly enjoy. When it comes down to it though, this is the film with the weakest arc for our hero and it prevents it from rising too the heights of the previous two films.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, even as a slightly weaker entry than the previous two, is still a fantastic cinematic experience that pays out on the work of its predecessors with bold and wild action sequences and deepening the mythology of the world. The sheer insanity of its pacing and relentless use of action sequences are jaw-dropping. This gives fans plenty to love and the entertainment value is top notch through the continued efforts of providing the best action modern theatrical going audiences will see. The film struggles a bit to stand on its own as a film and it could have used a bit more of a cohesive character arc for its lead to deepening the emotional resonance, but when it’s 2 hours of delivering what audiences want, it’s hard to be too judgmental.  

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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