John Wick: Chapter 2 was a fantastic sequel that opened up a realm of possibilities including a viable franchise out of the latest Keanu Reeves vehicle. Its cliffhanger ending left fans eagerly anticipating the follow-up. Thankfully, this isn’t a series that waits five or 10 years for a sequel. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum delivers more of the mindless, beautifully staged action sequences of its predecessors.
Reeves still looks every ounce the credibly dangerous assassin capable of a million reloads and shrugging off knife and bullet wounds to take out squadrons of bad guys. But it’s hard not to take in all the carnage and think some of the luster has faded from the franchise. At least during the slower moments. During the action scenes, Parabellum features some of the series’ best off the wall death and destruction moments.
Story wise, Parabellum lacks the narrative of Chapter 2. That film set up an easily unlikable villain, added in Common’s skilled assassin as an adversary in the middle chapter and had a decisive, dazzling final act. Parabellum has its slow moments and at times, gets bogged down in the bureaucracy of The High Table too much for its own good.
Wick is on the run after being excommunicated from all of the resources of The High Table resources. That includes access to the syndicate’s global network of lavish hotels, armories, tailors and more. Worse, he’s now got a $14 million bounty on his head that’s sure to attract every assassin willing to go toe to toe with The Boogeyman. As Wick’s ally, Winston (Ian McShane) tells Continental concierge Charon (Lance Reddick), that should just about make the odds even.
John has a plan to set things right, but he’s got to reunite with some old allies to do so. One ally, The Director (Anjelica Huston) has a long past with John and may have played a role in his training. The screenplay, credited to four screenwriters, doesn’t do much hand holding for viewers so it’s important to pay close enough attention to the dialogue to fill in the blanks.
Another ally John reconnects with is Sofia (Halle Berry, Kingsman: The Golden Circle), a former assassin who owes John a favor. Sofia is every bit the capable fighter as John, but adds another element of a pair of attack dogs. The sequence with John, Sofia and the dogs in action kinda has a video game feel to it in terms of its excess and craziness making for one of the film’s best battles.
The High Table has sent its Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to dole out justice for all those that played a part in John’s escape. That means trouble for Winston and Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King. Dillon lacks the presence to be an effective villain, unless one has an unhealthy dislike of lawyers. Beyond a haughty, dismissive attitude, The Adjudicator isn’t nearly as charismatic as Ruby Rose’s mute assassin from Chapter 2. It doesn’t help when Dillon is paired with scene-munching co-stars in Fishburne and McShane.
Faring much better is Mark Dacascos, who plays the hitman Zero, a Wick fanboy looking to take down his idol. Dacascos gives Zero a nutty enough edge that he stands out as one of the more memorable Wick villains even if he veers heavier on the comedic side. The Raid 2: Redemption stars Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman have fun roles as two of Zero’s elite assassins.
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Most of my issues with the plot get addressed in the final few moments. It’s a bit of a spoiler though so I won’t mention it in great detail, but from a narrative perspective, Parabellum takes a huge risk delaying a payoff that seemed to be the point of the film. The hint is in the film’s subtitle so in hindsight, it makes sense.
There’s also some interesting character logic that doesn’t make a ton of sense. Another big issue was John’s cavalier attitude toward preserving ammo. He does know he doesn’t have an infinite ammo code, right?
But it’s John Wick and when have we ever let things like common sense and logic get in the way of our bada$$ assassin franchise? If you want award winning performances and well-crafted scripts, it’s probably best to hibernate until the Oscar films start surfacing in November.
Parabellum delivers the goods with the action. Director Chad Stahelski has such a clear vision for how to shoot the carnage and chaos that it’s both mesmerizing and a little insane. Stahelski sets up some creative action sequences in Parabellum including weaponizing a horse, a motorcycle chase with katana swords and the clash in the desert with the attack dogs. Those scenes are so impressive and electrifying that it’s not surprising the final action sequence can’t match the innovation of the earlier sequences.
Maybe it’s a case of diminishing returns when John just goes in guns blazing against a killer elite squad or fights a crew of martial arts experts with few tricks? In a lot of ways, Parabellum plays out like Bad Boys 2. That film featured all of the wonderful excess of an in the prime of his career Michael Bay.
Bad Boy 2’s action scenes were so intense and exhaustive that the final showdown felt like diminishing returns. Yeah, the action was still fun to watch play out, but it was almost too much of a good thing. Parabellum’s staggering two hours and 10 minute run-time is too long for the bare bones plot. It was always going to be hard topping that highway scene and that’s how the last sequence feels in Parabellum. It’s some impressive gun-fu and all, but there’s not much we haven’t seen doing with cooler twists earlier.
Naturally, the big question is does Parabellum do enough to make the potential of future installments viable? That’s a big affirmative. This series can’t help but be entertaining and rewarding for fans as long as Reeves and Stahelski are involved.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Lionsgate