“Good to see you, John.”
Keanu Reeves has returned as Mr. Wick for the third installment in the now very highly regarded action franchise. The series has provided Reeves with a rejuvenated career and has placed him in the conversation among the greatest and most famous action stars of all time. Now fifty years old, Reeves appears to be laboring throughout the duration of this film. That aspect is in the movie’s favor, as the odds are stacked against Wick more greatly than ever before.
This has been the progression of this series and is largely what we see with most action franchises as they provide future installments. The stakes are raised, the action gets more over-the-top, and new characters and ideas are brought into the fold. This expansion tends to come with mixed results, but with the John Wick series, the critical and popular consensus has been overwhelmingly positive. The original 2014 film was a small-time action movie and a cult hit that didn’t really catch on until its home video run. It featured a simple story about an assassin enacting revenge following the murder of his dog in the wake of his wife’s tragic death. The sequel sought to further examine the world that had been briefly alluded to in the original, with more ambitious action setpieces and inspired casting additions in Common and Laurence Fishburne. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum injects steroids into both of those ideas and blows out the film with some of the most memorable setpieces we’ve ever seen and infuses them with a few iconic additions to the cast.
John Wick: Chapter 3 is easily the best theater experience of 2019 thus far. It wastes no time in thrusting the audience back into its expansive universe and seeking to blow our minds by upping the action spectacle with every scene. The movie drops us in seemingly moments after the end of its predecessor, with the lead in that John is now “excommunicado,” which means the entire world is hellbent on assassinating him, essentially. The stakes feel like they couldn’t be any higher as John runs into enemies at every turn. Within the first half hour, the movie already provided one of the most incredible action scenes I have ever seen, and during so my theater felt as though it might erupt in its own adrenaline induced bout of hysteria. There were at least a couple dozen times during the film in which myself or others around me couldn’t help but verbalize emotion, devolving into cheers, exclamations of arousal, and applause. This is a film that begs to be seen on the big screen with an enthusiastic audience and a high quality sound system, by which you can feel every punch and gunshot pulsate through the theater and into your veins like you’ve been infused with a never-ending supply of double-shot espresso.
All that being said, this movie, along with the first two, comes with its drawbacks. It suffers from the same two key issues that plagued Chapter 2, but to an exemplified degree. For one, the movie takes its world-building far too seriously and makes an error in judgement in thinking that this is the most interesting aspect of the series. This is not at all the case, and it is why (despite this featuring the most grandiose action) the original entry remains the best film overall. That film had its eyes set squarely on John Wick and his internal struggle, grappling with grief as he displayed his unique skills as an assassin. In these latest two entries, the focus has shifted onto the world around him and his character has become somewhat of an emotionless killing machine. Keanu still plays the character to superb effect with a commanding screen presence and physicality, but any intrigue about his character feels all but lost. The film also struggles with losing steam in its final act, something that was my only real complaint with the first film. The first hour of this movie is such a severe adrenaline rush coasting on 11 nearly the entire time that, by the time we arrive at the climax, we have already seen the best setpieces it has to offer and it feels more like we’re running on an 8 now. The final act is a bit of a disappointment as the film becomes a little too enamored with straightforward hand-to-hand combat and the lore it is building that the audience can’t help but feel worn out. It’s a shame, but it’s not enough to hurt the film’s overwhelming impact.
Action movies have always been something of a polarizing exercise; fans are passionate, detractors are critical. With John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, fans of action movies will be elated. It features a couple of the most exhilarating action setpieces ever put to film and is a non-stop thrill ride sure to have you on the edge of your seat. However, those looking for an emotionally resonant story driven by character motivation and a compelling plot may be disappointed. Still, like the Wick films before it, this movie’s relentlessly exciting and astonishing nature is enough to dispel the drawbacks in its narrative construction and elevate it to be one of the most memorable theater experiences you’ll have this year and a more than satisfying addition to the John Wick series.