|Original caricature by Jeff York of the cast of JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM
Some may love the JASON BOURNE and TAKEN franchises for action/adventure, but the JOHN WICK series strikes me as far superior. The newest chapter entitled JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM opens Friday nationwide and it’s another incredibly well-made, rollicking entertainment, just like the first two chapters. What distinguishes the Wick series, however, is how easy it is to follow visually. That’s exceedingly important in the genre where grasping what’s going on is essential. Yet, it’s funny how many actioners are a jumble onscreen because they’re edited to cover the limitations of their stars. (Ahem, Matt Damon and Liam Neeson.) That’s not a problem with the man playing Wick. Keanu Reeves is clearly doing most of his own stunt work, and the camera lingers on his moves to accentuate that fact. That elevates the Wick series as you believe what the assassin character is doing because you see Reeves doing it. He performs the intricate choreography so convincingly, it takes your breath away.
This time out, Reeve’s Wick is on the run from a slew of assassins out for blood. In JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2, the brooding hitman committed a no-no when he killed a double-crossing bad guy in the Continental Hotel. That exclusive sanctuary is a war-free zone, so for his breaking of the rules, a bounty’s placed on Wick’s head. The hotel’s stern proprietor Winston (Ian McShane) even declares Wick excommunicado. Soon, the message that Wick is now fair game goes out to hundreds of assassins, thugs, and miscreants that hope they’ll be the lucky killer to claim the multi-million dollar reward, as well as bragging rights that they offed the world’s greatest gun for hire.
PARABELLUM starts with Wick and his dog on the lam, huffing, and puffing as they hightail it through a rainy Manhattan night towards the New York City Library. Wick has stored some valuables there that he’ll need if he hopes to escape the city in one piece. Just as he’s retrieving his markers and gold coins to ensure safe passage out of the States, an over-eager thug (Boban Marjanovic) appears and the first set-piece kicks into high gear. It kicks and chops and thwacks. The men battle brutally, even using heavy books as weapons in a nasty, yet thrilling smackdown.
Director Chad Stahelski stages the action ensuring that every punch land, both between the pugilists and with the audience. His camera stays back at the mid-range to show all the movements and through-lines, sparing the editor the task of having to cut to cover for the actors. Reeves and Marjanovic mix it up incredibly well with each move and damn if it isn’t all ridiculously convincing.
From there, Wick wisely leaves his dog in the adroit care of the Continental Hotel concierge Charon (Lance Riddick) as he rushes off to bargain with a Russian oligarch living in the Big Apple who can help smuggle him out of the country. The Director is one tough cookie, however, not easily persuaded, and as played icily by Anjelica Huston, you’re not sure if she’s a friend or foe. In Wick’s world, true blue friends are very hard to come by. Here, the film displays its franchise’s signature wit with the two veteran actors sparring with each other verbally, tossing bitchy quips back and forth, executed with a similar sting as all the pugilism.
Wick manages to convince the Director she owes him one and he’s on his way to Morocco. There, he joins forces with a fellow assassin named Sofia (Halle Berry), who owes him a favor for saving her daughter. (The Wick films are about nothing if not calling in favors.) Soon, they’re mixing it up with local baddies, and Berry and her two attack dogs prove to be able stunt performers as well.
The film becomes one big battle scene after another, similar to the previous entries, but the extremism and hilarity of each new situation Wick finds himself in this time makes for an exceptionally comedic romp. Wick fights in horse stables and smacks equestrian bottoms to kick his attackers at key moments. Ninjas with swords chase Wick on motorcycles as they weave through Brooklyn Bridge traffic. And when he’s attacked in tony settings filled with exquisite art and architecture, you know they’re going to be destroyed. Destruction has never been so amusing.
Other stars show up in cheeky supporting parts, most notably Asia Kate Dillon (BILLIONS on Showtime) as The Adjudicator, a sort of auditor for the High Table. She’s flying about and doling out punishment to those who’ve aided Wick in his escape, including Winston and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne, again having a ball in a boisterous performance.) Dillon relishes her role too, using her staring eyes to elicit big laughs as her by-the-book accountant has trouble fathoming all the over-the-top shenanigans she witnesses.
Other pleasures, in addition to the cartoon carnage, are plentiful in JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM including a game Mark Dacascos playing a sushi chef who moonlights as a killer. He’s got the moves and the quips. Even better is the gleaming production design which deserves Oscar recognition come 2020, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for the Academy to recognize the stunning contribution of art director Kevin Kavanaugh. The sad fact is that genre pieces seldom get their due.
The script by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abrams manages to invest plenty of verbal wit in the proceedings without resorting to the kind of stale jibes that doomed too many Eastwood, Stallone, and Schwarzenegger vehicles. Reeves is a good comic actor as evidenced by his work in the BILL & TED films, but here the veteran performer wisely lets most of his actions speak for him.
For my entertainment dollar, the JOHN WICK films stand as one of the better trilogies in the history of movies, and easily one of the most satisfying action franchises. And it looks like the fun and froth isn’t going to end anytime soon. A battle with the Illuminati-like High Table one-percenters is hinted at in the last minutes and sounds promising. I’m sure John Wick will continue to kill it.