John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum ***1/2
One Liner Review:
Good, solid action and continued world building, this movie might not be quite as strong as the previous entries, but it is still a lot of fun.
John Wick 3 is a pretty good movie. It’s not great, and the further this movie gets from what started it all, the more it loses (we are desensitized to this level of action by now, and are always expecting more.) But in that department, the movie does not disappoint. It has more and better action than either of the previous movies. But the story leaves a little to be desired. The movie continues the world building, as it takes us to Casablanca, and that’s pretty neat, until it leads back to Nee York with a new mission that feels very anti-climactic. Luckily, even when the mission isn’t great, the action makes up for it. The fun and excitement continue to soar, even when the story isn’t great.
John Wick Chapter 3, Parabellum is another success story for the action movie franchise. It’s not as good as the first two, but there’s still a lot to like about this movie and how it keeps expanding the story, with its world building. On top of that, the action from movie to movie really does keep getting better. The first movie is still the best, and the second movie is next, but that probably has to do with just the idea that the more times we see this level of action, and this world, the less special or original it is. But even still, the third movie does a nice job of giving us more of what we love. And all three films seem to have a different defining quality… the first movie is about the story. It is the most contained (the whole movie takes place in New York,) and it introduces us to the character and the world. The second movie is about style. This is where Wick goes to Rome. This is where we get scenes like him visiting a tailor shop to get the perfect suit or a weapons store to get the perfect guns. Between the beautiful subway station scene, the Roman catacombs and rock concert scene, and the hall of mirrors display for the climax, that movie is all about style. And the third movie is about action. This is the one where the action feels more real, more creative, and bigger than ever.
But each movie also builds off the next in terms of elaborating on scenes that came from the previous movie. The first movie featured an action scene and shootout in a night club. The second movie upped that by setting an action scene at an outdoor electric rock concert. The second movie featured a hall of mirrors scene. The third movie upped that by featuring an action scene in a series of glass rooms with crystal skull displays in the Continental Hotel. If this pattern continues of one movie featuring a creative scene and the next movie trying to take it further, then maybe the fourth film, (and yes, they are making a fourth film, and have already announced it,) might feature a new kind of animal action scene. One new addition to the series that comes in this third movie is that we get two different animal action scenes. One involving horses and another involving dogs. Maybe the fourth movie features an action scene with a different, more intense kind of animal, like tigers.
But what the third movie does with action is fantastic, and doesn’t need to be upped at all. In this third movie, we get a hand to hand combat scene in the library (against a giant,) multiple motorcycle chase fight scenes, an incredible knife throwing action scene, a fantastic dog action scene in Casablanca, and then some terrific gun fighting scenes at the Continental, all leading up to the hand to hand combat scenes that conclude the movie. And every one of these fights is terrific. It gets to the point, at the end where Wick fights two guys in one of those glass rooms, finally beats them, and then two other guys appear for another long fight. And it all leads up to the fight with the main villain.
That main villain is Zero, played by Mark Decascos (Brotherhood of the Wolf.) He’s by far the best villain in any of the John Wick movies. Decascos is an incredibly expressive actor, and here he gets the chance to not just show off his martial arts skills, but also show that he’s pretty funny. For the first time in a Wick movie, the villain actually doesn’t seem like such a bad guy. Instead, he’s a fan of Wick. This mythical character, John Wick, is his idol, and Zero doesn’t hesitate to let him know that. He sees it as an honor that he even gets the opportunity to fight the guy. In one hilarious moment, Wick sits down on a couch, and instead of sitting next to him, Zero basically sits on him, (he sits so close that his shoulders are touching Wick’s.) This guy is all smiles and friendliness, until it comes time to kill.
And the movie shows us his journey of taking this mission, to kill Wick, from the moment The Ejudicator comes to see him at the restaurant where he is a sushi chef. The Ejudicator is the person who the High Table has hired to come after Wick and also all those who have helped him. At the start of the movie, we continue off the last film, where Winston, (Ian McShane,) the manager of the Continental has granted John one hour head start before the open contract on his head is put through. So now John is running through the streets of NY, trying to get everything he needs. That includes going to the NY Public Library and taking out a special book, where Wick has hidden a cross that is actually an object he will need to turn over in exchange for a favor later on. He also removes one of those coins from the last movie, which is used as a marker when someone owes you a favor. But the movie never misses an opportunity for a fight, and so even though it’s not quite time yet, and there are still ten minutes or so left before the contract goes into effect, the giant shows up and he and Wick battle it out.
What’s fantastic about this whole opening is that it’s set to a countdown, where every few minutes we see the operators, (a group of older, tattooed women who run the switchboard of assassins and contracts,) announce how much time is left. It goes from twenty minutes to ten minutes to five minutes to two minutes to one minute. And this is great because the audience is keeping track along with the operators. It makes it feel like we’re watching the movie in real time, and gives this situation a sort of High Noon feel, knowing that something is coming at the end of that countdown and that our hero only has until it runs out to do everything he needs to do. This is very different than the usual way of showing a countdown, with a red digital clock, (used in many movies to show a bomb set to a timer winding down.) Instead, the countdown is more in the background, and something we keep hearing, as we watch Wick continue to pursue whatever he needs to get. When the fight with the giant leaves him wounded, John has to go see a doctor who can only partly stitch him up before the countdown expires.
And once it expires, the chases and fights are on. John has a gang chasing him on the streets and runs into an antiques shop. There, he quickly builds a gun out of parts, but only gets to use it a little bit before the knife throwing begins. This is the greatest knife throwing action scene in the history of cinema, (not that there are a whole lot of others.) It probably is the best action scene in the entire movie, but that’s a tough call considering how great all of the action is, (the dog scene was also on a whole other level than what we’ve seen before.) But the knife scene is just the start. From there, it’s Wick running toward the stables where he knows the jockeys of Central Park keep their horses. And he has a way of slapping a horse so that it will kick the guy behind him. He uses this trick twice, before mounting a horse himself and riding it out of there. This is where we get our first motorcycle encounter. It’s guys on bikes against Wick on a horse.
After this first series of action scenes comes to an end, John goes to his first destination. It’s Angelica Huston at a theater where she is overseeing and running a ballet performance. Her character is known as the Director, and John needs a favor from her. She takes him through back rooms where we see men training and fighting, and she makes a comment to let us know this is how Wick got his start as well, training with this Russian company. As part of the organization, he was given that cross, that he retrieved from a book at the beginning, and can now trade it in for a one time favor. His favor is to be given safe passage to Casablanca, and in order to get it, he needs to turn in the cross and be branded on the back.
This leads us to Casablanca, and Halle Berry’s character, Sofia. She is the manager of the version of the Continental Hotel in Casablanca, and Wick wants her to take him to her former boss, Burrata. He needs to find a guy called The Elder, and only Burrata knows how to do that. Sofia gave Wick a marker for something he did in the past, (something involving her daughter,) and so Wick calls in the favor now. This leads to them going to see Burrata, (played by Bronn from Game of Thrones,) and finding the place where those coins are minted. We see the first coin that was ever made as well as the very first marker. And then Burrata demands one of Sofia’s dogs, and all hell breaks loose. Suddenly we get the gunfight turned dog action sequence with these animals moving like lightning as they run, jump, and attack. At one point the dogs jump over a table while Sofia slides under it. At another, a dog jump on Sofia’s back and uses it to catapult up to the roof of a building, where it bites a guys neck while in the air. And then a car pulls up outside and the dogs jump through the open windows and attack. It’s vicious, but it’s fantastic.
All of this is to get to see The Elder. And The Elder is the one area of this movie that really disappoints. Everything about this guy, from the finding him (walk through the desert until you can’t walk anymore,) to who this guy actually is, (he’s not old at all, but just a regular guy,) does not meet the build up that has led us to this point. And what the elder proposes Wick do, in order to avoid the wrath of the High Table, is the least fulfilling of all. He has to go back to NY to kill Winston. So we’ve spent this long journey, traveling to the other side of the world, just to find out the end goal is right where he started, dealing with a person who he was already talking to. Talk about anti-climactic. But this movie isn’t about story. It’s about action. And in that department, the climax soars. John Wick 3 might be the weakest of the three films, but it is still a pretty cool movie filled with some terrific action and combat scenes. Another strong entry in the series. Another fun and smart success.