Basically: Y’all should do as the Parabellum title suggests and “prepare for war”.
I recently wrote a piece for The Black List in which I enthused, “Full disclosure, I’m an assassin movie fanatic. Mention John Wick or The Long Kiss Goodnight or The Assassin and watch me get giddy.” Those words are the best set-up I could possibly give for this review.
And now, as the underworld of assassins approaches—taking you into the boundless realm of sanctioned murder and delirious mayhem—remain safely seated, with your hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the ride. And, please watch your dogs. Why? Because John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is the movie equivalent of a 3D experience at the amusement park; it will shake you up, make you giggle, plunge you into gorgeous visual depths that are far too candy-coated to be real; you’ll flinch when blood splatters, and you’ll gleefully line up when it ends—just so this movie can fry your brain one more time.
Once again we enter a world of assassins — a kind of surreal subculture that is seductive in its cultured rules, ancient provenances, and artful death-dealing. In the last episode, our anti-hero, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) committed an unforgivable crime in the assassin’s haven known as The Continental. He spilled blood on sacred ground and now he must repay the rulers of the assassins guild aka The High Table with his own blood—all of it.
The theme here is: Consequence. And every character—but one—pays up.
Photo by Niko Tevernise - © Lionsgate
Parabellum begins with a ticking clock…tick tock, Mr. Wick…one hour until he is excommunicated and an open contract worth $14M is placed on his head. We watch John Wick prepare for an onslaught of master killers. The tension builds. Until it all explodes with an absolutely jaw-dropping fight amongst stacks and stacks of books on Russian Lit (catch that allusion to the legend of Baba Yaga and catch that hint into our hero’s past).
From there, I squealed for 2 hours and 18 minutes. Everything about Parabellum hurtles it to the peak, the very tip-top, of the assassin movie sub-genre. The film not only features a leading character who believably shreds everyone deluded enough to come at him, but it digs deeper into the lore and connections that make him who he is. Anjelica Huston shows up as the leader of a clan of Ruska Roma. Whether they help Wick or fail him propels us across the world. We end up in Northern Africa where we meet Sofia (Halle Berry), a mirror image killer so cold-blooded she left “service” and joined the ranks of management. How do we know she’s a mirror image for Wick? Simply because of their shared love of dogs and a fight scene so balletic you’ll want to toss roses at the screen.
Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Lance Reddick are all back to remind us why they’re mainstays of the franchise. They are so delightfully subversive, so wonderfully layered in their character work, that an entire post could be written on them alone. Meanwhile, Mark Dacascos makes his franchise premiere in a role that winks at his American and Japanese heritage with such quirk, sword skill, and deadliness that you could call it a blowfish California Roll, and your tongue would be perfectly in cheek (that is before Dacascos’ Zero slices it off).
Photo by Mark Rogers - © Lionsgate
But you already know those guys are incredible. Here’s what you may not be prepared for (despite the first two movies): Every fight scene here is a sumptuous martial arts infused treat, in which we get a taste of fight-styles from all over the planet, executed by masters of those styles. The choreography by far surpasses anything done in JW1 and it will make you forget JW2 all together. Bravo, bravissimo, to the stunt coordinators: Jonathan Eusebio, Scott Rogers, Jérémie Vigot, and to the master-level fight coordinator Jon Valera.
If that doesn’t get you hyped, this movie is shot in stunning contrasts of light, darkness, and color. What cinematographer Dan Laustsen, production designer Kevin Kavanaugh, and set decorators Letizia Santucci and David Schlesinger do here is a complete and undeniable wooing of your eyeballs. You cannot blink because it’s all too beautiful. The combination of all these factors means we have to hand out an ovation to director (and stunt coordinator) Chad Stahelski. The work he does here sings.
Finally. Here’s the thing, friends, if you doubt Keanu Reeves as an actor or as an action hero. Don’t. I am speechless at what it must take to make so many gun skills and martial arts styles look like second nature, while emoting so hard you want to give him a hug. The man is gifted.
…and for assassin movie lovers and action fans, like me, this movie is a gift.
In the End: In the words of idobi contributor Philip Jean-Pierre, “I’m at about twelve or so hours after watching John Wick 3 and it was so good, I’m going to need one of y’all to come hold me.” See it!