Director: Chad Stahelski
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, and Ian McShane
Review by Damocles
Its just …. good.
Upon hearing that the next film in the John Wick series was going to be another “chapter”, I was initially hesitant. Somehow I suspected that it would have been a smarter move to have the words “requiem” put in there or “finale.”
Walking out of the cinema, I knew I was right not to have jumped on the hype train that all the other critics and movie-goers hopped on.
John Wick 3 has the troubling issue of having an absolutely riveting 20 minutes opening, with bombastic action sequences following each other almost seamlessly. Horses, cars, guns, blood, books and knives are all thrown around with reckless abandon, and there seems to be almost no limit to the imagination of Stahelski’s vision for martial arts choreography.
However, after those first 20 minutes, the film lacks the panache of the previous installments.
John Wick has always been about stylised action sequences, backed with a charismatic performance from Keanu Reeves, whose internal agony and pain serves as the heart of the film. It is Reeves’ performance of a man with few words, a man of focus, commitment and sheer fucking will, that allows us to forgive the ballet of violence erupting across the silver screen.
However, such heart grows stale by the third repetition and the stakes don’t quite get higher or lower in Parabellum. Which is the core fundamental issue with the film.
Plot-wise, the film does not further nor develop the story and instead takes a back-seat to the action sequences. Parabellum seems less of a narrative, and more of a action film highlight reel.
Which of course sounds like a disservice to the film. But it isn’t, if that is exactly what you are going for. If a film merely has to deliver incredible and stylish action sequences, Parabellum is the cinema experience you crave and need.
Unfortunately for myself, the action film Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) casts a long shadow over the realm of action cinema, with its flawless execution of what an action film actually is …. a simple narrative that is told by via action sequences and characters’ motivations, abilities and development are all relayed during an action sequence.
Parabellum lacks the simplicity and heart of its original in 2014, which to me, remains the pinnacle of the series, because it executes an action film concept properly. Each action sequence, each kill, in the original was inspired by Daisy’s death, and the motivation was clear from the on-set.
In John Wick 3, the plot and pacing is more difficult to ascertain and my disappointment at not having the more logical narrative option of a straight up “survival-thriller finale” for the story soured the film-going experience for me. Which, is why I mentioned the first 20 minutes as being everything I hoped, only for it to be ripped cruelly away for a decision to continue the franchise instead of end it on a proper high-note.
Yet, in spite of this flaw, this slightly sour taste, the film is pop cinema at its finest. Creativity was shown from the onset of the film’s first kill to its very last. Cinematography and lighting and choreography have never quite been more bombastic, less CGI and more skilled than ever before.
In fact, it has gotten to such a level, that the introduction of the infamous Raid duo, Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman, provides another bittersweet note to the film, particularly if you are fan of the Raid films.
That note of course, is that Keanu Reeves simply cannot keep up with such fast and incredibly skilled practitioners of pencak silat. And if one was to compare the speed and ferocity of the hand to hand choreography in the Raid films to John Wick, there is quite a difference.
But then the strongest elements of John Wick has always been the gun-fu. And somehow, Stahelski tops the gun-fu choreography of the previous film, with unique new enemies types for John Wick and even new skills to showcase how competitive shooting provides a new platform for actors to showcase just how quickly a handgun, shotgun and rifle can be fired.
In particular, the standout sequence with Halle Berry and Keanu Reeves and the pair of Belgian Malinois’, is an incredible and unique display of dog training, gun fighting and impressive choreography that has never quite been portrayed so well on-film.
Accompanying these action sequences is a score that improves on the formula of the previous films of utilising electronic synth to punch the action sequences and the iconic slow tension build of John’s theme. In Parabellum, Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard updates the score to include Vivaldi for a key finale sequence and is easily as iconic Le Castle Vania’s work in the previous films.
In terms of costuming, John Wick remains one of the best films to admire modern men’s fashion and how to blend beautifully made suits with tactical gun-fu. Despite the location change, each location showcases excellent use of the culture on display, whilst retaining the John Wick’s world aesthetics.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is an film that showcases how imaginative and talented stunt work has come since the black and white days of Buster Keaton. Everything on display, is a testimony to how far action cinema as come since then, but such spectacular choreography needs to be in service of a story, and not for the sake of style.
For the sake of the strength of the franchise, I hope the next film is the grand finale that the Baba Yaga deserves.
P.S. For the creative team, please continue the trend of utilising cool Latin phrases in your world.
A scene to recall: When things go green and winter descends at the Continental.