Warning: Spoilers for previous “John Wick” films
And away we go.
“John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” is as close to action movie perfection as you can get. As an action film connoisseur, I can boldly declare that the “John Wick” franchise is one of the best additions to the genre in the last decade and is not going anywhere.
Third installments into a franchise can go stale if they already haven’t by the second one. “John Wick” proves that with finesse, heart and expert stunt choreography you don’t have to resort to CGI hijinks to make a great action film.
For those who are a bit rusty on the last two installments: “John Wick” and “John Wick 2” have taken place over the course of only a few weeks. Wick, who had managed to get out of the assassins’ guild, is thrust back in when *spoiler* his puppy was killed by Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) and car stolen in the first film. And the legend of Baba Yaga, AKA The Boogeyman, begins to unfold.
In “John Wick 2” Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) comes knocking on John’s door to cash in on his “marker.” It’s the equivalent of helping a friend out in return for them helping you out — but, you know, assassin style. We saw Wick get his bad guy on, learning more about the mysterious High Table and seeing John Wick live up to his legend by killing tons of bad guys. And now we’re here.
“John Wick 3” picks up right where we left off at the end of “John Wick 2.” Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run with a $14 million price tag on his head after Winston (Ian McShane) makes him excommunicado for killing Santinoin The Continental hotel. That’s a no-no in the rules of the High Table, the shadowy international assassins’ guild.
New York City shines as a character in the film, whether it’s the cityscape, New York Public Library or The Continental. The look of John Wick is unique, yet familiar. It almost feels like we’re in a sci-fi futuristic world reminiscent of “Blade Runner.” The low angles and cinematography choices that are made add to the franchise’s signature look and continues to build a universe that is visually stunning. It’s just fresh as f*ck. Pardon my language.
The film is directed by Chad Stahelski, who has worked as a stunt coordinator, stuntman and second unit director before making his directorial debut with “John Wick.” He’s been a part of creating some of the best stunt sequences in some of your favorite films. Take a look at his stacked IMdb resume and it all starts to make sense why this franchise is here to stay.
There are so many ways that the “John Wick” trilogy could have gone wrong and it’s a true testament to the team behind the films that they haven’t stooped to the easy Hollywood route of where these films could’ve led.
The writers have managed to carefully peel back the layers of the mysterious world of the High Table. “John Wick 3” gives us a glimpse into some of the things we’ve heard about in the first two without revealing too much and leaving room for — dare I say — “John Wick 4.” It’s a fine balance that they’ve managed to expertly tow. We even get to learn a bit about Wick’s beginnings.
The main theme of the film is dealing with the consequences of one’s actions. Several of the characters that Wick has run into face the consequences of their actions surrounding their relationship with Wick. An Adjudicator from the High Table (Asia Kate Dillon) shows up to clean up the rule breaking that has gone down. We are introduced to a few new characters including The Director (Anjelica Huston), Sofia (Halle Berry), Berrada (Jerome Flynn) and the familiar face of Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne). The most interesting relationship in the franchise is Winston and Wick, which is explored further in this film and will not disappoint.
And that takes me to the meat of the film: the action. How many action sequences can you do before things get old? Well…I like to imagine that John Wick said, “Hold my beer.” The first 20 to 30 minutes of the film is a fast-paced adrenaline ride that, in my humble critic opinion, are some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in a long time. There are guns — lots of guns. There are also knives, samurai swords, books and more.
And it’s no coincidence that the reason why they are so good is because of the knowledge of Stahelski’s stuntman background and his team at 87eleven. Practical effects and fight choreography are taken to another level in “John Wick 3.” I don’t think there’s a better example of why we need a Best Stunt Action Oscar category than “John Wick.” These guys are doing amazing work and deserve to be honored.
We’ve seen Wick kill a gazillion bad guys in the first two films, but it hasn’t been easy.
This universe is grounded in reality and that’s one of the strengths of the film. Everything feels like it can happen.
Wick is a master martial artist: He knows how to use guns, knives and even pencils to kill his enemies. But he’s not a superhero. He fatigues, he gets hurt. We see the strain in Reeves’s face as the action unfolds because he is doing his own stunts. We see even the most trained assassins reload guns with precision, but not superhero precision.
Some of my favorite moments in these films are those scenes where Wick is reloading his gun while having a bad guy right in front of him. The tension is constant and is the definition of edge-of-your-seat fun. And bad guys come in all shapes and sizes in this film. It’s so fun to watch Wick try to take them all down in creative ways!
Something to take notice of when you watch this film is the stunt sequences that aren’t set to music. Other action films lean heavily into music to get audiences pumped but “John Wick 3” lets you sit in the reality of the action. The blood, the sweat and double kill shot madness is heart pumping.
The way the camera is placed gets the viewer right smack in the action, but not too close where you lose sight of what’s going on. It’s expertly choreographed and directed. And when there is music, it leans classical and is a great juxtaposition to the action unfolding on screen. It’s just damn poetic.
If there’s one downside to the film, it is that the third installments of franchises tend to take their main characters away from their home base to change it up. John Wick’s European vacation was a bit of a letdown and one meeting, in particular, was disappointing.
But overall “John Wick 3” is a must-watch if you’re an action junkie, dog lover or Reeves fan. The film moves the franchise and genre forward and manages to find new ways to kill bad guys. I highly recommend watching this film!
“John Wick 3: Parabellum” is out in theatres May 17!
Catherine grew up watching action flicks at a very young age which led to her love of film. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelors in Radio-TV-Film in 2012. Always the adventurer, Catherine traveled and lived in Sydney, Australia for a year where she took a selfie with Brad Pitt. She runs Shuffle with passion, lots of caffeine and tacos. When she’s not editing or writing you can find her crafting and planning her next adventure.