“John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum” picks up right where the last installment left off. The ever-beleaguered Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run from a shadowy organization of assassins, which turns out to comprise nearly all of New York City, from Jason Mantzoukas to that librarian who you probably already assumed could kill you, ninja or not.
From there, Wick never stops running, even though one might wish he’d just give it a rest. The Baba Yaga may never tire, but the same can’t be said of the viewer, who might start to feel the effects of a stretched-out story.
The “John Wick” franchise has come a long way from the 2014 sleeper hit that started it all, with “John Wick: Chapter 2” more than doubling the gross of the first installment. But somewhere along the way, the lean revenge plot of “John Wick” became entangled in an initially fascinating, though increasingly tedious, universe of assassins and the bureaucracy holding them together.
Indeed, the world-building that made “Chapter 2” an amusing delight feels slightly haggard here — it isn’t long before references to an almighty assassin’s “high table” make one wish that Wick send it back to IKEA or wherever it came from.
In such moments, “Parabellum” forgets to be as efficient as Wick himself. Of course, the “John Wick” movies were never overly concerned with their plots before, but “Parabellum” goes on an overlong tangent that proves largely inconsequential, even if it does yield the film’s best set piece.
That being said, “Parabellum” isn’t quite a franchise slump. Director Chad Stahelski shoots action better than most in the business, and there’s enough of it in “Parabellum” to please our most base cinematic instincts. Lengthy takes are as bountiful as the film’s cannon fodder, and unlike those faceless goons, only some are disposable. And perhaps more so than “Chapter 2,” Stahelski and crew get quite creative with the weapons Wick wields — this time around, various assassins meet untimely ends via old tomes and skittish horses.
Additionally, Reeves’ line delivery is as deliciously grunty and choked with effort as ever. Hearing him wrestle with syllables is as much a spectacle as any of the film’s showdowns. The rest of the cast is just as magnetically enigmatic, with Anjelica Huston, Asia Kate Dillon, Mark Dacascos and Halle Berry joining series staples such as Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick.
In particular, the addition of Berry is a welcome one, even if her presence is kept to a handful of scenes in the film’s second act— nevertheless, her limited screen time is far from wasted. She and Reeves are a ‘90s duo that could, and probably should, have propelled “Parabellum” to its finale. In particular, Berry’s character commands a pair of good doggos that also happen to be Kevlar-wearing velociraptors, out for blood and the unconditional affection affection of their master.
Furthermore, Dacascos makes for the best villain in the franchise, compensating for his thinly sketched character with a panache that’s just shy of mustache-twirling— he brandishes a demented glee and a katana with the same deadly deftness, and both prove to be quite the challenge for the largely indestructible Wick.
As one final note, no screening of a “John Wick” movie comes without an internal crisis about how the aestheticization of gun violence plays a role in perpetuating real-world violence, and it’s one that this writer is still wrestling with. In particular, the optics of using Muslim people as a host of doomed henchmen leaves something of a bad taste in the mouth. What’s more, one is left wondering if a country with more guns than people is equipped to think critically of a movie like “Parabellum.”
Of course, these are questions that have been asked of the action genre ad nauseam, by either side of the political aisle and by critics and casual viewers alike. Short of offering any sort of answer, any version of which is bound to be unsatisfactory, one might conclude that mulling over a film like “Parabellum” is the best that one can do.
“John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum” is currently playing at Regal UA Berkeley.
Contact Harrison Tunggal at [email protected].