John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – 2019

Director Chad Stahelski
Screenplay by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Colllins, Marc Abrams
Starring Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane

In a packed house with people who are delightedly in on the joke, Keanu Reeves’ John Wick lumbers through the start of another chapter of his mid-career resurgence vehicle. Three films in, covering approximately 3 weeks, and we have an endless procession of bodies joining those not even cold from the first two episodes of slaughter.

Wick, is brought back from retirement as a hit man in the first chapter. This because someone killed his dog that was given as a Fed Ex by his wife after he returned home from her funeral. He spends the first film getting revenge.

The second film, he is bound by contract to kill someone he’d rather not for someone he’d rather not help. He then spends the rest of the film trying to outlast the hit put on him, until he kills the guy who hired him.

Where he kills him, in a hotel called The Continental, leads to the events of film number three. The Continental is New York’s version of the Table, which has assassins for hire. Everything is fair game except in the hotels in various large cities. Since he broke the rules, he’s given an hour before he’s kicked out of the Table and forced to fend for his life as a massive bounty is placed on him.

That’s a lot of words to explain a plot that boils down to three films of close combat with, head shots by and a variety of wounds inflicted upon our aging, ever slowing but always surviving hero. The body count through three films rivals that of Chow Yun Fat’s A Better Tomorrow trilogy.

There is a freshness lacking in this third film. We get fights that vary in locale and weapons used, but the wheel comes back around. Wick gets hit a bunch, stabbed once or twice, shot in an inessential area, and then dispatches one foe, sometimes two. Then the next one or sometimes two arrive.

This would be much less interesting were it not for the kind, world weary face of the protagonist. He never has much time to recover or explain. He just keeps going taking non-vital shots and delivering death blows after a prolonged series of battles. These include an insane amount of defenestration for one film. It’s a miracle of direction and inventive fighting that looks remarkably real, if repetitive.

As with the other two chapters, we get to see esteemed actors show for extended cameos where they help and sometimes hurt Wick on his journey. The film is not kind to these star performers. Almost none of them go unscathed after waxing eloquent and condescending to the hero.

Halle Berry’s agent pulls her in for the middle third of the film for a female version of Wick. She has two loyal dogs that help make for one of the more incredible sequences of the film. One can almost hear the engine turning in her mind as we conceive Berry trying to make a branched franchise of her own off of this performance.

No one should be surprised by what we get from Parabellum. None of the performers stretch more than their skill for hyperbole. If you like Ian McShane, you won’t be disappointed for once. Iron Chef of America’s Mark Dacascos descends into parody in an otherwise surprising display of fighting skill.

The fact that there are 4 writers when just one handled the first two is puzzling, outside of some of the more obvious attempts of humor and some Kabuki mysticism in the 2nd act.

The events of the film lead to a predictable finish. The most inventive aspects of the film end up being how exactly to cap each person beyond their defenses. There were audible groans when the film winds down to reveal the next sequel. At least they’re not pretending Chapter 4 will be the last.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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