John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum


Opening Friday, May 17

The John Wick franchise has a neo-noir patina, but its real roots lie in revenge films and spaghetti westerns. It’s fitting, then, that as the series reaches the same duration as Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy, director Chad Stahelski tosses some overt western homage into John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.

Early on, the taciturn Wick (the taciturn Keanu Reeves) pieces together a makeshift six-shooter just in time to gun down a band of baddies as they burst into the room. Then Wick commandeers a NYPD horse, galloping down the middle of Manhattan as he jousts a posse on motorbikes. The film concludes with an against-all-odds last stand in the spirit of Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.

In between, John Wick 3 continues the splendid simplicity that made the original a surprise hit five years ago, when the retired Wick was pulled back into the assassin’s life after some Russian ruffians stole his car and killed his dog. Parabellum opens immediately on the heels of Chapter 2, with Wick on the run after being declared excommunicado by the hitmen’s Illuminati-like leadership, the High Table, for breaking its code and doing bloody business on the neutral turf of The Continental Hotel.

The R-rated choreographed chaos remains the star of the series. Wick fights his way through a worldwide sea of assassins who are aiming to cash in the $14 million bounty on his head. Wick takes on a lumbering hitman (NBA player Boban Marjanović) with a library book. He literally takes a lot of knives to a gunfight. He dispatches a cadre of cannon-fodder using a stable of bucking horses. He and an old friend (Halle Berry) lay waste with the aid of armor-clad battle dogs. Of course, there are also plenty of firearms and fisticuffs. It’s a bloody, Buster Keaton-esque ballet married to the exquisite brutality of Sam Peckinpah.

Meanwhile, a High Table Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) and her squad of henchmen are sent to exact retribution against anyone who rendered aid to the wanted Wick, including the Continental’s wizened manager, Winston (Ian McShane); a pigeon-owning Bowery strongman (Laurence Fishburne); and a Belarusian ballet director (Anjelica Huston) who helps shepherd Wick to Morocco. This background narrative is serviceable enough until it intersects with Wick’s survival quest, when the plot becomes lurching and contradictory, and even the elaborate fight scenes start to feel redundant.

The ending of John Wick 3 is left wide open for a fourth installment, and, in comparison to its mundane action-flick contemporaries, there’s plenty of room left in the cineplex to revisit Wick’s world. That said, the sumptuous, inventive Wick-verse is starting to show its stitching. Aside from Winston, the revolving gallery of side characters (new and returning) aren’t sufficiently developed or utilized. Stahelski and Reeves have a winning formula that the opening half of John Wick 3 ably mines for another seam of ultra-violent ore. But, like the Westerns of yore, even the most successful franchises can quickly become outmoded if they don’t effectively adapt.

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