The world of John Wick is getting bigger. Maybe not for him, but certainly for the audience members who have stuck with this series of stunt-heavy, extremely violent films about a super-assassin (played with a Zen patience by Keanu Reeves) who had retired and was brought back into a life of killing after the deaths of those close to him. As a result of his unsanctioned actions in Chapter 2, Wick has now been cast out as a member in good standing of an international assassin’s guild. Having been deemed excommunicado, he has a $14 million price on his head, and every hired killer in the world is after him. Wick lives in a world in which every human being feels like a possible threat, and in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, we see the world through his justifiably paranoid eyes.
There are some returning favorites: Lance Reddick and Ian McShane return as the concierge and manager of the Continental Hotel in New York City, part of a chain of hotels that are safe places for assassins to hide out and recoup while the world outside deals with the consequences of their actions. Since Charon (Reddick) and Winston (McShane) may have assisted Wick after he broke a sacred rule of the hotel about conducting business on the premises, they are under investigation by someone known only as The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), representing the overseeing body of the hotels and guild, The High Table. In fact, The High Table seems interested in cleaning house when it comes to Wick and those who would help him, including the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) and a newcomer named The Director (the great Anjelica Huston), the head of a Russian syndicate that Wick has ties to.
Although it may sometimes get lost in the bloodshed and general chaos, Wick’s goal in Parabellum (Latin for “prepare for war”) is to get to the head of The High Table and maneuver his way into getting a pardon or at least a second chance to redeem himself. With the help of yet another old acquaintance, Sofia (Halle Berry), who runs her own Continental in Casablanca, he finds his way to The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), and the negotiations begin, with the outcome sparking quite the dilemma in Wick’s life.
As I said before, Wick’s world expands exponentially, and for the first time, we get a true sense of just how far reaching this world of assassins truly is. A legion of killers is after Wick, and we get to know their unique skill sets as they attack and are brutally dealt with. The sheer number of close-up headshots and CG blood splatters is remarkable. But thanks to returning stunt-coordinator-turned-director Chad Stahelski, the film has no shortage of spectacular, breath-taking stunts and fight sequences to keep things moving once they kick off in a richly understated opening few scenes.
Some may find it tedious, but I found it interesting and weirdly calming, how much ceremony there is in the world of this guild. Considering most of its members are criminals, it’s surprising how many rules they all have to follow in the course of carrying out murders. But these killers are meant to be the best of the best, the biggest money makers who combine a certain type of elegance as they’re slicing off limbs with a samurai sword. Hell, even the dogs in this movie know martial arts. There’s also a system of currency that I clearly don’t understand—some of it involves gold coins, while the rest seems to be about calling in favors and debts at crucial moments. I don’t have to understand it to enjoy the film, but it does make me curious.
This is also the first film where Wick has to come face to face with his greatest threat: his fans. Many of these killers know the legend of John Wick and are genuinely thrilled to meet him…just before they attempt to gut him for the bounty. Chief among these Stans is Mark Dacascos’ Zero, whose fighting skills resemble the roughest, but still quite beautiful form of modern dance. The man moves like he’s skating on ice. But he’s also a superfan, although he never expresses regret at having to murder his idol in the film’s climactic battle.
The filmmakers also learned a lesson from Chapter 2 about setting up the sequel in the final moments of each movie, and that’s exactly what they do here. So brace yourself for more head-splitting violence, vehicle chases/crashes, and a whole lot of deal making and breaking. I have a strange feeling that this all leads to us finding out that John Wick is The Chosen One or some such nonsense, but I’m still on board, because aobve all else, these movies are as fun as they are ruthless. Wick may not be the antihero we want, but he’s sure as hell the one we deserve.
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