There’s something clunky about the title John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum. Parabellum means “prepare for war”, and this third entry in Keanu Reeves’ saga of the greatest hitman who ever lived is indeed in conflict with itself. What began as a simple story of revenge for a murdered pet has taken on a remarkable and, turns out, remarkably cumbersome mythology that threatens to overwhelm a series of stunning action sequences that rank among the most technically elegant and gorgeously photographed in the series — no mean trick considering Chapter 2’s magnificent hall of mirrors climax.
Its stunning action sequences rank among the most technically elegant and gorgeously photographed in the series
When last we left John Wick he had broken the rules of the hired killer civilization by killing a rival on “sacred ground.” We meet him here with only a few minutes remaining on his head start getting out of New York City before the entire assassin world (which hilariously seems to include almost every single person) comes to claim the massive bounty on his head. Along the way there is even more building out of the rules and rituals of the killers’ universe, most of it a bunch of momentum-killing nonsense designed solely to get us to the next action scene or bit of exposition. Much of what constitutes plot here is a movie-length attempt to write itself out of the last film’s cliffhanger, which has the unfortunate side effect of rendering almost everything that happens in it entirely meaningless. Chapter 2 found John Wick on a positively Dostoevsky-an, soul-searching, existential journey out of Hell that culminated in an entire loss of identity. Parabellum restores that identity almost immediately and then fails to go much further.
The same can’t be said for the tremendous action sequences. Director Chad Stahelski, former stuntman and 2nd unit director, has for the third film in a row here staged some of the most elaborate and proficient sequences of their kind. Whether it’s a brawl in cramped library stacks, a vicious knife fight in what hilariously appears to be a weapons museum, or a katana battle on motorcycles, Stahelski constantly keeps full bodies in frame and lets setups play out with luxury. There are no cuts interrupting rhythm and there’s no coverage hiding iffy stonework. Absolutely nobody is shooting action like this, with its clean displays of athleticism, sheer vicious violent glee, and dazzling use of color. Hopefully the part 4 that Parabellum’s climax virtually guarantees will scale back all the hitman mumbo-jumbo and focus on what this franchise does best, but the John Wick we have for now is an absolute blast.