Fri, 31 May 2019
John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum (15)
Running time 2hr 10min
2014’s JOHN Wick was akin to a hyper-violent ballet spectacle, the blood-soaked tale of one man’s quest to avenge the murder of his puppy. It’s rare for a winning action premise – especially one as barebones and outlandish as that – to survive the transition into a broader, more narrative-driven franchise endeavour; what’s remarkable about the John Wick series is that it has not only consistently (and effectively) upped the dramatic ante, but that it has radically diversified its action palette along the way. The two elements are expertly synthesised by director Chad Stahelski, who’s unafraid to play the populist while cultivating his reputation as an Asian-influenced auteur. This third installment, which features a sword fight on motorcycles and an epic clash in a China shop, fully embraces the insanity – this is a superhero flick for those who shun capes, costumes and funny names, a video game bonanza disguised as a Tarantinoesque hitman thriller.
As in previous ‘chapters’ (the precocity is very much the point), Keanu Reeves is undoubtedly the star attraction here. While he’s liable to clog his filmography with lacklustre, even downright stupid outings, his billing as Wick, an impossibly versatile hitman, is a career-best performance, a masterpiece of physical action anti-heroism. Stahelski, a former stuntman, continues to insist upon a low-CGI approach, allowing Reeves to glide effortlessly into a league of his own. We see Wick on the run after being declared ‘excommunicado’ for a deadly transgression, with every hitman in the world out for his head. Ludicrous as it is, it’s a conceit that serves to keep the ball rolling and this madcap pacing is only enhanced by the movie’s sleek aesthetic, cheekily at odds with the depraved violence the protagonist routinely metes out against his foes. It’s all absurdly dark, and that’s not a bad thing – it’s easy to read these films as a deadpan satire on action movie desensitisation (the characters, for instance, seem to empathise infinitely more with dogs than with their fellow man).
Be warned, Parabellum (the title of which implores us, in Latin, to ‘prepare for war’) boasts some of the ickiest kills of the saga so far. This series has been endlessly condemned for its glorification of firearms, and Chapter 3 not only lives up to its predecessors in this regard (this critic counted more than 100 shooting deaths), but supplements them with more imaginative knock-offs involving (among other things) books, throwing axes and samurai swords. It’s all very retro and all rather tasteless, yet the film skirts accusations of machismo by packing in a female cast that’s more than capable of taking on Reeves at his own game. Halle Berry’s turn as an associate of Wick’s is cameo-grade in terms of its length and superficial impact, but comes to set the film apart from previous adventures – she’s a worthy sidekick, capable of dispatching nasties with devious creativity. Asia Kate Dillon and Anjelica Huston also bag appearances; the former’s billing as ‘The Adjudicator’ – the one-woman equivalent of Ofcom for assassins – is bonkers fun. Seasoned movie buffs are advised to keep an eye out for the cast of Indonesian blockbuster The Raid, who show up just to make our hero’s life that slightest bit more difficult. With its marriage of conventionally pleasing set pieces to a vein of unbridled carnage, Parabellum may well prove 2019’s seminal actioner.