Just a few minutes into John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, we get to witness something beautiful. Jason Mantzoukas, as a character known as “the Tick-Tock Man,”. Addresses Keanu Reeves, who plays the titular assassin. The Tick-Tock Man is crouched by a dumpster in an alley for reasons made apparent when you see the movie. And a sinister grin spreads across his face as Wick realizes who he is.
“Tick tock, Mr. Wick,” he says, an evil gleam in his eye. “Tick tock,” he sneers. “No time to dilly-dally, Mr. Wick.”
C’mon. That, right there, is transcendentally silly greatness. That’s everything I want at the movies (well, sometimes).
Much like the formerly retired assassin himself, the John Wick franchise (inaugurated in 2014, with a Chapter 2 in 2017). That is GOAT in its action-movie category and has not yet failed to deliver. Among its contemporaries, John Wick, in a word, rules.
Parabellum is just as satisfying as its predecessors, and not just because of the Tick-Tock Man.
It is not, to be clear, a smart or wise movie — it’s just a really fun one. It fills out Wick’s universe a bit more without being too hung up on constructing an elaborate and coherent mythology. And it delivers some truly eye-popping set pieces.
And that’s what makes Parabellum, and the whole John Wick franchise, so good: How it looks on screen matters more than what it says, and it always has. These movies never take themselves too seriously. Though the John Wick movies tell the story of a grieving man out for revenge, they never try to say very much about either grief or revenge. The story, in the John Wick world, is there to serve up great images. It’s more pure cinema than intricate storytelling, and that’s what makes it great.
John Wick is back, baby
The word “parabellum” is part of a longer Latin maxim: si vis pacem, para bellum — if you want peace, prepare for war. It’s the kind of phrase that could apply to any generic action franchise involving assassins and shadowy crime syndicates. But it also stands in nicely for the arc of the John Wick series thus far.
Wick, one of the deadliest assassins in the world, started the series in retirement, mourning his beloved wife Helen, who died of a terminal illness. And then his beloved puppy, after some hooligans killed it and stole Wick’s car. Which was a very bad move on their part.
John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2 chronicle the fallout
As a bereft Wick, who really just wants to be left alone to live his life, is sucked back into the shadowy underworld of professional assassins. They maintain a highly organized society (overseen by a group of crime lords known as the High Table) involving codes of conduct, pseudocurrencies, pacts of various kinds, and a network of luxury hotels in which no “business” (i.e. killing) is allowed. Wick, who’d managed to get out of the business entirely, is now in the middle of it again, and he is still very, very good at killing — especially if the person he’s after is also a highly trained assassin.
John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, directed once again by former stuntman Chad Stahelski, picks up moments after Chapter 2 left off with Wick about to become a hunted man. But what mostly follows is an excuse to let Wick do what he does best — kill — among set pieces that are very fun to look at, including a chase sequence involving a horse and motorcycles. It’s exactly what we’d expect, and want, to see from a John Wick movie.
There are occasional story moments meant to move things forward.
We learn a little more about the assassins’ world, both what makes it tick and how it operates. (For instance, I would not have guessed that the list of open assassination contracts would be maintained by nattily dressed young women using an old-fashioned chalkboard in a room full of ringing phones, but that’s just me.)
We also learn a smidge more about Wick’s own background, which turns out to be much weirder than I expected and includes a sort of orphanage, run by Anjelica Huston, housed in one of those cavernous theaters you can find in the outer reaches of Brooklyn. Also, there are lots of scenes in the Continental, as well as a similar hotel in Morocco, run by Halle Berry. And yes, there are dogs.
The best role though, save for Wick himself, belongs to Mark Dacascos as Zero.
He’s a threatening, brilliant hitman who just so happens to be a John Wick superfan, treating his target with respect and even giddy reverence as he hunts him down. Dacascos finely balances being a credible, frightening killer with some lighter, human elements. After Wick laboriously kills two of Zero’s associates, he looks up to see his enemy applauding before giving a big grin and a thumbs-up. This isn’t a taunt—he’s really just happy to be there. “That was a great fight, huh?” he warmly says to our protagonist later, as the two take a quick break from kicking the shit out of each other. Say what you will about hitmen, but these guys love manners and etiquette.
At more than two hours long, Parabellum does drag in places, notably during Wick’s jaunt to Casablanca.
On either side of that, though, the action sequences are as good as we’ve come to expect from the franchise and from Reeves himself. The first breathless chase scene involves the creative use of library books as weapons, the back ends of horses aimed like guns and “fired” at antagonists with a swift, violent kick. In case we forgot this film is set in New York, John handily dispatches an attacker with a textbook two-handed axe throw early on.
And what a joy it is to see the 54-year-old Reeves grabbing this exhausting role with both hands. Even with stuntmen to spare, this production and franchise asks a lot of the veteran actor, who not so long ago seemed to be just another fading star. These films and Reeves himself are at their best when they balance on the thin, thin line between the real and the ridiculous, and seem to breathe new life into each other. Parabellum ends with Reeves all but breaking the fourth wall, promising a fourth installment. Since the John Wick franchise long ago established it can do anything it wants, there’s no shark to jump, and I’m all in on as many of these as Reeves and co. feel like making.
Rating: R (for pervasive strong violence, and some language)
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama
Directed By: Chad Stahelski
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane |
Written By: Derek Kolstad, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams, Shay Hatten
In Theaters: May 17, 2019 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Aug 23, 2019
Runtime: 131 minutes
Superior exercises in action-movie formalism, the John Wick movies evoke everything from Fritz Lang’s silent thrillers to Gene Kelly’s musicals…
While “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” is an easy movie to recommend, it must be added that it’s a hard movie to love.
Chauncey K. Robinson
The film delivers on the non-stop fantastical action, but lags when trying to build the assassin universe beyond John Wick. This leads to an overinflated cast of characters.
It doesn’t connect much on an emotional level, but the third chapter in the John Wick series is still violent action filmmaking at its finest.