Published May 12, 2019When we first saw Keanu Reeves unleash a symphony of brutality on a group of baddies that killed his dog in 2014, it was hard to imagine that John Wick could become the dependable original franchise it is today. Half a decade later, John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum is a staunch summer tentpole — another glorious feast of violence and mayhem — that proves director Chad Stahelski knows exactly what he's doing.
Parabellum picks up right where John Wick: Chapter 2 left off (some spoilers ahead if you're not up on your Wick). Having killed a fellow professional assassin within the supposedly neutral confines of the Continental Hotel, Wick is now facing a $14 million price tag on his head. To put it in modern parlance, he violated a safe space and as a result he's been cancelled.
That plot point allows Parabellum to kick off with a glorious cacophony of fighting, as Wick pummels and punctures myriad baddies throughout a slightly heightened version of Manhattan. The fight scenes, a relentless concoction of mixed martial arts, gun play, knife-throwing and, er, horse kicks, manage to perfectly balance technical prowess with moments of humanizing levity.
There are times where the plot of John Wick can swing from underwritten to overthought — we're either watching someone take dozens of lives for disrespecting their dog, or trying to wrap our brains around a complex global system of assassins' coins. It's occasionally disorienting, but not all that problematic. After all, few people are watching this hot action for the story.
Speaking of hot action, there is a moment where Wick crawls through the desert in search of the leader of the High Table, and it reaches the cartoonish heights of Looney Tunes or Wayne's World 2. That said, even these silly moments are buoyed by Reeves and his supporting cast, which includes the dependable Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne, under-utilized Jason Mantzoukas as well as icons Angelica Huston and Halle Berry.
Throughout its myriad set pieces, Parabellum is peppered with glimpses of high art, from ornate backdrops through multiple trips to the Russian ballet. Rather than merely serve as fancy backdrops for the scenes, they tip us off to a bigger truth — Stahelski really cares about this franchise. By pairing high art with expertly choreographed and seemingly endless action scenes, he continues to make the Cirque du Soleil of action movies. As such, even when the story flounders a little, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is still another transcendent work.