Five years ago, we were blessed with what was possibly the greatest action movie of this generation: John Wick, a simple movie about a simple kind of hitman who fought for revenge after a group of men broke into his home and killed his dog. It didn’t bring in Avengers numbers, but damn did it have a good enough reception to rally a bunch of action fans around this new beacon of hope for the genre, led by none other than the myth himself, Keanu Reeves. Eventually, we got a second film, showing us more of the world of Wick and The Continental and making eager fans even more eager for more installments into the saga of a broken, retired hitman.
Well, the action film stars aligned, because here we are with the third, and possibly the best, film of this series: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.
Just like the previous film, Chapter 3 drops us into the middle of the action, picking up right when the last one left off: with Wick about to become a target with a $14 million price tag on his head and a world full of assassins who would do anything to obtain the bounty.
While the first two Wicks focused on his trail of bloody revenge, Chapter 3 focuses on a John that’s on the defensive. No more is he running towards a sort of peace, but instead the opportunity to survive. This takes him to many places that further not only the story but the world-building that Chapter 2 introduced: getting to look at old friends like Halle Barry’s Sofia, who completely steals the show in every scene she’s in, and glimpses into John’s past with Anjelica Huston’s The Director. Never does the film get bogged down by details and exposition, as these new characters fit right into the narrative and work better than expected.
With new friends come new enemies, and the best add-on to the cast is the brutal new villain The Adjudictator, played devilishly by Asia Kate Dillon. Carrying out orders and enforcing the rules set by the High Table, they’re a much different type of enemy for John, one who does’t use force or brutality to prove a point but carries enough weight in words to get what they want. As we know, John Wick doesn’t talk his way out of things, so a physical villain in the form of a man named Zero (played slyly by Mark Dacascos) appears, who intimidates in every scene he’s in, yet carries a sense of humanity behind him.
Director Chad Stahelski continues to add his own flair and style to his blend of brutal violence and delicacy in story telling, this time adding some new visual hues to his already beautiful color pallet. The reds and blues of a neon New York City add a sense of uneasiness to the neo-noir inspired color, and create a healthy dose of paranoia throughout the first half of the film. When we do eventually go overseas, we replace the city wide glow with fire-lit nights and bright desert days. Each competing style feels well earned and deserved when mixed with the intense violence.
And intense this chapter in the Wick-verse is, from the opening fight scene, which features a book going through a hitman’s jaws, to the visually stunning final fight in a mirrored, glass filled room at the top of The Continental. Stahelski continues to prove himself to be the best currently working director in the business when it comes to action. In a summer full of dull greys and CGI jerk off fests, it’s nice to get the personality and intensity of a one-on-one fight scene where limbs are broken and body parts are cut off far before the fight is even over. It’s those stakes that make these fights even more brutal.
All of these elements tie into what is probably the most exciting story yet in the John Wick universe. Not only is it a race against death, but it’s an exploration of a man who would go to any lengths just to survive, not for himself but for the peace of his dead wife. Whether betraying orders or falling with them, doing what he wants to do versus what is the right thing to do– these are all decisions Wick himself has to make in real time. There’s a certain weight and intensity in this form of storytelling that’s hard to come across in action movies, but if there’s any film to blow you away with the nuances in the violence, it’s John fuckin’ Wick.
While John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum ties everything this film has to offer in a nice little bow, the writers still leave you with a sense of what can come next, what should come next, and what will come next if this movie does big money at the box office. Here’s hoping Wick will be the one to put the bullet through the head of the jolly purple giant Thanos and take the #1 spot this weekend– not just because Chapter 3 is a masterpiece and probably the best in the series of films so far, but because if anyone deserves to end Endgame, it’s our man Keanu.
And to think this whole series started because of a puppy.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
dir. Chad Stahelski
Opens everywhere Friday, 5/17 (though the Hassle recommends the Somerville Theatre or your local independently owned multiplex)