A film review by Craig J. Koban May 29, 2019

JOHN WICK: 

CHAPTER 2 - PARABELLUM jjjj

2019, R, 130 mins.

 

Keanu Reeves as John Wick  /  Halle Berry as Sofia  /  Ian McShane as Winston  /  Laurence Fishburne as The Bowery King  /  Anjelica Huston as The Director  /  Sad Taghmaoui as The Elder  /  Mark Dacascos as Zero  /  Lance Reddick as Charon  /  Asia Kate Dillon as The Adjudicator  /  Jason Mantzoukas as Tick Tock Man  /  Tiger Hu Chen as Triad

Directed by Chad Stahelski  /  Written by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abrams

Third films in an action franchise have absolutely no business being as stupendously satisfying and delivering on all tangible and promised levels as much as JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 - PARABELLUM.  One thing dawned on me while watching this sequel's unrelenting onslaught of masterfully engineered and executed bedlam: 

Keanu Reeves is 54-years-old. 

Just...just let that settle in for a minute. 

As I witnessed the eternally youthful looking Canadian actor hurtle himself towards one sensationally realized and potentially life threatening stunt and action set piece after another I came to the stark realization that if you're still on the fence after seeing JOHN WICK 3 about his abilities as an actor and committed cinematic showman then - Jesus - no film will ever change your mind.  

After the extraordinary franchise opener in 2014's JOHN WICK, its improbably better follow-up in 2017's JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 and now this it's beyond safe to defend Reeves as pure action hero royalty.  That, and when given just the right role to harness his unique skill set there's simply no stopping this man.  John Wick perhaps represents the finest marriage of role and actor that you're likely going to find in this genre, and this third entry achieves the miracle of surpassing the consummate craft and scale of the previous two installments; JOHN WICK 3 is simply one of the most unrelentingly effective action thrillers of all time, and one fiendishly and ingeniously orchestrated ballet of wanton violence.  It's a bombastic sensory assault, but I mean that in the most complimentary manner possible. 

The last JOHN WICK film ended on the juiciest of cliffhangers, featuring the titular black suited character committing the ultimate assassin's code no-no of murdering a hitman colleague (albeit, an evil one) while inside New York's Continental Hotel (which the film's mythology has established as a safe haven for assassins to gather and rest up without feeling any fear of being killed).  As a result of his fragrant - but somewhat justifiable - bending of the solemn rules, Wick is declared "excommunicado" by his handlers and has a $14 million bounty placed on his already beaten, bruised, and bloodied head.  The opening of JOHN WICK 3 wastes absolutely no time by thrusting viewers into Wick's very thorny predicament just minutes after the climax of CHAPTER 2, and we now see him in a constant state of distress on the run, trying to evade what's essentially the entire world's hired killers lining him up within their crosshairs.  Wick is between one hell of a rock and hard place. 

 

 

JOHN WICK 3 is essentially one grand two hour and twelve minute extended chase sequence, showcasing the extremely hard to kill Wick doing whatever he can do to evade death at every waking moment.  When he's not mowing down countless determined assailants, Wick hatches an ambitious, but dangerous plan to secretly journey out of America and to Morocco in hopes of tracking down the enigmatic leaders of the "High Table" (the mysterious organization that oversees the world's assassin culture) and desperately make some sort of atonement for his past ill deed.  The tricky part is that everyone associated with the High Table is given strict orders to not help Wick in any way shape or form, which forces him to improvise, like seeking out his old mentor (a truly fine Angelica Huston) and later an old hitman colleague of his in the form of the Casablanca residing Sofia (Halle Berry, in one of her best roles in years), who now heads up the Morocco version of the Continental.  Concurrent to this is the subplot involving The Adjudicator (a stone cold Asia Kate Dillon), who appears in the Big Apple to ensure that those that have helped Wick - like his buddies in Winston and The Bowery King (Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne respectively) - are severely punished.   

One of the endlessly sinful pleasures of all of the JOHN WICK films is how director Chad Stahelski (who made all three) manages to come up with increasingly innovative ways to inflict pain and misery on the human body.  And all of these staggeringly executed sequences are fluidly directed and edited with a supreme clarity that's all too rare in the action genre these days.  There's one brilliantly staged early encounter between Wick and multiple attackers in an antique weapons shop, featuring all of them manically breaking through display cases to use whatever improvised and ancient weapon they can against each other.  There's another deliriously and somewhat hysterically violent altercation that has Wick using horses in highly resourceful ways to kick bad guys into brain bashed pulp when his own body is too tired to do so.  The last JOHN WICK entry highlighted the character's awesome lethality with a pencil (part of his legendary stature) and this go around he shows how to use a very rare book from the New York public library to disarm and disgusting kill a much larger and hulking agitator.  Hell, multiple armor clad attack dogs figure into the maelstrom of killing as well (Wick is, after all, a dog man), as Sofia's insanely well trained canines take out foe after foe in some of the most incredible stunts featuring pooches I certainly have ever seen. 

One scene has to be literally seen to be believed, which involves Wick engaged in a sensationally assembled motorcycle chase scene, fending himself off from multiple ninjas swinging katanas with reckless abandon at his head at high speed.  Moments like this are ridiculously improbable, but part of sheer and limitless entertainment value of JOHN WICK 3 is how the amped up absurdity becomes almost more infectious as the story progresses.  The film's tempo is punishingly exhausting at times, but that's precisely what makes it so viscerally powerful.  And JOHN WICK 3 - as with its antecedents - is visually arresting as well on a level of sumptuous and painterly cinematography, and Dan Lausten's lush eye through the viewfinder creates an endlessly breathtaking and beautiful neon-noir backdrop that gives these films such a distinct atmosphere and environmental personality.  The JOHN WICK films are merciless engines designed to explicitly and unapologetically thrill us with their bone crushing and brain battered stunts, but they never get the full credit that they deserve for how damn good they look. 

And JOHN WICK 3 does what great sequels should do in that it ups the ante on story particulars and embellishes this rewardingly rich and diverse hitman universe even more.  John Wick occupies a mythology that has unlimited storytelling potential, and the manner that it further delves into the internal politics of The Continental, The High Table, and the labyrinthine rules and code of ethics that these assassins have to live within gives these films added depth and personality.  Plus, we get to learn more compelling details about Wick's history and backstory, albeit with vague little teases here and there that will undoubtedly get explored in future adventures.  If JOHN WICK 3 were to have any faults then I would say that it lacks a definitive beginning, middle, and end, and its final moments are designed to set up more entries (the fourth of which just got announced this week).  This sequel doesn't so much have closure as it does just pushing the pause button for all of us to sit back, take a deep breath, and collect ourselves. 

Maybe that doesn't matter, because if Stahelski and company want to churn out more supremely confident, impactfully hard-hitting, and ferociously composed sequels of consistent quality, then sign me up.  At the end of JOHN WICK 3 I was utterly exhausted, but left with a beyond giddy smile on my face thinking about how astoundingly well oiled this film's unyielding blunt force trauma was on all levels.  The late Roger Ebert once coined a perfect descriptor for certain action thrillers -  "Bruised Forearm Movies."  Basically, these are the kind of movies "where your date is always grabbing your forearm in a viselike grip, as unbearable excitement unfolds on the screen."  JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 - PARABELLUM is one of the greatest Bruised Forearm Movies ever made.  

Whoa. 

 

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