In an onslaught of reboots, sequels, and cinematic universes, I’ve always had high respect for John Wick. Even for its humble beginnings in the first film, seemingly small and lower-budget, it still managed to bring extremely refreshing, new, and creative world building back to the big screen with a new universe that isn’t based on material we’ve seen before. Chapter 2 upped the ante with even more stylistic choreography, clever scenes, and greater usage of its now characteristic neon yet dark and brooding aesthetic. I was hoping these films would continue their trend of getting better with each release, and upon seeing the teaser for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, I had a strong feeling they would. To my surprise, Parabellum not only met, but exceeded my expectations.
“Edge-of-your-seat” is an often overused phrase. These experiences are pretty rare for me; the first and last last time I felt such intensity in the theater was during Mad Max: Fury Road. Parabellum would technically be the second, but it somewhat brings the opposite effect. The movie begins literally right where Chapter 2 finishes, with John Wick fleeing for his life as an excommunicado for killing Santino d’Antonio on the grounds of the New York Continental. The audience is given no time to breathe as they’re immediately thrown into high-stakes intensity as John Wick enters beast mode and engages in some of the best fight sequences I’ve ever seen. Rather than feeling like I was on the edge of my seat, Parabellum felt more like a sucker punch, telling me to sit down and buckle in, because the (literal) breakneck-speed action was just getting into gear.
The movie rarely gives you a chance to catch your breath, but this is a good thing. As John fights for a second chance at life, we are thrown further into the mythology of the John Wick Universe. Asia Kate Dillon plays an impudent “Adjucator” sent from the High Table to punish those who’ve aided John Wick past his wrong-doings. Through her work, as well as John’s journey for “passage” to find a way out of his conundrum, the audience sees more of the power hierarchy that has proven to be such a bane for John. We’re introduced to two of my favorite additions to the franchise: John’s old friend Sofia (Halle Berry), and new nemesis Zero (Mark Dacascos). Halle’s Sofia proves herself to be just as high-speed as Keanu’s John, proving how she deserves to be on the big screen more often with solid acting and, most surprisingly, incredibly capable fighting chops. John and Sofia’s exploits in Morocco provide some of the more self-aware moments in the film, illustrating how the John Wick franchise owns every aspect of its sometimes cornball but likable plot elements. Zero, along with his band of pupils from The Raid franchise, prove to be worthy opponents of John, but perhaps even more interestingly, the source of some surprisingly funny comedic charm.
You already know the action was going to be good in this movie. I’m telling you the choreography is better than good, bottom line. From mastering the art of the combat shotgun, to close-combat handgun action, to the most intense blade-throwing I’ve ever seen, Parabellum left me speechless with what may be the best fight sequences I’ve ever seen, period. The visuals, now even more stunning, gorgeous, and thematically critical than ever, only amplify the heart-pounding violence. These factors together force the audience to take their mind from everything else and become immersed in the film’s world. I didn’t feel like I was watching a movie and think about what I should/shouldn’t critique. As someone who is very visually analytical, this is a rarity for my movie-watching experiences. My only complaint is how I felt nearly exhausted toward the end, not getting a chance to breathe during an epic but extensive fight sequence.
Don’t complain if you think this movie is short on plot. Shut up, the movie knows this. Go in expecting to embrace mythology and some of the hardest action of the 21st century. In hindsight, this film (while not necessarily the very best action movie of the decade, in my mind that title is still held by Fury Road), is certainly barely short of perfection. 9.8/10