John Wick meets The Director
John (Keanu Reeves) and Director (Anjelica Huston) in JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 - PARABELLUM. Photo credit: Niko Tavernise

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) Review

Before I dive into the review of John Wick: Chapter 3, I think it’s important to discuss my view of the series overall, so that readers can better understand my point of view. I’ll do my best to be brief. If you’re not interested, then feel free to skip ahead a few paragraphs.

John Wick and Me

I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the John Wick films, but I would say that the first John Wick movie has tremendous charm. What I find attractive about the first film are its more grounded elements: retired hitman, home invasion, revenge, straightforward action, etc. I even liked that the catalyst for the revenge plot was the death of a dog since the dog represents something thematically relevant, which is the importance and power of remembering people, like John Wick’s recently deceased wife. Part of John Wick’s power is how people remember him. As such, my favorite scene in the first film isn’t an action sequence; it’s the “Baba Yaga” conversation between Viggo and Iosef.

I love that it immediately transitions from that heightened scene of an all-powerful mob boss to an old man who still keeps important numbers in a black book and needs glasses to read them. Grounded. Real.

I’m just here for the action.

It’s when the film starts building the John Wick universe that my interest begins to wane. The more we learn about how prolific assassins are in the world and just how legendary John Wick is, the more I’m forced to question the film. How was John Wick able to be jumped in his own home and overwhelmed by a handful of low-level and relatively unskilled goons? And why was the fight with Viggo so challenging when we had just watched John Wick best younger and more skilled fighters earlier?

It seemed like two scripts were mashed together: a more grounded revenge movie and a fun, over-the-top, league of assassins movie. Granted, having the “fun” movie mixed in allowed the John Wick franchise to be built, but that’s not the part that interested me. And, as the films continue, building on John Wick’s associations, the less I’m invested in the story. The writers can just keep introducing more and more people from John Wick’s past and inventing new conventions like markers, IOUs, unpaid bills, and more to force John Wick into an extraordinary storyline. I can’t keep track of the org chart to know who reports to whom, what their titles are, and at what table they sit. Is that bum sleeping in the subway a real bum or an assassin bum? Is that dog just a dog or is it an assassin dog? Who knows?

When audiences don’t have some predictability in important story elements, there’s no reason to value the story since those elements can change or new ones can be introduced when it’s convenient. As such, I’m just here for the action. My hope is that I can at least follow the plot, but I’ve given up on the story being meaningful.

And that brings us to John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.

Review Starts Here

At the conclusion of Chapter 2, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) was excommunicated, and a large bounty was placed on his head, making him a juicy target for every assassin willing to try. John Wick: Chapter 3 picks up right where the last film ended, with John Wick running for his life before his one-hour grace period expires. Using what limited resources he has left, John Wick books passage to Morocco to meet up with old contacts, call in favors, and try to get a meeting with the person who sits at the very top of the assassins’ organization to somehow reverse the excommunication.

John Wick in armory of The Continental.
Keanu Reeves stars as ‘John Wick’ in JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM.

My appreciation for John Wick as discussed above notwithstanding, I think it’s safe to assume that the reason people like this franchise is for its relatively unique action, which is brutal and fast paced. Chapter 3 offers all of the action audiences can handle and then some. And then it offers even more.

There’s also such a thing as too much action.

The film starts off with the right note, throwing viewers into John Wick’s panicked state as he looks for safe harbor but finds none. Even before his grace period ends, John Wick is attacked, and moviegoers get a preview of the creative violence in store for them as one adversary is dispatched with a library book. From there, the action and brutality only ramp up further as an extended encounter spills into an antique weapons storage warehouse. The audience I screened the movie with audibly groaned in sympathy and sucked air through their teeth as John Wick butchered his attackers with various martial implements, like swords, knives, and axes. In these early moments, I felt as if the John Wick series had truly come into its own and found sure footing in its direction.

Regrettably, not everything is great about the action. Some sequences felt contrived, like when John Wick is on horseback and is pursued by men on motorcycles trying to kill him. For some reason, the men on motorcycles don’t have guns. What was their plan? Try to pull John Wick down even though he has a gun? The outcome is, of course, predictable. Other sequences have provocative visuals, like motorcycle riders who suddenly produce swords, but those set pieces end up being lackluster due to uninteresting choreography.

As I alluded to in my quick-take review, there’s also such a thing as too much action. In the middle of the movie, John Wick meets up with an old associate, Sofia (Halle Berry), so that she can facilitate a meeting with someone higher up in the organization. Later, John Wick and Sofia are forced to fend off dozens of attackers who are armed with various guns and blades. I generally like action sequences that pit protagonists against insurmountable odds, but this segment lasts too long and doesn’t offer enough variety in the violence to maintain interest. In fact, I began questioning the logic of the film as attacker after attacker was getting shot in the head from mere feet away. Why aren’t these attackers shooting from a distance? Why aren’t they taking cover? Why aren’t they coordinating an attack instead of running in one at a time or in small groups? I began imagining how if all 50 of the attackers would just fire at the same time from all directions that they’d win. Alas, it was not to be, and I had five more minutes of shots to the head of faceless stuntmen to watch.

A final word on the action: I think Hollywood needs a fresh stable of young action stars, because the majority of the physical actors here are in their 50s, and it shows. It’s especially apparent when familiar faces from Indonesian cinema, like The Raid Redemption and The Raid 2, are showcased. I wish more editing were done to help mask age issues, because when the hero looks outclassed but wins anyway, it erases the dramatic tension and much of the reason for watching the action sequence at all.

Keanu Reeves faces off against familiar faces in JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM. Photo by: Niko Tavernise.

Final Thoughts

There is a story here, but it’s probably not worth diving into since it feels more like setup for spinoffs rather than something organic to John Wick’s life. For example, he reconnects with someone from his past who runs a ballet theater for some reason. It seemed completely arbitrary until I read that Lionsgate purchased a script titled Ballerina back in 2017 and wanted to incorporate it into the John Wick franchise. So, I guess we can look forward to story elements like these paying off in the future, but as they exist in this film, they’re practically meaningless.

Should you watch John Wick: Chapter 3? Yes, it’s perfectly fine. Fans of the franchise won’t be bothered by the incomprehensible plot, and fans of action movies will definitely get their fill of gunplay and fisticuffs here. Outside of comic book movies that offer artificial action by the nature of their genre, there aren’t a lot of options for fans of more grounded action. So, that’s at least one good reason to support this film.