It’s been five years since that fateful night when a poor puppy was murdered at the hands of a fail-son who unwittingly awoke a dormant demon from its slumber and unleashed Hell upon himself and his family. That demon, John Wick, has since entered the popular consciousness of the wider cinema going culture in such a way that no one could have fathomed back in 2014. With Parabellum, the franchise has now become the very embodiment of action cinema – delightfully wince inducing and wonderfully exhausting, it shows very little sign of slowing down to the point at which one has to wonder how long Keanu Reeves (much like a certain Tom) will continue to batter himself for our own enjoyment. IfJohn Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is anything to go by, forever, hopefully.
Injured, exhausted and on the run, we catch up with Mr. Wick during his one hour grace period, bestowed upon him by the manager of The Continental, Winston (the velvet voiced Ian McShane). After breaking a cardinal rule and shooting a member of the high table in the face while on neutral ground, Wick is forced underground with a sizeable bounty pasted on his head. Cue the headshots, the bone breakage and the numerous, numerous stabbings.
Chad Stahelski and writers Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams continue the wonderful Wick tradition of world building through showing not telling. While we’re never given a true sense or scope of the kind of universe Wick operates within, it’s the way the surrounding players react to Wick’s ongoing shenanigans that give us an idea of how politics and etiquette play out. An Adjudicator (a venomous Asia Kate Dillon) is brought in to set things back on their correct path and to make sure that all actions, no matter who commits them, have consequences. Those consequences come in the form of a Wick-fied version of ninjas, lead by the insanely charismatic Zero (Mark Dacascos) who dispatches his “students” with far more brutality than we’re used to seeing in other forms of popular culture.
Reeves continues to envelope himself into the role, a modern Sisyphus who’s forever tasked with pushing onwards against the very system that designed and benefitted from him, each heave another body, another bullet, another broken bone and another reason never to underestimate him. At one point he’s told that he serves death when in actuality the film proves that he is in fact Death incarnate, forever etching forward through sheer will, a lumbering and inevitable force that will get you no matter what.
At once a jewel of action cinema, with Parabellum the John Wick franchise becomes more of a weather vane for the genre, picking up, absorbing, honouring and homaging trends of both recent times and yesteryear. In fact, the third instalment, while ridiculously fun in its own right, acts as a kind of love letter to the fans of the genre. Wearing its influences very clearly on its blood stained sleeves, the film is rife with odes to South Korean action (The Villainess) the shocking blood letting of Indonesian Silat (The Raid lads show up for our collective enjoyment) and a brief yet tense moment ripped right out of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It’s a film that very much rewards those of us well immersed in martial arts / action cinema, and those rewards are abundant.
And abundance ye shall have. It’s clear Stahelski and Reeves view the training that the latter has undertaken over the many years in the business as an investment and both are very keen to get a healthy return. The sequences this go around are longer, more inventive and far more brutal than the previous films. With a heavy focus on gun-fu in past films, this time it’s gun-fu, dog-fu, horse-fu, book-fu. It feels almost less like a John Wick film a little more like a reimagined take on The Raid, each fight sequence telling a brutal story that ends in us, the audience, exclaiming “OOOOOOOOOOOH” as we tighten up gleefully in our seats in a way the predecessors hadn’t done before. It’s a testament to the filmmakers that they refuse to rest on their laurels and continue to up the ante each film. I don’t know how much gas this franchise has left in the tank, but I do hope I’ll be seeing John again very soon.
And the doggos are indeed good.