I will freely admit that I was not a fan of John Wick or its 2017 sequel. That doesn’t necessarily mean I wasn’t happy for Keanu Reeves at finally getting a new franchise to reignite his career with a character that could very well become his James Bond.
Five years after the semi-hit helmed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (who went on to direct Deadpool 2 rather than a John Wick sequel), the story that began with Reeves’ title assassin getting revenge for the murder of his dog has turned into a whole universe of assassins and their code of ethics.
It will be little surprise that Chapter 3 – Parabellum continues directly after the events of Chapter 2 with Wick having made so many enemies in the assassin community, he has become a high-priced target for the entire network. In fact, he’s been deemed “excommunicado” with a $14 million price on his head with assassins of all different nationalities chasing after him.
I know why the previous movies didn’t connect with me, but at least Chapter 2 had Laurence Fishburne, and it ended in a place where you really wanted to see what happened next. In that sense, Chapter 3 immediately delivers on the premise set up with Reeves being chased through the rainy streets of New York, fighting anyone he encounters.
Usually, when a franchise leaves me as cold as this one has, it would take a Dwayne Johnson to really turn things around for me. John Wick Chapter 3 doesn’t have Johnson, but it does have Anjelica Huston and Halle Berry. Despite what they bring to the mix, they’re not even the best part of the movie. That would be Mark Dacascos and a pair of German Shepherds, but I’ll get to them in a bit.
I don’t know what happened between the last movie and this one, but everything about John Wick Chapter 3 is better than Chapter 2, from the fantastic cinematography to the editing and the score by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard, both returning from the previous movies. In fact, it’s all of the same team from Chapter 2, which makes me wonder if maybe Stahelski got the extra money he needed to make the third movie deliver on its high concept premise.
New York City looks particularly compelling, lit in ways that makes it seem more like a fantasy film than one grounded in reality, but this adds a lot to the experience, as does the sudden transition to Casablanca for the second act. The latter is when Halle Berry’s Sofia and her dogs show up, leading to even more jaw-dropping action scenes, although for a while, Wick seems to be making a deal with one person just to move up the line to the next person who can help him.
Dacascos might be best known as the Chairman on Iron Chef America, which might be why he’s wittily introduced as an elite sushi chef hired by the High Table’s Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to clean up loose ends. This leads to a number of great fights with Reeves, but more importantly, it also involves NINJAS! If there wasn’t enough raising of stakes this movie, the ninjas lead to some of the best action scenes including one that reminded me of a little-seen Korean action film called The Villainess. On top of that, Damascos brings something relatively jovial to this John Wick adversary that’s unlike anything we’ve seen previously, not unlike what Toshiro Mifune brought to Kurosawa’s films.
One of the reasons Chapter 3 works better is because Stahelski now has two previous movies under his belt to build up the mythology of this world of assassins. I also think it’s worthwhile to go into these movies ready to have fun and not taking anything too seriously even if the cast of characters almost always do. There are definitely more moments that are clearly meant to be funny, including particularly fun bits from Ian McShane and Fishburne.
Don’t worry if you go into the movie not knowing what the subtitle “Parabellum” means. It will take nearly 90 minutes before the word is used, but once that word is uttered, it leads to a final act battle scene that ups everything that has happened beforehand, which is saying a lot. The movie once again leaves you wanting more, maybe even more than Chapter 2 did.
With John Wick 3, Reeves has finally made another action movie on par with The Matrix… and for a John Wick hater like me to change my mind about a franchise this drastically, all I can say is “Bravo.”
Edward Douglas has been writing about movies and other forms of entertainment for over 25 years, so he’s probably older than you.