John Wick With a Vengeance.
While no one can really say that the John Wick series has reinvented the action genre over the past six years, its hard to say that it hasn’t made one hell of an impact. Injecting well-choreographed gunplay and a visually stunning aspect of class into what might very well have been a by-the-books action story found in a supermarket bargain bin has paid off immensely. And with the third instalment in its ever-growing franchise (Chapter 4, a spin-off, an Atomic Blonde crossover, and a bloody TV series have been announced), John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, a film that just about suffers from triple title-itis just as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life did, certainly offers more of what fans have come to expect. Only this time with a mite more personality, and a chunk less restraint.
Chapter 3 (funny how the first film in a series labelled in chapters isn’t called Chapter 1 when it comes out, isn’t it?) sees John Wick (Keanu Reeves) on the run from every hitman on Earth, and must fight for his life against the ever-growing obstacles against him. John has gone from hunter to hunted.
Director Chad Stahelski, having shepherded the series thus far after Wick 1 co-director David Leitch got offered some more humorous gigs that could be described as “Wick-esque”, once again astounds with action-sequences that beggar belief as to how one might pull them off. And, in a bold move, most of them are hilarious. While Chapters 1 and 2 occasionally offered a darkly comic aside during a gunfight, Chapter 3 points it closer towards straight-up slapstick at times. At one point, John and some goons start smashing weapons cases to tiredly throw knives at each other, at another Wick and a goon realise they are both out of ammo, and politely take a second to load up. Both moments feel like a collective homage to Desperado, and from that alone, its clear that Chapter 3 turns out to arguably be the funniest instalment of the series thus far. The film clearly revels in dialogue so bland it must be mocking cliche, whilst also providing some of the most wince-inducing kills yet (eyes are stabbed, heads are stabbed, heads explode).
Three films in by now, Reeves is noticeably much more relaxed in his role as the man of few words that is Mr. Wick. His dialogue may leave a fair bit to be desired, but the sheer passion Reeves exudes in a simple “Yeah” treads the line between badass and self-parody. He’s a joy to behold. At times, however, Wick tends to take a backseat. Halle Berry’s appearance as Sofia, an old friend of John’s, offers some impressive dog-based action sequences, but one can’t escape the thought: Was Halle Berry really the only one for the role? Sofia doesn’t boasts Berry’s strengths as Ian McShane’s Winston does (he remains on sparkling form here). She’s just, kind of, there. While the gradual resurgence of Ms. Berry is a definite positive, it’s just a shame she wasn’t given much to chew on.
However, despite the impressive action and the commitment of all onscreen, cracks in the marble begin to appear. One thing the Wick series has offered is the prevalence of action over snappy one-liners. While it offers a great opportunity for the stunts to speak for themselves, and indeed emphasises the importance of visual storytelling over exposition dumps, the absence of any dialogue that isn’t bland story-fodder robs characters to have any form of personality other than looking cool. We know the most about John, but even then he has the air of a well-dressed damp brick.
And while the action sequences are impressive, some simply go on for too damned long. A climactic sword-duel between Wick and the sorta-big-bad is impressive at first, but one will find it hard not to say “just get it over with”. There’s only so much variety you can get from a fight that happens in the same glass room for what feels like 10 minutes.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum continues the franchise tradition of delivering slick, stylish action in this adrenaline-soaked upping of the ante. Fans will no doubt lap up the little things (Lance Reddick’s Concierge finally gets to do something besides welcome people to the hotel), while casual audiences will find enjoyment in the style and smattering of famous faces strew about (Anjelica Huston! Jerome Flynn! Laurence Fishburne!). But at the heart of it all is, obviously, Reeves himself. Whether he’s icing fools in pools or blowing away suckas on motorbikes, John Wick is here to stay.