FILM REVIEW – JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM. With Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos. Written by Derek Kolstad and Shay Hatten and Chris Collins & Marc Abrams. Directed by Chad Stahelski. Rated R for pervasive strong violence, and some language. 130 minutes.
It’s hard to believe that four writers are credited for the script for JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM in that so many scenes consist of “John gets into a fight.” Nonetheless, the original 2014 film has turned into a franchise, with a fourth film almost certainly in the cards. So what’s the appeal?
First and foremost are the multiple action scenes, featuring martial arts, gunfire, and swordplay. The fight choreography and stuntwork approaches the balletic, and there’s a nod to the more serene artform when John (Keanu Reeves) pays a call on the director of a Russian ballet company (a cameo by Anjelica Huston) to escape from New York. He has been declared “excommunicado” by the assassin’s guild he’s worked for and against, and there’s now a $14 million price on his head with everyone is forbidden to help him.
This gets to the second factor, which is that the series seems to be set in a parallel universe (one observer noted that it’s analogous to the “Harry Potter” movies) where these killers act with impunity, having their own hotels, coinage, and stock exchange. Wick has violated the strict rules of this world which is why he’s now on the run, and those who assisted him, including Winston (Ian McShane), operator of the Continental Hotel, and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who runs a network of street people, are those marked for punishment by the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon). There’s a surreal element at work here, so that when Winston refuses to cooperate, he’s told his hotel will be “deconsecrated,” so it will no longer be deemed neutral territory.
What puts this above the level of a video game is that beyond the violent action and creative worldbuilding, there is a cast that takes the material seriously enough that we’re willing to play along. McShane’s wry hotelier is joined by Lance Reddick as his very proper chief of staff. Among the killers, Halle Berry pops up as an assassin who has been promoted to “management” in Morocco but who owes a debt to Wick, and Mark Dacascos is Zero, a sushi chef who leads a team of ninja-warriors against Wick. Such is the through the looking glass nature of the proceedings that between deadly battles, Zero expresses fannish admiration for Wick.
For the record, it should be noted that the film richly deserves its R rating for violence. It not only uses enough ammunition to supply a small war leading to an alarmingly high body count, it also features moments where even hardcore action fans may want to turn away from the screen. It’s not clear if Derek Kolstad, one of the screenwriters here who created the character and is credited with the story, has an end in sight to this saga, or they’ll just play it out until either Reeves or audiences get bored. Until then, no one is likely to be bored with “John Wick: Chapter 3.”•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.