The little franchise that could, the John Wick film series started small and got much bigger, both from a storytelling perspective and for audiences. Each film has been more financially successful than the last. And John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is a brutally good time. It’s continuously one-upping itself, with one breathtaking action sequence after another. It’s also shrewdly crafting a world of spinoffs and sequels and TV miniseries for Lionsgate to make in the future. It’s also the most persuasive case yet for an Academy Award category for stunt coordination.
Picking up immediately where the second film left off, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has been marked ‘excommunicado’ after murdering someone on the grounds of the Hotel Continental, and now the High Table has placed a bounty on his head, and nobody is willing to help him clear his name. We follow Wick as he runs from place to place in this criminal underground attempting to end this saga peacefully, before learning what must be done.
Before I even get to Keanu Reeves, I would like to point out this franchise’s increasingly impressive supporting cast. We now have Halle Berry as Sofia, an old friend of Wick’s with whom he has unfinished business. And she’s got two adorable and murderous puppies as her sidekicks! Berry is having the time of her life here, and it reminds you what a commanding presence she can be in the right film. You leave hoping she gets a spinoff and also has a future in the John Wick universe.
We also have Anjelica Huston this time, as an old acquaintance of Wick’s, who runs some kind of underground ballet school that will remind you of Black Swan. This is a smaller role for Huston, and it’s so great to see her. It’s a character introduction that lends itself to spinoffs and a possible action movie starring 67-year-old Anjelica Huston in the lead. How cool is that?!
We also have Mark Dacascos and Asia Kate Dillon as the new villains of the High Table, and they are both magnetic screen presences and are doing great work. Among the returning cast, we have Laurence Fishburne and Ian McShane as Wick’s allies. Scene-stealer Lance Reddick returns, and this one gives him more to do than these films have before, and he’s a hoot to watch.
Keanu Reeves has found his signature role. This franchise suits his skillset even better than The Matrix, and it’s great to see him enjoy the kind of career stability, so many of his peers have not. Even though his career has seen quite a few stumbles, he has proven time and time again that in the right role, he’s priceless. He’s terrific in the film’s more nuanced and emotional moments, but this is obviously about him kicking ass and taking no prisoners, and he’s clearly having a lot of fun.
However, none of these individual performances are really the reason to go see this film in theaters. Chad Stahelski has returned to direct, and he’s brought the gloriously over-the-top fight choreography up to an 11. In so many action sequences in the film, you can lose sight of what is happening to whom, and why any of it matters. In this, we have plenty of really long takes where you feel every punch, every gunshot and every moment and we consistently understand why these things are happening and why they matter.
John Wick Chapter 2 cinematographer Dan Laustsen returns, and he makes this film look absolutely stunning from beginning to end. This is a brutally violent B-movie franchise crafted in a slicked-up, uncompromisingly stylish, almost Oscar-caliber way. As Wick wanders around a dark and rainy New York illuminated by harsh neon signs, his desperation to clear his own name and achieve justice is heightened, and even though the viewer may have some trouble following the other characters in this saga, Wick remains reliable as the emotional center.
While this could have ended as a trilogy, we end with absolute certainty Chad Stahelski will continue the work he’s started and that’s just fine with me. These are fast, brutal, and meticulously stylish films that expand their universe more with each entry, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. Especially if it involves Halle Berry and the dogs.