If you want peace, prepare for war — or as they say in Latin, “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” That phrase sums up the third installment of the John Wick series featuring Keanu Reeves as the excommunicated assassin with a $14 million bounty on his head.
Stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski who helmed “John Wick: Chapter 2” is back behind the camera to deliver a stratospheric amount of violence in the form of shootouts, knife fights, hand-to-hand combat, and groin-attacking dogs in what I like to call a bloodshed ballet. Halle Berry and Anjelica Huston join the franchise that dares not call itself a trilogy. After 130 minutes of mind-numbing brutality, you’ll be left craving more.
At the end of “Chapter 2” our antihero let his emotions get the best of him by killing Italian crime lord Santino D'Antonio on the grounds of the Continental Hotel, a sacred haven for assassins. Winston (Ian McShane) the hotel’s manager and owner has no choice but to revoke John’s privileges and per orders from the High Table, a $14 million bounty has been placed on John’s head.
However, before Winston initiates the contract, he gives his old friend a one-hour head start before every would-be assassin in the city comes after him.
“Parabellum” kicks off with John on the run. His first stop the New York Public Library where the film’s first well-choreographed battle begins. No guns, no knives, the weapons of choice are books. You’ll be surprised by how John uses a hardcover to his advantage against an adversary that’s reminiscent of Richard Kiel’s Jaws from the James Bond films. Stahelski must have been of fan of Roger Moore’s 007 as later in the film he places John in a situation that resembles the house of mirrors scene from “The Man with the Golden Gun.”
Stahelski who worked as Reeves’ body double in “The Matrix” and as the stunt coordinator for “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions,” brings some of the most thrilling fight sequences to the screen that recall films with Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan, and Iko Uwais from “The Raid” and “The Raid 2.” The first John Wick was an origins film, the second dealt with closure, while “John Wick 3” opens a new chapter in the saga.
Returning players include worldly concierge Charon (Lance Reddick) who steps out of his comfort zone to get his hands dirty, Laurence Fishburne’s The Bowery King (whose addition to the franchise made it even more thrilling for Matrix fans), Tobias Segal whose homeless character serves The Bowery King, and Ian McShane as Continental owner Winston who is in major trouble for giving John that one hour head start before listing him as “excommunicado.”
The High Table has brought in an Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to set things straight, and even though she’s just doing her job to restore order to the underworld, she easily becomes one of the most hated characters in the franchise.
Academy Award winners Anjelica Huston and Halle Berry climb aboard with Huston playing The Director, a ballet instructor with ties to John’s past who’s obliged to help him and Berry as Sofia, John’s point of contact in Casablanca who sticks her neck out for him like so many other people in this film.
Sofia’s sidekicks, a pair of Belgian Malinois trained to go for the crotch, are scene stealers who amp up the battle sequences. Berry, Reeves, and the extras trained extensively with the canines for months to gain their trust because as Stahelski pointed out in a recent interview, there are no such things as “show animals.”
They are regular dogs who just needed to be trained not to kill the stuntmen and actors. The whole franchise is built upon John’s revenge for thugs killing his puppy, so animals have always played an important role. John’s new sidekick, a rescued pit bull is featured often in “Parabellum” and there’s an innovative fight sequence that takes place in a stable as horses become John’s latest allies.
There’s a lot more humor in JW3 thanks in part to Mark Dacascos portrayal of sushi chef assassin Zero who tells John that he’s a big fan while trying to kill him and later in the film a pair of killers tell John that they are honored to be fighting against him. John is now a celebrity in the underworld who is treated with respect wherever he goes even by those wanting to kill him.
"John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" isn’t concerned with adding more story, it’s just an excuse to showcase one thrilling fight sequence after another with only brief respites between the action. Usually, violence at this level becomes mind-numbing but Stahelski makes each well-choreographed battle interesting. Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen uses the constant rain to bathe the film in a “Blade Runner” glow.
This is the most violent of the three Wick films and there are some big moments that will change the face of the franchise forever. Yes, this is certainly not a trilogy as “Parabellum” leaves you with a cliffhanger and a great scene that gets you pumped up for more John Wick.