From the close of credits in Chapter 2 to the opening credits of Chapter 3, a little under an hour has passed. “He knew the rules,” states Winston (Ian McShane) the owner and manager of the Continental Hotel where the offense took place. “He broke them.”
“Excommunicado in effect, 6 pm, eastern standard time,” announces the middle-aged, heavily tattooed, and all-around scary looking operator (Margaret Daly) at the communications center for the High Table. With minutes to go before every killer around the globe will want to cash in on the $14 million contract on his life, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run.
His crime, you may recall at the end of the last film, was because he killed a man called D’Antonio. It wasn’t so much the kill that was the problem. In a heightened world where murdering someone is as regular as a healthy bowel movement, putting a bullet in those who deserve it wouldn’t normally raise an eyebrow. Not in this world. It was where Wick committed the act that’s the problem.
The Continental is protected, a safe haven for visiting assassins where guests are under orders to put their weapons away. It’s sanctuary. But Wick pulled the trigger on sacred grounds. He may have got his man but it came with a cost. Winston had no choice. The order was declared. Legendary hitman John Wick must now run for his life. And in a world of amoral hyperreality, a practical sub-culture populated by loathsome, despicable murderers where rules of behavior must be observed, Winston gives John Wick one hour to move. Once the hour is reached and that scary looking operator back at the communications center announces it’s finally 6 pm, the mayhem begins. And this being a John Wick movie, it doesn’t stop.
That’s the setup for John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, and that’s all you really need to know. The film’s subtitle comes from a Latin phrase. “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” It means, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” And it’s nothing but war for an exhausting 131 minutes that you’ll get.
Throughout most of the film’s considerably bloated running time, fight arrangements will include, but not limited to, bullets, knives, belts, pointy things to the eyes, the unique use of rear kicks from horses, dogs going for the crotch, and anything with cringe-inducing sharp angles that happens to be within reach at just the right moment. The fights are so well executed with such style and continuous creative energy, they’re really meticulously choreographed dance movements with nasty weapons. Director and former stunt man Chad Stahelski, who did most of the fights himself, is John Wick’s Busby Berkely to Reeves’ Gene Kelly. “Guns,” requests Wick telling what he needs to get through the day. “Lots of guns.”
Wick’s character introduced in 2014 was always intended to kick start a new franchise. But for personal taste, it’s the original that remains the most effective. Coming out of retirement to search for the men who invaded his home, stole his car and, worst of all, killed his dog, introduced us to the murky, mysterious, and the intentionally ludicrous fantasy world of those who run sanctuary hotels for assassins. Not knowing anything about the High Table, the global organization that invokes the rules for killers, was part of the intrigue. We never saw the man behind the curtain. Unfortunately, Chapter 2 pulled the curtain aside and made a reveal. In the way that the most effective ghost story is the one where you don’t see the ghost (or, as in Jaws where you don’t see the shark) discovering how the High Table was run dissolved that sense of mystique. It may have upped the ante on gunplay and stacked the bodies even higher from the first film but it also removed the wonder.
Chapter 3 reveals even more High Table secrets. It ups the death toll even further. This time, with reluctant help from fellow assassin Sofia (Halle Berry), who has some doggie issues of her own, there are more dead bodies on the ground than there are stars in the sky. Every bad guy – well, they’re all bad – that Wick encounters along the way always has an army of men and bodyguards whose only purpose is to be disposed of. They’re shipped in by the busload. At one point, they’re literally bused in. When back in New York after Wick has made an excursion to the deserts of Morocco, vehicles packed to the brim with killers aiming to kill the killer arrive at the curbside.
In addition to McShane’s Winston and Berry’s Sofia, Lance Reddick as the Continental’s faithful concierge and Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King return. Plus there’s the new addition of Anjelica Huston referred to as The Director – “All of this for what?” she asks Wick when he turns up asking for help and calling in a favor. “Because of a puppy?” – and Asia Kate Dillon as the Adjudicator, a merciless member of the High Table whose strict adherence and enforcement of the rules makes her Wick’s biggest enemy. She’s the one character who never pulls a gun. She never needs to. Yet she’s perhaps the most deadly of all. A call or a swift order is all that’s required.
It’s doubtful that those going into Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be unaware of the first two chapters. With that in mind, you’ll know exactly what to expect. The third outing is more of the same, but with more bullets to the face and a few good visual gags. Galloping on a horse through the city and firing at assassins on motorbikes as though John Wayne was in New York is one of them. And like Webster’s dictionary, the sight of a Morocco bound John Wick stumbling for days among the sand dunes of the desert under a blazing hot sun, looking like Lawrence of Arabia but in dress shoes, a black suit, white shirt, and black tie is another. He’s there in search of The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui) a man who sits high atop of the High Table in a tent in the middle of nowhere. What he actually does there all day is anybody’s guess.
There’s no denying how well all of this adrenaline-fueled violent nonsense is made. If thrills and spills and countless disposable bodies being sliced and diced are all you’re going for, then Chapter 3 is definitely yours. But the never-ending action where there are no consequences to murders, no feeling of pain, or loss, not even the celebration of triumph, ultimately exhausts. With no real investment any more other than admiring how the moves are executed, there’s nothing or no one to root for. Certainly not Wick. In reality, he’s just as loathsome as everyone else. After all, the revenge for his pup was covered in 2014. The exhaustion kicks in long before the film concludes.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 131 Minutes