John Wick 3: Parabellum Movie Review
Has John Wick already jumped the shark?
The question lingered in my mind as I watched the third installment of the popular Keanu Reeves franchise, even as I thoroughly enjoyed much of it. The action is still as amazing as ever, the movie’s devotion to a satisfyingly high death count more than respectable, and the character of John Wick continues to prove to be one of the best roles of Reeve’s career.
And yet the story goes in directions—continuing from John Wick: Chapter 2—that hint that director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad (now, suspiciously, teamed with a horde of other writers for the first time) are losing sight of what make the first John Wick so popular in the first place: simplicity.
In John Wick, a group of criminals kill the former assassins’ dog, forcing him to come out of retirement to enact revenge. Yes, there was a special hotel that had a special set of rules for killers, and the movie hinted that others, including the police, knew of Wick’s talents, but those elements simply existed, which in turn allowed the audience to accept them.
By the time John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum wraps up, Stahelski, Kolstad and team have taken a deep dive into this world of assassins, indicating that nearly everyone—including random taxi drivers in New York City—are in on the secret. The assassin hierarchy is ruled by a near mythical figure who can only be reached by wandering into the Sahara desert, and only when you are on the verge of death will you find him.
It’s beginning to get a bit eye-rolling. Cheesy even.
The filmmakers’ seeming desire to peel the onion further an further and attempt to explain why and how this assassin world exists is the equivalent of trying to give a back story to a monster or killer in a horror movie: the approach rarely works, and is often unnecessary.
For John Wick, there are stretches that really demand, unnecessarily, for you to suspend belief even more than a movie about a nearly unstoppable killer already does. These segments—most notably the desert sequence—brings the film to a screeching halt, a surprisingly drab turn of events for a franchise known for rarely skipping a beat.
Even still, Parabellum is a blast much of the time. The movie boasts several action scenes that put entire action movies to shame—an elaborate sequence involving Halle Berry and a couple of killer dogs is impressive, and in another John Wick kills a dude with a book. The climax is almost tediously long, but it is incredibly well choreographed, gritty, and creative. Reeves, undeniably, has found a role perfectly suited for him, one that caters to his acting talents and limitations and plays him up as one of the most likable mass killers ever put to screen.
John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum is a lot of fun—a deadly, violent, and amazingly choreographed action film—but if the filmmakers continue to unravel this weird assassin’s world they’ve created, they risk veering off a cliff and jumping the shark by emphasizing all the wrong things, and losing sight of why the original worked so well.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.