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John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
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by Jay Seaver

"More of the same, but the same is pretty good."
4 stars

If you've enjoyed the first two "John Wick" movies, you'll almost certainly enjoy the third - this series still brings the stylish, astonishingly-staged violence better than most anybody else has since the last time John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat got together. It's definitely starting to get a little stretched, though, like the makers are a bit too aware of the franchise's status as an unlikely hit and developing a tendency to wink at themselves. "Parabellum" still plays its world of assassins just seriously enough to work as both intriguing and an excuse to enjoy the mayhem, but it's right on the edge of implosion, and may not be able to pull it off much longer.

The new entry picks up right where the last left off, with former assassin Wick (Keanu Reeves) on the run with a $14 million price on his head after killing someone in the lobby of The Continental Hotel in New York City, designated neutral ground by the international organization that oversees these freelancers, The High Table. He makes his way to Casablanca to find the head of the organization and plead his case, starting by calling in a favor with the manager of the local Continental location, Sofia (Halle Berry). Helping John could probably get her the same sort of scrutiny as his friends in New York - hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane) gave him a head start and a former mentor (Anjelica Huston) smuggled him out and as such have an Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) and her enforcer Zero (Mark Dacascos) looking for bloody penance - but she owes him a favor and, besides, she's also a dog person.

The filmmakers know why the audience is there and get right at it; the first act stacks one terrific melee on top of another as Wick races through New York, taking no chances that the audience might feel like they squandered the cliffhanger where the last movie finished. The audience knows what director and former stunt performer Chad Stahelski brings to a movie by now, keeping shots going as long as possible with just enough of a pause after a sudden killing shot for the audience to roar. He knows how to use space, where to put the camera and where to cut to make it not feel like a cheat, and has an excellent stunt & fight team lead by Jonathan Eusebio to build these scenes. Things slow down a bit after the opener, but there are two major bits of bloodletting to come, one featuring Halle Berry looking just as committed to doing this stuff well as Keanu and the other giving the viewer a chance or two to wonder why Mark Dacascos didn't become a bigger deal after Brotherhood of the Wolf. The climax is as elaborate and beautifully staged as ever, if not quite so surprisingly stunning as the first couple of films. We know it's possible now.

Indeed, even with the film delving a bit deeper into the mythology of this underground world, familiarity seems to be the most dangerous foe to be found here. There are winking comments about how the series started and adversaries that are fans of the title character, rather than mix of terror, disrespect, or professional respect that people were showing just a day before. The plot of this movie also has nearly the whole thing within this assassin's world, which on the one hand means that the filmmakers can ratchet up the violence without any sort of remorse, but on the other hand, it can become rather disconnected from the un-hidden world (there is, believe it or not, a limit to the amount of murder going on in front of them that New Yorkers will ignore). A moment when civilians cause Wick to hold back for a moment is almost confusing, and characters talking about Wick getting out feel a bit hollow, because there's no sense of "out".

There is occasionally a sense that the filmmakers are aware of it; by the end, John Wick the character is openly searching for why to continue. It's an interesting next step and there are hints of him not knowing what to do or how to be human now that he's gotten his revenge., and when Keanu Reeves can get near that, he's pretty darn good, bringing the intensity that has made Wick fearsome but haunted throughout the series, on top of just being excellent in all the physical aspects. Halle Berry brings a lot of angry energy to Sofia - a smaller role than one might think - while Dacascos is gleeful and Asia Kate Dillon is enjoyably smarmy and self-assured enough to stay a viable threat throughout.

Maybe the promised fourth installment will play with this, or maybe it will be deferred a little further. It won't necessarily matter, if the filmmakers keeps bringing the top-quality action - it really is head-and-shoulders above what anyone else in Hollywood is doing. It would just be a shame if these movies had to keep shooting dogs to keep the audience fully involved, is all.

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originally posted: 05/18/19 13:10:07
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User Comments

6/03/19 fulcibrad all action no substance 3 stars
5/29/19 trg this was phenomenal. Like a shot of adrenaline 5 stars
5/27/19 Koitus Body count = 167; not a typo. Good for kung fu scenes. Getting long in the tooth, though. 4 stars
5/22/19 Bob Dog If only they'd hired a screenwriter, this might not have been so boring. 2 stars
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  17-May-2019 (R)
  DVD: 10-Sep-2019


  DVD: 10-Sep-2019

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