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With: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Said Taghmaoui, Jerome Flynn, Jason Mantzoukas, Tobias Segal, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane
Written by: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive strong violence, and some language
Running Time: 131
Date: 05/17/2019
IMDB

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

War and Pieces

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum picks up not long after John Wick: Chapter 2 ended. But this time, the movie goes on about ten minutes longer, and has expanded its Wickian universe so that it's far more complex and requires far more explanation.

It's now closer to something like The Hunger Games than it is to the simple, stoic, existential 1960s Sergio Leone and Jean-Pierre Melville movies that inspired it.

Once, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) wanted nothing more than to relax at home with his dog, but was provoked into getting revenge on people that unwisely did him wrong. It was simple and pure.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum — the title "parabellum" refers to either a type of gun or to the phrase "If you want peace, prepare for war" — is less so.

It's all about going from place to place to try to get a meeting with the guy who runs this entire secret organization of assassins, while avoiding being sliced open by said assassins.

This movie even has some kind of dispatch office run by tattooed, bespectacled women in short-sleeved dresses. Among other duties, it seems, they text all the killers whenever a bounty goes out on someone's head.

A new character comes into the story here, The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon, Orange Is the New Black), whose job is to dole out punishments to anyone who has broken any of the organization's rules.

Wick broke a major rule when, in the last movie, he conducted business (i.e. killed a guy) in the Continental Hotel, which was meant to be a safe haven. Hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane) and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) also broke rules by trying to help Wick.

Meanwhile, Wick manages to get to Casablanca where he meets an old colleague, Sofia (Halle Berry). She and her dogs are rather annoyed to see him, but since he has a marker (i.e. he once did her a favor), she reluctantly helps him on his way to see the top guy (Saïd Taghmaoui).

All of this gets Wick back to New York in time for a huge showdown.

Fortunately, director Chad Stahelski returns to the series for the third time, and brings his brand of streamlined, fluid action that is rarely achieved; the John Wick films are on a level with Gareth Evans' The Raid movies, Christopher McQuarrie's Mission: Impossible movies, and perhaps even with masters of movement and space and violence, like John Woo or Sam Peckinpah.

Stahelski, a former stuntman, knows how to stage fights, but unlike most stuntmen, he knows how to film them, too, with clean, graceful camera moves, head-to-toe framing, and very few cuts, like a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical number.

He also employs unique backgrounds, such as an adobe-colored mansion in Casablanca, built with pillars and low walls, or, even more impressively, a multi-level chamber made entirely of glass. Yet the backgrounds also inform the action. Everything flows together.

Reeves is perfect for this role, zen-like, barely speaking (the only non-quipping action star), but impeccably dressed. During the fighting, he's pretty well thrashed and bloodied, and he gets tired, which makes him more human, less like a special effect.

Yet after bashing and whamming and slicing and stabbing for such a long time in this sequel, it slowly begins to feel as if maybe some of the purpose has gone out of it.

The original John Wick was such a happy surprise that it might have been more special just to leave it like that, with no franchise. Similarly, another Reeves franchise, The Matrix, definitely would have benefitted from remaining a single film.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum has momentum and adrenaline. It's primal and effective and entertaining all the way to the end, and it hints at more to come.

Then, where does it go from here? Does it get even bigger and more complicated? Sometimes, like the elegant unpretentiousness of the first film, it's better for a story to simply end.

Lionsgate's spiffy-looking (and sounding, in Dolby Atmos) Blu-ray comes with a bunch of little extras, including nine short behind-the-scenes featurettes (including a very cool one about Keanu training on horseback and a great one about the film's dogs), trailers, and a sneak peek at the new John Wick video game (plus a 50% off coupon). It also comes with a bonus DVD and digital copy.

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