It has been a joyful experience watching the John Wick franchise rise from a small B-action movie starring Keanu Reeves to a serious summer blockbuster.
With each new release, the franchise has grown in popularity. Unlike most similar action franchises that reach to cater to even wider audiences for a bigger payday, each John Wick sequel has doubled down and fine-tuned its strengths.
John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum somehow manages to keep elevating the action scenes and magnificent production design. This is the most beautiful entry in the series yet. The action scenes are more ambitious than ever, but don’t worry…this still feels like a John Wick movie.
**BEWARE: Slight Spoilers Ahead**
Doesn’t Really Quench Our Thirst
If you came to this third movie in the trilogy thirsty for more action, you got it. If you are looking more of the detailed story of the man, not so much. John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum is probably the weakest of the series from a storytelling standpoint.
Whereas John Wick Chapter 2 felt like a step forward for the series in both the action and storytelling department, Chapter 3 only advances the action while the story stalls a bit. The movie is still fun but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the previous films.
Parabellum picks up where Chapter 2 left off. John Wick is still “excommunicado” and on the run after killing a member of the high table in the Continental Hotel. We find him facing attacks from assassins at every turn, each vying for the $14 million bounty placed on his head. Despite being in the city with no resources, Wick must find a way to survive and get out alive.
The beauty of John Wick lies in the “complexity of its simplicity.” The plots are kept simple, the loglines of the Wick films read like disposable direct to video fodder; nothing that interesting on the surface. However, when viewed and examined, the Wick films always have more going for them than a typical “shoot ’em up” film.
The world building is fascinating and building the story of Wick’s vengeance is simple but executed with precision and empathy. (Seriously, who isn’t rooting for Wick to kill everyone after the death of his puppy?!) John Wick Chapter 3 manages to retain the complex layers of simplicity we experienced throughout the trilogy. As Chapter 2 did, Parabellum reveals more of the world Wick inhabits, but still leaves us wanting more.
Still Not Your Average Assassin Movie
The storytelling allows the repercussions of Chapter 2 to bring out more of the mysterious underworld of shadows to come into conflict not just with John Wick, but also Laurence Fishburne‘s ‘Bowery King’ and Ian McShane‘s ‘Winston’ (who is one of my favorite characters in the series). This makes the series more compelling than just another assassin vs the mafia type movie.
Unlike Chapter 2, Parabellum doesn’t push Wick’s story along as much as it should. By the end of the movie, I felt the narrative didn’t have as much standalone value as the previous two films did.
The first 75 percent of this movie did an excellent job building off the previous entries and kept me invested. However, and I obviously will not give it away here, but the ending did let me down a bit. The first two films have a clear narrative purpose, but this one, particularly in the last fourth of the film, has trouble outlining its truth for the viewer.
Still, most are here for the action and even I, who have grown fond of the story of John Wick, will admit the first reason I bought a ticket was for the action scenes. Wasn’t that true for you too?
In that regard, John Wick Chapter 3 does not disappoint. From the first fight we see to the very last, Parabellum treats us to some of the most brutal and complex fights in the series to date. You’ve been teased about the fighting in the trailer, but I promise, you haven’t seen the best of it.
A Fight…eh, Sight to Behold
Director Chad Stahelski retains his style from the first two movies, but finds new ground in action by making the environment more part of the story and scenes with more vehicle combat and even more dogs. You could say this is a dog lover’s type of movie. The shots are almost always framed in wides, but Stahelski allows the camera to glide throughout the beautifully choreographed fight scenes.
When the action cuts to close-ups, it isn’t to mask the mistakes of the fight. Instead, all that movement highlights the overwhelming odds Wick is facing. The action is very much in that John Wick style to which you are accustomed by now, but Stahelski finds clever ways of making the fights in this movie feel distinct from the previous movies.
One aspect the series doesn’t get enough credit for its cinematography. Each movie is so beautiful to watch, namely Parabellum. Chad Stahelski is an expert at scene direction and atmosphere building. The lighting and color palette was from cinematography Don Lautsen (who also shot Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak and The Shape of Water), and the varied production design by Kevin Kavanaugh all make the John Wick movies arguably the best-looking action movies on the market today.
Every shot feels thought out and planned with vibrant blues, oranges, purples, and red hues filling the screen in every scene. The combination of eastern styled action with high and modern art designs plays so well together. The Wickverse could simply rest on the action alone, but the effort from Stahelski and his crew to inject the movie with more of a visual style is experienced throughout Parabellum.
A Sainted Image in Summary
In general, Stahelski doesn’t get enough credit as a visual storyteller. He finds small, simple ways to communicate a story without the need for any dialogue. John Wick is as much of a fan of talking as Clint Eastwood is in “The Man With No Name” trilogy.
Instead Stahelski–through John Wick–finds other ways of communicating what is going on with Wick’s emotion and narration. There is even a moment with a random ballet dancer where Stahelski is able to portray her physical and mental state of mind with only a few shots. It’s not gratuitous. It’s part of the depth of his skill to share a story.
Despite Stahelski’s skill and underappreciated abilities, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum is the weakest in the series; yet, it is far from a stinker. The four screenwriters feel like they aren’t quite writing the same movie together, which represents only a small step in Wick’s journey. That misalignment in storytelling is truly a disappointment following the large steps Chapter 2 took into Wick’s journey.
Regardless, John Wick Chapter 3 is widely entertaining. The action is as great as ever, the world is still fun and creative, and Keanu Reeves stills fits the role like a finely tailored suit. (And, Halle Berry is amazing in this movie). While the franchise is wearing a little thin, I would take more John Wick sequels rather than 95% of other franchises out there. John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum is a good third film in its franchise and not many action franchises can say that at all.