What started with car theft and poochicide in the wake of a loved one’s death in 2014’s first chapter has morphed over the course of three films into full-on homicidal pandemonium. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum picks up directly after the end of the second film, where John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run following a professional slip-up. Now that the tables have turned, the suit-wearing hitman has been declared “excommunicado” by the shady High Table and there’s a sizeable bounty on his head; this prompts half the population of New York (who seem to all moonlight as undercover assassins) to hunt him down.
This third instalment is exactly what it needed to be: a predictable yet relentlessly entertaining movie that will delight fans of the franchise and should entice those in the mood for a balls-to-the-wall action flick to reach for their wallets. It goes from one R-rated action set piece to the next with giddy abandon, and the series’ trademark avoidance of quick cuts and shaky cams is once again to be applauded. The dynamic fights are spectacularly choreographed by director Chad Stahelski and his stunt crew, with one early knife fight standing out as hitting all the right violent and darkly humorous notes. The bloody ballet featuring countless headshots even makes a point of trying to out-Raid The Raid, a touchstone made all the more obvious by the casting of The Raid team for the final showdown. The concussion-proof Reeves, now in his mid-50s, shows no signs of slowing down and both his martial arts knowhow and deadpan line delivery continue to work wonders with the material. The dark humour extends to an amusing Matrix callback, one which does make you wonder why no one thought to cast Carrie Anne Moss for the role of the cold, short-haired Adjudicator, here played by a forgettable Asia Kate Dillon. Halle Berry also pops up with an extended cameo as a former contract killer, and her two attack dogs manage to steal the spotlight from both her and Reeves during one breathless extended fight sequence.
The expanded mythology of this world, including the constant mention of trinkets, bonds and blood oaths, does become increasingly tiresome and some of the script’s convoluted attempts at worldbuilding tend to fall flat. This niggle, however, is overshadowed by a bigger bum-note: a spectacularly stupid nosedive in the final few minutes which stretches believability to breaking point. It’s not the best beat to end on, making it seem like the screenwriters had no idea how to bring things to a satisfactory close. That said, it does set up an inevitable fourth instalment, and considering how the series seems to be disproving the law of diminishing returns, John Wick has earnt it.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum | Directed by Chad Stahelski (US, 2019), with Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Halle Berry. Starts May 23.
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