Movie Review: John Wick 3 – Parabellum
John Wick may not wax eloquent, but he can fire up a storm in this continuing action saga that lets Keanu Reeves do what he does best: say little, bring elegance to action sequences and create chemistry with cute canines.
John Wick 3: Parabellum
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Halle Berry, Anjelica Huston, Asia Kate Dillon, Saïd Taghmaoui
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Running time: 131 minutes
Opening wide May 17, 2019
By Katherine Monk
So really, these are dog movies. Sure, there’s a howling gale of action sequences and an acrobatic collage of mind-bending stunt work that form the sinewy musculature of the five-year-old John Wick franchise. But when you get right down to it, the real reason behind the success of these slick and clever souped up descents into noir probably has more to do with the chemistry between Keanu Reeves and canines than the trail of mutilated flesh.
The realization came halfway through this latest tour of what soon resembles an abattoir stacked with Hugo Boss-clad corpses. Reeves, picking up exactly where he left off as the titular John Wick, has been cast out of the secret assassins organization called The High Table. A multi-million dollar contract has been put on his head, forcing him to use the last of his special markers and gold coins to survive long enough to challenge the very leadership of the organization.
…When you get right down to it, the real reason behind the success of these slick and clever souped up descents into noir probably has more to do with the chemistry between Keanu Reeves and canines than the trail of mutilated flesh.
No one can help him. Doing so would be actionable, and in these movies, that means suffering something imaginatively sadistic, or just plain lethal. John knows this, and so do his remaining friends, and yet, there is something about John and his story that moves people into a state of adrenaline-fuelled altruism. They know John is worth saving, that he embodies something noble and rare, and that submitting to an order from a faceless governing body to kill him just feels wrong.
Why? Because John Wick likes dogs. If you watched the first movie that blew the hinges off the box-office back in 2014, you’ll know that’s how this whole thing got started. John Wick had successfully exited from his life as a hired killer to be with the woman he loved. When she died, she left him a puppy to keep him company. Then, after a random encounter, a spoiled baby of a Russian mobster kills his dog.
Avenging the puppy formed the plot of the first film as we watched Wick dig up the cache of weapons and medallions he’d set into his basement foundation, and hunt the bratnik down. The second film dealt with the repercussions of taking out the mobster, but it also unveiled more of the specific universe John Wick inhabits.
We learned more about The Continental — a hotel where assassins can find a safe haven, and suit up for their next mission. We also learned about the High Table and its international network, which uses quaint analog technologies to communicate off the grid. These specifics, which defy 21st century movie convention, gave the Wick world a unique texture because they weren’t reliant on computers and pixels.
This is a world filled with people, and most of them are doing horrible, horrible things to one another. What makes it palatable is how director and former stuntman Chad Stahelski turns every nose-cracking punch and tracheal kick into a stylized dance punctuated by sliced-arterial pyrotechnics.
It’s truly dazzling to behold, and frankly, there are a few scenes in this film involving motorcycles that still leave me wondering how any stunt rider could launch themselves onto pavement so convincingly without breaking every bone in their body.
Obviously, Stahelski knows what he’s doing. So does Reeves, and in this third outing, he once again distills the hero stereotype down to its bare essence, saying very little — but doing a whole lot with great physical elegance. Wick never looks stressed, raises his voice or even breaks much of a sweat. He bleeds a lot, but that only makes him human, and ultimately, more heroic because he acts without any moral compass deviation.
As an assassin, he shouldn’t even have a compass, let alone one that bears true. Yet, that’s the Wick mystique: His compass is governed by the dog star, and it points him in unpredictable directions. In this case, war with the High Table — which gives the movie its title: “Si vis pacem, para bellum (If you want peace, prepare for war).”
As an assassin, he shouldn’t even have a compass, let alone one that bears true. Yet, that’s the Wick mystique: His compass is governed by the dog star, and it points him in unpredictable directions.
So by the time that scene halfway through the movie rolls around, and John Wick asks his old friend Sofia (Halle Berry) to help him out in Casablanca, we know what her answer will be the minute we see her two trained shepherds. They gnash their teeth at John, but he doesn’t brandish a weapon. John loves dogs, and dogs love him.
Audience members love dogs, too. It’s easy. Dogs are pure. They aren’t affected on screen. And when they perform, they do so for love — not money. We can sense this at some deeper level, and because Reeves carries that same committed brown gaze, the movies make us feel part of a noble — but somewhat wild and untamed — pack.
Proof came in that central action montage in North Africa, as we get to watch dogs throw themselves through space and land in a bad guy’s genitals — fangs out. Dogs pulling and twisting precious man parts like a chew toy is something moviegoers do not see very often, but that’s why we need John Wick movies. It’s why we need John Wick: because he kicks, punches and stabs bad people in the prunes all the time. And we want him to. Because in a world where morality is a liability and the people at the high table hand out empty scraps, an alpha dog’s bite is the only thing that feels like justice.
THE EX-PRESS, May 17, 2019