John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
The John Wick films might be one of the most surprising franchises to spawn in modern history. The original 2014 film was meant as a one-off small homage to action films of yore, but the love received has spawned two sequels, and who is to say more, for the future. The latest John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) continues to expand the series as well as studio Lionsgate’s pockets.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum picks off an hour after the ending of John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), which found the out-of-retirement assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) marked as excommunicado and with a bounty on his head from the underground secret assassin organization he used to belong to. This newest film follows Wick as he evades the bounty-hunters after him having the chase range from New York to Morocco.
The John Wick films are the closest mainstream audiences will ever get to art-house action films. The action sequences are shot with a confidence and patience that has them play out over long shots. Clearly the stunt-man history from the director Chad Stahelski has paid off, making fight scenes all the more engaging and immersive compared to the choppy sequences we are familiar with from super-hero flicks today. As John Wick had been intended to be a nod to old martial arts films, the quality and inventiveness of those exchanges are carried on here. Fights are able to involve old 18th century pistols, swords, horses, dogs, and even belts. The lighting and sound design are carefully crafted, given that these action exchanges are the heart of the film; this makes all the blows and cuts to seem all the more realistic, helping the audience feel the stakes and pains that the titular character and his enemies receive.
Like its predecessors Parabellum was simply an excuse to stage fun action sequences; however, the previous films had had some form of a story arc that had created a rich “universe” of assassins. There was a certain intellectual spin to the setting and plot that allowed viewers to read the franchise as a criticism and analysis of the modern capitalistic state. The assassin organization that John Wick belongs to has extremely strict rules, and yet they operate in a land of extreme violence. Yet we see that that violence begets wealth, and in fact many of the fight sequences are shot in places of luxury, with a particular final fight scene having ads playing on the background. Stahelski is most likely pointing to the competitiveness and cut-throat world that capitalism has become , with ironic rules set in place so as to seem reasonable (what better setting then than New York City’s financial district). These undertones allowed the John Wick films to take a further dimension with viewers, so as to set it apart from other sibling films with gratuitous violence.
Parabellum, keeps many of these themes and artistry alive, and yet it fails to move the story forward in any way. The perspective where these films were just an excuse for action sequences becomes more apparent in this third outing; by the end of the film we seem to be right where we had started. Many fight scenes seemed to drag on a bit too long, to the point that you wonder if there are enough people left to fight in the cities John Wick visits. No doubt that Lionsgate is very aware of the financial hit they have on their hands, and they have decided to try and stretch out the finale and conclusion amongst as many films as they can.
Unfortunately this makes John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum a shallower film that its predecessors. The progression that the previous two films had made are maintained by this new entry, but one can’t help feel that a sense of stagnation is starting to settle amongst this franchise. Better quit while you’re ahead John.