“John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum picks up not long after “John Wick: Chapter 2” ended. But this time, the movie goes on about 10 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 “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 simple and pure.
It’s about going from place to place to try to get a meeting with the guy who runs a secret organization of assassins while avoiding being sliced open by said assassins.
It even has a dispatch office run by tattooed, bespectacled women in short-sleeved dresses. Among other duties, it seems, they text the killers whenever a bounty goes out on someone’s head.
A new character, The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon, “Orange Is the New Black”), doles 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 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).
And Wick gets back to New York in time for a huge showdown.
Director Chad Stahelski returns to the series for the third time, bringing his rare brand of streamlined, fluid action; 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 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 glass chamber. Yet the backgrounds also inform the action. Everything flows together.
Reeves is perfect, zen-like, barely speaking (the only non-quipping action star), but impeccably dressed. During the fighting, he’s thrashed and bloodied, and gets tired, which makes him more human, less like a special effect.
Still, 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, it might have been more special to skip the franchise. Similarly, the Reeves franchise “The Matrix” would have benefited 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.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne
Written by: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes