Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

John Wick has become a definitive name in modern action cinema. The first film established a certain visual flair by leaning hard into gun fu tropes, while Chapter 2 ramped it up with an ever-expanding world while maintaining focus on phenomenal choreography. The series carries an almost surreal air, giving just enough information to link these sequences of violence together, and Chapter 3 – Parabellum runs wild with the threat established at the end of the previous film.

A common complaint I’ll have about modern spectacle films is their apparent need to justify the visuals. Films like Alita and Detective Pikachu dive into concepts they don’t need to as if it will add some sort of meaning, as if a unique style isn’t reason enough. John Wick stands above so many action films because it realizes just how little you need to give; its minimal set-up lends the franchise an ethereal quality. Watching Parabellum is like falling into a violent dream.

For the third chapter, the world of John Wick has already been set in motion; assassins line every street, the entire world coming down on our protagonist who just wanted to avenge his dog. Parabellum basks in the freedom allotted by the end of Chapter 2 – however, this also means the film lacks the sense of escalation from the previous films. How do you go further than this suggestion that the organization is literally everywhere?

What it lacks in mystique, Chapter 3 makes up for with stunning choreography – this has always been a high point of the series, but it reaches new heights here. A motorcycle chase along a bridge, an attack dog-assisted shootout in Morocco, a barn with weaponized horses – each scene is striking in its physicality while touring several vibrant locales. We know what John Wick can do with a pencil, but what about a library book?

Chapter 3 introduces two new major characters, one which reinforces the mystique while the other adds an entirely new layer to the franchise. Asia Kate Dillon appears as the Adjudicator, carrying a severe presence (and a pair of gloves) as they promise future hellfire upon everyone that dared to assist John Wick during the previous film. They appear emotionally void, a heartless enforcer of the High Table’s will – just inhuman enough to remind us that this world is a mere simulacrum of our own.

Zero, played by Mark Dacascos, becomes an absolute scene stealer. Despite its bizarre nature, most everyone within this franchise treats their situation as they should, living in states of paranoia that any stranger could be in a position to profit from their death. Zero, however, operates as a disconnected fanboy, someone who admires John Wick and hunts him down as much because he wants to see the legend in action as he feels guided by the High Table.

This character carries an almost humorous tone, but his presence is so out of place that it instead turns uncanny. In such a dire world, a character this carefree is the best way to capture someone truly mad. One thing I found lacking in the first two John Wick films was a compelling villain for Wick to face off against; the villains were people in power, not ones who did their own fighting. Despite not being the true villain of the story, Zero plays a perfect dragon to the High Table, allowing the film to build up to a distinctive climactic battle.

John Wick is simply the most consistently strong action franchise Hollywood has put out in decades. It has never missed a beat, pushing past easy options to make sure every scene carries some new purpose, whether building its macabre world or exploring radically stylized methods of violence. The series has always been a beautiful ballet of blood and bullets, and the third manages to outshine its predecessors on nearly all levels.

4 Stars Out of 5

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