At a time when so many movies are trying to be both socially significant and action-laden at the same time, it’s refreshing to have another John Wick installment. John Wick movies, and the especially the latest, John Wick 3: Parabellum, has zero interest in lecturing you on morality, social mores or human behavior. It simply wants to pound your senses into dough while absorbing you into its world of manic violence and futuristic imagery. This is Hong Kong cinema and French surrealism intermingling at a high velocity.
Beginning mere minutes after Chapter Two ended, Chapter Three sees our titular hero running from every assassin in New York after a bounty of $14 million was placed on his head by the High Table. As you might recall, the High Table is a syndicate of hired killers, replete with tattooed pinup girls at a call center and a boutique hotel covering as its epicenter. Since Wick killed a syndicate member at The Continental Hotel, which is considered sacred ground and high treason, he is immediately labeled “excommunicado.”
Suddenly, it’s open season on Wick. Determined to clear his name, and eradicate the bounty on his head, Wick takes us on a journey from New York to Casablanca, kicking ass every step of the way. The plot is as thin as rice paper and Wick’s backstory is preposterous, but the filmmakers fling it out, then keep on trucking. Having directed the previous two chapters, ex-stuntman Chad Stahleski unspools the narrative in an almost sublime, meditative style, even as a thousand bodies are flung about like confetti. It’s an impressive feat.
John Wick 3 may lack the emotional currency of the first film, but makes up for it with its outlandishly brazen and batshit crazy action sequences. We’re talking a motorcycle race, knife throwing, book bashing in a library, German Shepherds, one of which runs up a wall with the agility of a gymnast, you name it. And although the length and repetition of some of the scenes might leave you numb and frustrated, you still can’t help but be impressed.
Once again, Keanu Reeves is excellent as the reluctant hitman who just wants to return home to grieve the death of his wife (and puppy). With a grave, empty stare, Reeves’ gives a deceptively layered performance. His portrayal is one of harried exhaustion, deadpan humor and classic masculine vigilance. He’s never been better.
The supporting players are just as good, with such familiar faces as Ian McShane, Lane Reddick and Laurence Fishburne. Then there are new players, such as Halle Berry’s Sofia, Wick’s beautiful, albeit obstinate compatriot, and Kate Dillon from the show “Billions.” Known as the High Table’s Adjudicator, Dillon struts the gray-hewn streets of New York in black regalia and knee-high leather boots, as she metes out the High Table’s rules and consequences with a cold fortitude.
Even in its third installment, the John Wick franchise refuses to compromise. The violence is extreme, the body count exceeds a war movie and there are more guns and shots to the head than a video game (which might be upsetting, given the times we live in). Still, the movie has an ethereal beauty that’s unforgettable. It’s ballet, Kabuki theater and surrealist cinema with brutal twist, and its skull crushing, high-octane madness delivers.