'John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum'
The first 20 minutes of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum are as perfect as an action movie gets. There are knives, horses, and NBA center Boban Marjanović. It’s pretty much heaven.
Then we settle into the John Wick-iverse. Many of the little tidbits they’ve tacked on are great; despite all of these movies taking place over a period of several weeks, Wick has already become the celebrity of celebrities in assassin circles. The man hunting John even admits to being a fanboy while trying to stab Wick in the heart.
But ultimately, director Chad Stahelski, a team of four screenwriters, and (presumably) star Keanu Reeves can’t help but build wildly upon the idea that assassins lurk everywhere. It was great in John Wick 2 to see a bunch of seemingly normal people look down at their phones, get a notification that a dead Wick is worth millions, and spring to life in an attempt to kill him. But now that we’ve reached the third go-around, and there’s a constant push for more, it’s getting a little old.
John Wick 3 kicks off with our titular hero (Reeves) on the run, mere hours after he was excommunicated from assassin society by the High Table. Winston (Ian McShane) has given him a head start, but New York City’s finest murderers are on the hunt. To get to Casablanca and attempt to plead his case to the folks in charge, Wick bloodily treks through a knife factory and horse stable, engaging in maybe the best action sequences of the series.
Eventually, he talks a mysterious woman named The Director (Anjelica Huston) into helping him, reaches old companion Sofia (Halle Berry) in Morocco, and negotiates with Jerome Flynn – Bronn himself – for a way to bypass the bounty on his head. On paper, this all sounds great. In execution, it slows what was a breakneck romp into a dull crawl. The easy response is “well, not every moment can be nonstop action,” but The Raid and its sequel proved that’s not entirely true. We don’t always need a detailed backstory, especially if it’s not a very good one.
And John Wick’s overall conceit is wearing thin. Don’t get me wrong; I still love seeing Reeves and Laurence Fishburne interact, and dropping Berry and Huston and Jason Mantzoukas into the mix is a win. And yes, that was the Keymaker from The Matrix Reloaded as Wick’s doctor. In general, what they’re doing pops the fanboy in me across the board. But, as they say in pro wrestling, “and then the bell rang.” Putting fun elements in play is one thing, but you have to execute. And even if they executed brilliantly, John Wick 3 is 131 minutes long. No action movie should be over 2 hours; you’re just asking for yawns.
In addition, because they had no idea what they were creating would blow up this big, the previous Wick movies laid a very loose foundation for all this. We enjoy Winston and Charon (Lance Reddick) as characters because they’ve helped Wick in the past, but their character motivations are flimsy at best. When they’re suddenly asked to make big decisions that influence the plot, you can’t help but wonder what exactly is going on. Who is on whose side? What’s the catalyst behind these choices? It’s a catch-22; you can’t expand the John Wick-iverse without prompting questions, which then take you out of the Wick-iverse entirely.
Don’t get me wrong; John Wick 3 is a gem and I would be OK with this series never ending. Reeves has found the perfect post-Matrix role, and the fact that he’s bringing his buddies along with him and embracing the insanity is a thing of beauty. I just can’t help but hold them to a higher standard now; I also can’t turn my brain off and focus only on the action when it’s accompanied by 100 minutes of meandering plot. John Wick fans are going to love this movie; action fans will too. I just hope John Wick 4 takes a step back and realizes that, when it comes to armor-piercing weapons and knives in the head, more is indeed better. When it comes to plot, not so much.