Home » Years » 2019 » John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum •••

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum •••

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane
Director: Chad Stahelski
Screenplay: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten
Action/Crime/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 131 minutes
Release Date: May 17, 2019


Scott, if you had a bellum, and I had a bellum wouldn’t we together have a Parabellum?

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, your wit is wicked — John Wicked to be exact. Let’s recap.

Well, you’re half right… Picking up just one hour after the events of John Wick: Chapter 2, we find John Wick (Keanu Reeves) looking to recover his stolen Mustang. He is still excommunicado from the High Table and goes to the NYC Public Library to get access to a crucifix that is his ticket to sanctuary in Casablanca. Hot on his heels is an adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) who is visiting all John’s friends from the last chapter. They are all on notice that if they don’t turn over Wick, they will face a similar or worse fate than his.

The adjudicator discovers that several higher-ups among the High Table have assisted Wick in escaping his death sentence. One of them is Winston (Ian McShane) of The Continental, who is told he has seven days to get his affairs in order. Another is the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who is given notice but pushes back and insists that he steps down for no one. The Director (Anjelica Huston), who runs a ballet troupe, accepts hand-maiming as her punishment. Wick seeks guidance from The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui) and is told by another assassin, Berrada (Jerome Flynn), that he can only find The Elder by wandering to exhaustion in the Sahara Desert.

Scott, I went back and watched John Wick: Chapter 2 just to make sure I was prepared for Chapter 3. I am very surprised that there is so much plot in these films. The first John Wick film had a very thin premise – some thugs killed a puppy that assassin John Wick’s cancer-killed wife gave him as a going away present – and now he’s on a rampage to kill the thugs as revenge. In Chapter 2, however, Wick is excommunicated from the “den of thieves” crime organization for his actions and he seeks refuge in The Continental Hotel – where apparently there is honor among thieves and no one is allowed to harm a peer assassin.

In this third installment, Wick has a $14-million dollar contract out on him and he wants to get to the head of the High Table to pledge subservience so that he might live and keep his wife’s memory alive. Ultimately, however, he teams up with hotel-owner Winston who turns the tables on the High Table and double-crosses John to curry favor with the adjudicator. By the end of the film, John is taken in by the king of the Bowery and is now getting ready to go on the offensive against Winston and the High Table.

This is a lot of plot for a series of films that has such a high body count. But don’t get me wrong, This is an aggressively violent film. I’ve never seen so many kill shots to the head. And these are personal – Wick holds victim after victim by the scruff and shoots them between the eyes at close range.

Without a doubt, this is an anti-hero movie with a Bond-like structure. Wick is only endeared to the audience for two reasons: his “save the cat” moment where he takes care of his dog; and the fact that he is being persecuted for his act of revenge. We never see Wick kill anyone who is – for lack of a better phrase – worthy of being killed. He is, in his own way, honest. He abides by the rules of the Continental Hotel and the High Table – except as necessary to save his own hide. And even then, he breaks the rules only when he’s been personally violated. (I’m reminded of the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. Bugs is pretty much a good guy until someone tries to wrest him from his hole – and then he goes on the attack. So, yes, I just compared assassin John Wick to Bugs Bunny.)

Greg, John Wick 3 is an artful cacophony of killing. Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne are the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of mayhem. When they team up, Hollywood’s fake blood supplies dry up. The film clocks in at 2 hours and 10 minutes, with only those 10 minutes reserved for storyline and dialogue – the rest is the of Cirque du Soliel of pure carnage.

Okay, maybe I exaggerate. There is a good story here to complement all the fleshy eviscerations. Perhaps more importantly, there are some great memorable characters in John Wick 3. Fishburne was pretty good but there are several bad dudes and one really bad dudette who deliver some head-turning (aka head-smashing) performances. Asia Kate Dillon plays a devilishly charismatic adjudicator; I want to see more of this character and I’d love to hear about her backstory. Anjelica Huston and Jerome Flynn also shine as vicious badasses that we love to hate in this film.

This year we’re analyzing the message of the movies, and I believe that three messages in John Wick 3 come in loud and clear. First, we are taught that to survive in this world, you need to take years of brutally hard martial arts training from the most abusive of instructors. Second, remember that your actions have “consequences”. And third, don’t ever mess with a woman who owns crotch-chewing dogs. If you love images of male groins being torn to shreds by canines, this movie is for you.

I enjoyed John Wick despite the fact that I can’t find any redeeming value to the film. I was disheartened to see children as young as 7 years old in my viewing. There is no way that a young person can extract a heroic construct from any character in this film. I was impressed with the depth of the world building in the franchise and the technical prowess of the filmmakers. But I can’t recommend anyone view this movie – it’s truly a “popcorn film.” I give John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum just 3 Reels out of 5.

There is no way that you can call John Wick a hero. He’s an assassin (albeit retired), pure and simple. Like Michael Corleone in The Godfather, they keep pulling him back in. His redeeming qualities are the love for his lost wife and dog. He also is loyal to his friends and follows the rules of the High Table – until such a time that he doesn’t (some would argue justifiably). He looks a lot like a villain – except that he’s the main character of the story. As Wick is unrepentant and unredeemed, this makes him a classic anti-hero in our book. (Quite literally if you read our book Reel Heroes and Villains). I give John Wick 3 out of 5 (anti) Heroes.

Finally, it would stretch the limits of believability to claim there is some underlying message to this story. It’s a tragedy that a man who has hung up his gun must pull it out again to avenge his dog, but it’s not how adults in a civil society would resolve a conflict. I give this film 1 out of 5 message points.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

Greg, you’ve nailed it. Despite the dearth of any reason to enjoy this movie at all, we end up being mesmerized by some of the best and most creative fight-scene choreography Hollywood has ever produced. The True Hero of the film is John Wick’s underarm deodorant. I don’t know the product name but this deodorant allows our killing machine Wick to fight nonstop for hours without anyone commenting on his body odor. His sweat-stained and blood-splattered Men-In-Black suit also makes John Wick’s dry cleaner another great hero. Overall, this film is fun to watch and I award it 3 Reels out of 5.

Our (anti-)hero Wick is a somewhat likeable and honorable killing machine, and he shows several of the Great Eight traits of heroes. He is smart, strong, and resilient with a capital R. In fact, he’s a little too resilient. At the end of this film, his is shot several times and thrown off a 5-story building. During the fall, he ricochets off of steel railings and splats onto concrete. Like Timex, he takes a licking but keeps on ticking, to a ridiculous degree, but who cares, this is John Freaking Wick after all. I give him 3 Hero points out of 5.

We’ve gone over the absence of any real message here, other than the message that it sucks to live in the world of assassins who go after other assassins with every assassin being killed except our favorite assassin John Freaking Wick. So yeah, no message worth mentioning other than always apply the best deodorant because you never know when you’ll be sent on a 3-day long killing rampage. I’ll also give the film only 1 message point but who cares when no one goes to a John Freaking Wick movie to sop up a message.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

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