What makes an action-movie a palatable action-movie, and not predominantly an action dump-site, where all cringey action scenes are disposed together? Chad Stahelski, the director who has been sticking with John Wick film series since the release of the first film in 2014, might just have the answer.
Stahelski and Derek Kolstad, the creator of John Wick, both returned to direct and write the third chapter of the film series respectively. Of course, no John Wick film will ever be complete without Keanu Reeves, who reprised his role as the titular character in this sequel which bears the name; John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum. Needless to say, the meaning of the word Parabellum doesn’t even come close to similar sounding words like paratroopers, portobello or pendulum, though the true meaning of it does describe this chapter faithfully.
In continuation to John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), the Boogeyman himself is now targeted by assassins worldwide after he goes ‘Excommunicado’, a declaration of exile by an underworld network of crime lords dubbed the High Table, with a hefty $14 million bounty placed on his head. By the grace of his former friend, Winston (Ian McShane) who delayed the communication of Wick’s status to the High Table, the Boogeyman has an hour of head start against the inevitable worldwide hunt for him. Winston is also the manager of Continental Hotel New York, which, as far as High Table is concerned, is a sacred ground where killing is strictly prohibited.
If you have been following Chapter 2, then you would have realized that in this chapter, the tides are turned against John Wick, and it is presumed that he will have to fight his way through hordes of assassins eyeing for the bounty. While that is still largely true, there’s a lingering question that Kolstad wants the audience to ponder, and to have it answered. The question remains as, “What can John Wick do, now that he is bearing that curse, and even for a highly trained assassin himself, his days seemed numbered?”
With that, Wick has to harness whatever willpower that’s left and any meaningful connection that he has in the past. No further info to be given away here, and it’s only appropriate to say that there’s where characters of Halle Berry and Anjelica Huston come into play as Sofia and The Director, respectively. As time is ticking away, the High Table amp-up their pursuit by sending in their very own high ranking member to bring the case to a close.
If you’re not familiar with the shadowy world where Wick tussles around with members of the High Table, you will have the opportunity to familiarize with it as soon as the film rolls. Ambients are artistically dark. Majority of the plot happens when the sun goes down, with occasional rains to boost that delicious noir tone. Each scene happens in front of backgrounds filled by set pieces that feels gothic, classy, and expensive, even. Every alley and back-road which is dimly but expressively lit seems threatening to you, as assassins can appear out from nowhere, even in a peaceful library. And apart from the occasionally multi-lingual aspect of the film, the next widely used language is this: brutality.
I really mean it. If you find certain action scenes from other flicks to be too violent, then Parabellum is certainly not palatable to you. Point-blank headshots are the gold standard here, and anybody that can count precisely how many are there in the film deserves a medal. But the true showpieces in Parabellum are not about guns. They are often found when the weapons of question involve more primitive options, like knives, daggers, and even some common items that you could never expect to be deadly.
Here is where Chad Stahelski differentiates John Wick from other randomly put together action pieces. You will be amazed by the amount of pain that your brain recognizes from the fight scenes that happen on-screen. I refer to that as the ‘ouch-factor’, and Parabellum just kills it. Whereas other choreographers might take out a hose and spray blood towards the audience to intensify scene violence, the crew at Parabellum minimized blood presence to balance out the sadistic action. This careful decision has ensured that the message still gets delivered, and the audience still experience nail-biting tension throughout the fight scenes without being drowned in a meaningless sea of blood.
If there’s one gripe I have with the fight scenes, it has to be at the very few instances where things got obviously repetitive. “Oh, those guys are definitely going to get head-shot again”, or maybe, “Oh, he’s going to get smashed through that glass again.” I mean, come on, those repeated sequences aren’t going to net Parabellum any meaningful screen time, and I’m quite surprised that minutes, or even seconds of such footage slipped its way through the final cut.
And yet, the overall beauty in the action choreography and the stylish take on those scenes overshadowed any weakness that it has shown. A pleasant surprise would be the bike chase scene, where it looks mandatory that Keanu Reeves had to ride the bike himself while dishing out a gun, some jabs, and kicks. There might be some unseen assistance for his bike during filming, but the confirmed fact that the whole sequence was filmed at actual speed is a massive statement itself. Mark Dacascos bundled up all the action goodies with his portrayal as a dynamic, unconventional villain, whose name is even more ‘unmentionable’ than Voldemort’s. That’s correct, I still had no idea of his character’s name till I looked it up. It’s Zero. And you’re welcomed.
In between those countless killings, Stahelski had managed to slot in a moment where Wick’s ‘professional courtesy’ comes into play once more, despite being mocked by his opponents. The result is a pretty funny and refreshing scene that put a much needed break in the perpetual bloodshed. While that is respectable, not much can be said towards the rest of the comedic service which scatters around the plot. Some are quite hilarious ‘within that moment’ but forgettable right after, while others felt downright awkward to laugh at.
Now, let’s talk about that ending. I’ll just be direct. There will be a sequel to Parabellum. They are not ready to retire the franchise yet, at least not now. If you keep this firmly in mind, you will get to digest the ending much, much better, while keeping expectations straight. As it stands, the closure of Parabellum is a little shocking, seems a little hastened, but is an acceptable one, no less. Just ignore the final 30 seconds or so. Because, that is just a tasteless, thinly veiled, advertisement to hoodwink the audience to return for Chapter 4.
Addict Verdict, AV:
There’s simply no way to deny the charm that Keanu Reeves had brought on set for the John Wick film series, and he continued to do that effortlessly in Chapter 3 — Parabellum. Director Chad Stahelski blended that Keanu magic with his own forte of slick action choreography, underpinned by a stunning underworld iteration of New York. Together with the renewed and heightened intensity that Parabellum brings to the table, the film undoubtedly leaves fans celebrating, movie lovers rejoicing and haters bearing even deeper hate towards the franchise.-TheFilmAddict
Originally published at https://www.thefilmaddict.com on May 23, 2019.