While John Wick has the distinguished record of killing the most people with standardized testing tools, his franchise hasn't always been at the forefront at what many may look at to be a stale genre. A genre that just in this decade has given us Mad Max: Fury Road, Skyfall and the strongest entries in the Mission: Impossible franchise. That doesn't sound too dull, does it? Well, that list doesn't get much bigger than that when it comes to clean and crunchy English action. When John Wick first hit back in 2014 there was a sign, unbalanced as it may be, but still a sign of something that could hit the top of that list. Thankfully three years later that's exactly what happened with John Wick: Chapter 2, an invigorating box opener of visual drool and a stalwart archetype of the "Superhuman-did he just kill him with (insert object between your couch cushions) three times?" subgenre of action that until John Wick: Chapter 2 was being dominated in Asian films. With the latest entry in the John Wick franchise coming out just two years after a defining moment for not only the series but also for the genre it regionally redefined, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is hoping the repeat the bold statement made by its predecessor. Parabellum has no problems repeating, that in turn leads to more problems than solutions.
Chad Stahelski is back in the director's seat again with American saint Keanu Reeves once again reprising the stiff-get off my ass John Wick. Stahelski is proving he's simply one of the best action directors working today and just melds so well with Reeves stupid ability to show me that even when he's 267 years old, he'll be able to do more than me even if I was a triathlete. Taking place literally minutes after Chapter 2, Parabellum sees Wick in the line of fire of what seems like, well, everyone. A starting and ever increasing 14 million dollar bounty drifts above Wicks' head which leads to a senseless mob of ignorant assassins that couldn't find the time to heed the warning that is the "Baba Yaga". Fans should feel at home with (most of) the series best characters making a return, specifically Laurence Fishburn's return as the Bowery King challenges the amount of fun a six-year-old would have after slowly watching a bundle of tickets roll out of a machine at Chuck E' Cheese. A few new characters pop into the mix welcomingly, Halle Berry makes a surprisingly brief but extremely loud appearance as Sofia, Asia Kate Dillon plays an Adjudicator, a stern figure that adds some much-needed depth to the world of Wick. Mark Dacascos also plays a new character, me (named Zero in the movie) a John Wick superfan. Zero and Sofia are both characters that should've stayed around a bit longer; they light up the screen with power and wit and prevent a number of scenes from tasting the same.
If we are talking meat and potatoes of John Wick, then the action is the Shepherd's pie. Parabellum is a brutal breathless behemoth with a greater emphasis on the weight and just overall feeling of claustrophobia rather than the visual flair and sleek pace that drove Chapter 2 into a distinct class of action movie. Parabellum had literal moments where a smile graced my face and I slowly realized I hadn’t took a breath in 30 seconds. Everything here is so much more condensed and honestly feels like scenes ripped straight from a war film, rest assured Parabellum is still distinct. Wick & Co. feel trapped almost constantly, slowly pushing up the front, whether that be in a corridor or just a simple square room, everything here is more focused on strategy rather than a set piece surrounding it. The set pieces are more objects than environments this time around, dogs, books, motorcycles all ripple with rule breaking weight. Strangely there's an increased usage of VFX which is less of a reliance and more akin to a responsible, supportive mother who chaperones at the prom. Parabellum is a strong case to how VFX should be used to elevate the scene; they do, but, John Wick isn't the place to use them. The John Wick series has some of the most fluid action east of the Pacific, and while VFX can help, they can also make some of the scenes feel unnaturalistic.
Laurence Fishburne in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, courtesy of Lionsgate
Obviously, the John Wick series is notorious for being over the top, and well, that doesn't change. If for some reason you’re looking for a vapid moment in the action then watching Wick throw what seems like three dozen knives at a guy might not be ideal for you. This is the exact kind of energy that made this franchise so memorable in this decade, and thankfully, those moments are still cleanly painted throughout. If we want to take a second to talk about the scintillating sound work here, I may keep you for a lecture because what's here is so detailed it would be a major shame if it went under-awarded this year. From gunshots piercing the woodwork to swords attempting to rip glass, there's no question this will be one of the best sounding movies of the year, and it would be a disservice to not seek Parabellum out on the best sounding system you can find.
Depending on if you care about the characters or the world more in the John Wick series, or if you're interested in a more balanced diet, a few issues may pop up for you. The first installment tackled a focus on Wick as a character the most leaving people wondering more and more about the legitimately intriguing underworld that wanted to poke its head out more, leaving the first film swaying. John Wick: Chapter 2 brought that but much need equitability, characters get some much-needed expansion, and the world became a threating treat, it's this how the John Wick series kills the competition, ironically, with writing tools. Parabellum regrettably treads back to the unbalanced sway of the first film, but this time instead of putting to much focus on the characters rather than the world, Parabellum chooses to focus almost strictly on the world rather than the characters. That's not to say Parabellum is devoid of any character moment cause it's not, build up occurs but your resentment may vary depending on how you feel about sequel set up because the pay off is gonna have to wait. The addendum of lore additions are more than welcome and makes the prospect of a more evenly distributed Chapter 4 more than just rousing. That being said, Parabellum should've known not to trap itself in this situation of reliance.
Keanu Reeves & Anjelica Huston in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, courtesy of Lionsgate
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is a John Wick movie full stop. Take that as you will, this is still an absurdly violent cartoonish romp with a self-aware heart and one of the few films where the term "dragged out" can be used in a positive tone. Parabellum is far from a pallid action movie, it does, however, slam the breaks of a severely backloaded SUV at a four-way intersection leaving itself and you knowing where it could've gone and where it can go next. Parabellum doesn't distance itself from past series mistakes of imbalance and while still a gorgeous looking film Parabellum isn't nearly as visually bold as it's predecessor. And that's okay cause Parabellum is still a distinct entry in the John Wick series, the action more confined than ever before, the sound more oppressive than ever before and a crew staying as passionate and having just as much fun as the sociopathic eyes watching the heads explode.
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