John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

*. More John Wick. Which means . . . more. Even the title seems a bit too much. I mean, did they need the Chapter 3? Parabellum would already set it apart from the first two episodes.
*. I have some sympathy for what they were trying to do with this one. They had a successful franchise that consisted of a laconic hero who goes around killing people while avoiding people who are trying to kill him. That’s about it. There’s a weird comic-book mythology propping things up, but it’s all very silly and superficial. You’re just here for the fights.
*. And what fights! They really are impressive. I can’t imagine the weeks if not months they must have spent training and choreographing for them. Far, far more time, I’m sure, than was spent by Keanu Reeves getting into his character or having to learn his handful of lines.
*. But the fights are about all there is to get excited by. There are plenty of action scenes that they do their best to make new and interesting. John fights a giant in a library and beats him to death with a book. There are fights with horses and on horseback. Fights on motorbikes. Fights with dogs. Fights underwater. Fights against a busload of armoured goons that have to be shot about ten times each to kill them, because only shooting goons three times was getting dull.
*. The script, however, really is awful. Both in terms of the dialogue and structure. There is little of the humour that was on tap in the previous episode — which isn’t to say it takes itself seriously, ever. In particular Asia Kate Dillon’s character is left hanging without any good lines at all, when she could have been a riot. Meanwhile the plot is just the usual excuse to hang the fight scenes on. John Wick travels to the Sahara to meet up with the chief of the High Table, pledge fealty, cut off his finger, and then . . . decide when he gets back to NYC that he’d rather just keep fighting everyone. He lives in a kind of superhero version of the zombie apocalypse: not the war of all against all but the war of all against one. Which, as his sometime mentor puts it, makes the odds about even.
*. Also problematic in terms of the structure of the story is the amount of time spent with ill-defined and seemingly unimportant characters. Anjelica Huston and Halle Berry stand out in this regard. I suppose the door is open for them to return in later chapters of this saga, but just based on what we get here I really didn’t know who either of their characters were, or what function they served. Their parts are too big to be cameos, but at the same time they’re totally superfluous. Jerome Flynn’s Berrada is another such character, and one I don’t think we’ll be seeing any more of. But why even bother introducing him then? He doesn’t provide John with any genuinely helpful information, since the Elder will decide whether or not he wants to meet anyway. Berrada only talks a bit about the coins and markers he makes and recites some poetry before turning into just another bad guy with a gang of mooks.
*. We brings us back to the fights. More fights. More bad guys with even more tattoos. More guns. “Art is pain. Life is suffering.” This is Anjelica Huston’s character (I can’t even remember her name now). It’s both an aesthetic and a philosophy. In case you didn’t make the connection between the violent dance of the martial arts and ballet, it’s made explicit for you here. Which means John can probably do some cool dance moves as well.
*. Despite all the effort they made, I have to admit I came away from this one a bit disappointed. I didn’t like the first John Wick at all, but I thought John Wick: Chapter 2 a lot of fun. Chapter 3, however, struck me as only more of the same, and too much of it. Even the final battle looks almost identical in terms of its setting to the fight at the end of Chapter 2. They really like smashing people through glass in these movies. It goes with John being buffeted around like a human pinball as he gets shot, stabbed, tossed from buildings, and bounced off the hood of cars.
*. But while I appreciate the need to go in a slightly different direction, to expand the franchise by adding to the mythology and back story, I found all of this stuff to be pretty thin. Put another way, I’m not sure I want more John Wick. Which made me all the more disappointed when we end things here with yet another cliffhanger. I am going to get more John Wick whether I want him or not. Also more Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne (I can’t remember the names of their characters either). And more sexy switchboard girls. And more ninjas recruited from the local sushi bar. And more tattoos. And more bullet casings scattered on the ground. And more people being tossed through windows and glass displays. I like all of this stuff, but at the same time I feel like enough is enough.

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