The Austin Chronicle

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

Rated R, 131 min. Directed by Chad Stahelski. Starring Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Tobias Segal, Anjelica Houston, Saïd Taghmaoui.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 17, 2019

Is it beyond reason to nominate Keanu Reeves' unstoppable hit man John Wick as PETA Spokesperson of the Year, as well as, in no particular order, best successor to The Killer/Hard Boiled-era Chow Yun-fat mastery, and best-dressed, cordite-scented triggerman with a heart of cold crimson gold? I think not. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, the third installment in what has become an increasingly intricate and ever more epic tale of an emotionally traumatized but no less lethal hit man, caught in the crosshairs of a neon-drenched mid-death crisis, is a fatalistic fantasy that positively bleeds, bruises, and blows holes in its stoic antihero even as the odds consistently favor his imminent demise.

And to think it all started with the death of a woman and a dog, back in 2014’s surprise breakout hit John Wick. Chisel St. Bernard’s most humanistic quote upon Wick’s tombstone, if it ever comes to that: “Qui me amat, amat et canem meum (Who loves me will love my dog also).” Parabellum is an ode to redemption – or at least some strata of psychological finality – but Wick’s soulful expiation is mired in crossfire chaos and endless items of edged weaponry that border on the Freudian. For fans of this unlikely franchise, chapter three is a melee bordering on the mystical and an action masterwork laden with knockout set-pieces that oof! pull zero punches.

Original scripter Derek Kolstad, working here with co-screenwriters Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abrams, has embellished and deepened John Wick’s already knotty narrative arc into a mythic trajectory, Joseph Campbell meets the Matrix by way of sheer, imaginative badassery. (The Knights Templar? Hit Reddit if you dare.) Suffice to say that if you haven’t yet imbibed the heady melodrama of the first two Wick films, this is most definitely not the place to start. Returning characters with otherwise inscrutable agendas are everywhere, from McShane’s (American Gods) hotel proprietor-cum-underworld overseer Winston to Fishburne’s brilliant, bombastic Bowery King all join forces – or not, no spoilers here – as the bounty on the head of our titular renegade spirals into the millions. Newcomer Dillon, as an icy bureaucrat for the High Table, and martial artist/Iron Chef host Dacascos bring fresh blood to the nonstop combat shock, but it’s Reeves' tremendously walloping, physically tiring performance here that will leave audiences needing a chaser afterwards. Well, that and the ingeniously shot, surrealistic final fray-for-all, which recalls Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga versus Roger Moore’s 007 in The Man With the Golden Gun upped by orders of magnitude.

Some may beef that Baba Yaga, the Bogeyman, this assassin of assassins John Wick is perhaps wearing his welcome – like his perfectly tailored and trademarked Luca Mosca suits – a bit thin. I disagree. Any initially out-of-nowhere action franchise that can maintain this bedeviling level of elaborate and exhilarating complexity is a welcome addition/addiction to an otherwise musclebound genre currently in thrall to the Marvel-ous.

For an interview with the director, read "All Guns Blazing With Chad Stahelski," May 16.

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