Most action film franchises stumble upon their third releases, often relying on the franchise’s name recognition to carry the film’s success. This often comes at the expense of a cohesive storyline and characters that fans have come to love in the series. Spider-Man 3, Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift, and Terminator 3 are prime examples of erratic story arcs and unfamiliar characters that audiences felt apathetic towards. However, in the case of John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum, audiences are treated to a heavily stylized action film that builds upon the John Wick universe and immerses the viewers in the broad world that John Wick inhabits.
Picking up immediately after the events of the second film, Parabellum follows Keanu Reeves’ iconic antihero as he is excommunicated from the community of assassins and is hunted by hitmen intent on capturing the $14,000,000 bounty on him. This leads him on a global adventure to clear his name and reinstate himself amongst the assassins. In the process, Reeves’ character crosses paths with a former mentor played by Angelica Huston, as well as an old colleague turned leader, played by Halle Berry. Reprising their roles from the previous two films are Ian McShane as Winston, the manager of the Continental Hotel, and Laurence Fishbourne, who is plays the charismatic underground leader of the Bowery.
The strength of the supporting cast is vital to the John Wick films, given that the John Wick character is a man of few words who lets his actions dictate his character, much like Clint Eastwood’s gunslinger in Sergio Leone’s classic Man with No Name Trilogy. Halle Berry was a welcome addition to the cast, as her character Sofia gave additional insight into Wick’s past and established the morals that motivated his violent return to this world in the first film. Also, Sofia’s combat style and use of attack dogs was a visual treat for fans looking for a unique blend of combat action. However, in my opinion, it was Mark Dacascos’ performance as the sushi chef/ninja master Zero that stole the show with his blend of humor and sadistic violence.
Despite the stellar performances by its supporting actors, Parabellum’s identity lies in its heavily stylized, brutal fight scenes and action sequences. From the opening minutes where John must fight hordes of hitmen as he escapes New York, to a brutal gunfight in the heart of Casablanca’s exotic open-air markets, the balance between martial arts action and special-forces based gunplay is superb. Casting aside the quick cut and frenetic pace of other action films from this era, the John Wick series is instrumental in slowing down the action on screen so that viewers can see and appreciate all the intricate techniques and maneuvers that each actor performs. Former stunt coordinator turned director Chad Stahelski has reinvented the way that action films are choreographed and shot with all three of his John Wick releases, and I’m chomping at the bit to see what other visual tricks he has in store for his other upcoming projects.
It isn’t hyperbole to say that the John Wick series is the benchmark that every other action film must aspire to beat. In fact, I believe that this series of films is a masterclass in stunt performance and choreography and would serve as a perfect example of a film that should break down the barrier for stunt performers and choreographers to finally get the recognition and credit that they rightfully deserve. Hopefully the Academy of Film Arts and the Hollywood Foreign Press are paying close attention to the sales figures and buzz from movie fans across the globe, showing that a well-made action film is just as deserving of award recognition as any period drama or Meryl Streep tear jerker.
Verdict – A+