The third installment in the “John Wick” franchise, “John Wick 3: Parabellum,” is a near perfect action movie. The story may not be as strong as it could be, but none of that will matter to fans looking for a fist-pumping thrill. It’s the kind of movie I wish I hadn’t already seen just so I could experience it for the first time all over again.
The story picks up where part 2 left off. We find super-assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) with one hour left before he’s officially excommunicado with a $14 million price on his head. Once the seconds tick away, Wick doesn’t hold back when confronted with an army of bounty hunting killers hot on his trail. Wick is a natural born hunter / killer, so you can guess how it ends for the other hit men and women.
The non-stop barrage of violence and brutal merriment is accompanied by slick, candy-colored visuals I like to describe as “neon-noir.” The glowing lights of the big city are frequently covered in a driving rain, creating a lush, modern landscape that fits the tone just right. The last film I saw with cinematography that looks as good as this one was “Blade Runner 2049.” This is mature filmmaking from director Chad Stahelski, with every scene well framed and edited so you can see the fights.
For action fans, this film deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as “The Raid” and “The Raid 2.” “Parabellum” is the best thing to come out of the genre since Gareth Evans showed the world how to make a great action movie. The film follows what I call “‘The Raid’ Rules”: first, you can easily follow everything that’s going on in the well-paced action scenes, and second, if you see a room full of glass, somebody is going to go through it. Yee haw!
The realistic fight choreography that may feel slow to those who are accustomed to seeing rapid-fire cutting. Thankfully there’s none of that hacksaw editing here, with Stahelski content to use his camera like a static eye that observes while the brutality unfolds onscreen. The stunt choreography is breathtaking, featuring classic mano y mano combat and gunplay, but there are more inventive set pieces involving bloody violence with attack dogs, knives, and even horses. The piece de resistance is a jaw-dropping final confrontation in a building made of glass walls. It’s not just a visual feast of color and texture — it’s an all you can eat buffet.
The stunts are flawless. Absolute perfection. There’s an unforgettable knife fight in an antique store that will go down as one of the classic action scenes in modern cinema. If there ever has been a clear case for creating an Oscar category for Best Stunts, this is it. Just hand over an Academy Award already.
The film’s few stumbles are mostly related to the script, which is a half-hearted plot that’s sandwiched between sweet action scenes. It’s difficult to criticize the writing too much when the unrestrained riot of brutality is done so well and is so enjoyable to watch. The overuse of knife and swordplay becomes repetitive and the fight scenes tend to jumble together near the film’s halfway point, but just when you think they’re out of creative stunt ideas, along comes another sword and knife fight — on motorcycles.
“Parabellum” is a cut above normal mindless entertainment, especially when it comes to big budget action films. I’ve never felt as happy at the end of a movie than this one because not only does it over-deliver on what it promises, it sets the story up (in grand fashion) for another rowdy sequel. Bring it on!