Bone-crunching action trumps everything in the marvelous third Wick outing.
The grotesque and sometimes beautiful “John Wick” franchise is the product of decades of first-person shooter video games and generations of wildly inventive martial arts films. On one level, it’s a bit of a shame that the stellar hero at the center of it all is a round-eyed Westerner. In “Parabellum,” our rough and capable protagonist Wick does endless battle with hoards of assassins, many of which do not share his ethnic origins.
But what makes everything work, isn’t solely the balletic fight sequences and melodic cacophony of automatic gun-fire. The magic is that everyone, regardless of race, national origin, age, or gender is in on the joke. It is MURDER that binds them altogether, acting as a quirky kind of cinematic currency leveling the playing field in the kitschy, bloody alternate Wicki-verse.
In case you missed it, Keanu Reeves plays John Wick, the supernatural assassin, who has betrayed a mysterious guild referred to as the High Table. Back in 2014, with the first episode in the franchise, Wick was retired from the organization. But when some Russian gangsters killed a beloved dog left to him by his late wife, Wick goes on a one-man killing spree through the underworld. All that killing and killing and killing just started a cycle enveloping him in even more carnage in 2017’s “Chapter 2.” With “Parabellum,” the story continues taking up exactly where the last one ended. John’s on the run, and with a $14 million bounty on his head, everyone, and I mean everyone, is trying to kill him.
In one early, amazing sequence, Wick goes toe-to-toe with 7 foot 3 NBA player Boban Marjanović. Sandwiched between the stacks in a public library, the two square up and do battle. And Wick skillfully defends himself with what is at his disposal—books. It’s comical and brutal to see the flailing big man and the much smaller, quicker one beat on one another with hard-bound volumes. Those long basketball player arms are a hinderance in close quarters, but when they do land… Needless to say, the written word makes for one effective killing implement.
An exquisitely crafted series of impossible action sequences make “Chapter 3” necessary viewing. And the expansion of the Wick mythology hints at something even bigger on the horizon. The universe launched back in 2014 is very dense, if also, completely ridiculous. The off-the-rails murder industry appears to be a driver of the global economy, and towering above (and below) the wheels of production is John Wick, with his panther-like combination of Kung-fu incorporating automatic pistols.
There are sequences in this movie that dazzle with a unique blending of computer generated effects with the acrobatic talent of skilled martial artists. The breakout here has to be Mark Dacascos, who does his best impression of Jet Li, while giving the killer Zero a saucy attitude that is good for more than a few uncomfortable laughs. As both Zero and Wick mow down opponents, it’s impossible to feel sorry for any of them. They are all participants in the killing game, which for better or worse, is the norm in Wicki-verse. Remember, everyone is treated equally by the bullet.
With this stunning bit of unbridled physicality, Reeves has mounted a late acting resurgence. It’s led to a reevaluation of his career. At 54, the once boyish actor has become a serious international leading man once again. And with the third “Bill and Ted” film in production, look for his box office mettle to be tested. If Reeves makes smart choices with roles that become him, his legacy will endure.
“Chapter 3” is the kind of brutal action extravaganza worthy of the big screen. The visceral quality of the events cannot be ignored. And even though you’ll be clapping as nameless and, often faceless, attackers are dispatched repeatedly in a variety of grizzly ways, you needn’t worry about the shallow and callous treatment of life. The Wicki-verse is something else altogether, purgatory between Heaven and Hell, where you have to die to move on.