John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (2019) Review

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum is the Ming vase of action cinema

Elevating high concept to dizzying new heights, director Chad Stahelski returns us to the world of John Wick exactly where he left us last time: having broken the assassins’ creed, Wick (Keanu Reeves) faces excommunication from The High Table, with a bounty large enough to tempt every assassin between New York and Timbuktu to have a go.

Although it’s been just over two years since “John Wick Chapter 2”, it feels barely enough time to have drawn breath given the (often literally) break-neck pace Chapter three starts with. The entire first act deals with John’s attempts to negotiate his way out of a New York where seemingly every second person on the street is a High Table assassin, a relentless tour de force of blackly comic ultra-violence. It’s a staggeringly inventive and furiously kinetic almost unfeasibly good sequence that it completely takes your mind off the fact that behind the stylish action, the story of John Wick still struggles for substance.

This third chapter of clearly-not-intended-to-be-a-trilogy is in itself a curious triptych, a trilogy in its own right. The first part is hands-down the finest action choreography yet to grace cinema screens, the second offers us a deep dive, or perhaps more accurately a dive off the deep end, into the increasingly bonkers mythology of the High Table while this trilogy in one movie rounds out with a brutal but hollow return to the series’ familiar strengths, settings and tropes.

The returning cast are as good as you’d want them to be, while the additions are a more mixed bag. Much touted guest star Halle Berry’s appearance is essentially a self-contained expositional cameo although seeing her in the action sequences here makes you wonder where this Berry was during “Die Another Day”. Angelica Huston’s own private ‘Suspiria’ adds some exotic east-European intrigue to the mix while Mark Dacascos and Asia Kate Dillon provide far more menace than Common and Ruby Rose did last time.

It’s maybe unfair to expect the movie – or any movie – to maintain its out-of-the-gate energy and ingenuity but there’s a definite drop off thanks to the second act and for a movie which continually reminds its hero that there are consequences to his action, it’s remarkably light on moments of any real import. In between the frequent and frenetic action sequences, beyond slicing, dicing, shooting and booting an endless conveyer belt of opponents, Wick faces few other obstacles to his elliptical globetrotting.

Ultimately, it’s slick, stylish high-octane action cinema at its finest, but the longer it carries on, the more its emptiness becomes apparent, especially in the admittedly impressive but undeniably repetitive finale. There’s plenty to feast on for the eyes and gut, but nourishment for the spirit is far more meagre. The door is clearly left open for a forthcoming Chapter 4 but it remains to be seen how long even John Wick can keep running on peerless yet exposition-free action.