John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum review: Experimenting with a successful formula

There is a certain addictive quality to the John Wick films and Chapter 3 is no different. Ostensibly there is a plot but it is secondary to the violence, existing merely to move from one fight scene to another. In fairness, this third chapter is the most experimental with its storyline, diving into the politics of the dark criminal underworld of the assassin’s guild. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of gore and over-the-top fight scenes if plot points aren’t of much interest. 

We begin Chapter 3 right where we left off, with John trying to escape New York City. He has been declared ‘excommunicado’ after murdering a member of the High Table and now has a $14million bounty on his head. After calling in some favours, he manages to escape to Morocco, in search of ‘The Elder’, the man who sits above the Table. Meanwhile, back in New York, an ‘Adjudicator’ is cleaning up the mess John has left behind, to the detriment of anyone who dared help him escape. It all comes together back in NYC as John is given an impossible task in order to save his own life and the Continental Hotel becomes ground zero for the ensuing war.

Keanu Reeves and Halle Berry in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019). Photo: Lionsgate

Keanu Reeves has turned wooden acting into an art form in the John Wick series, his presence on the screen irresistible despite the fact he doesn’t do much more than kill people and look angry. Or is it sad? Regardless, there is not much reason to actually support the main character, a man so violent and dangerous that even assassins call him ‘The Boogeyman’. And yet one does, if for no other reason that it’s fun to watch him kill so many people in so many different ways. 

Ian McShane reprises his role as Winston, The Manager, and his job is clearly to do the acting bits while Keanu does the killing bits. Although in fairness, this Chapter is definitely the most expansive in terms of having actual dramatic scenes, with Laurence Fishburne and Angelica Huston putting in decent turns as The Bowery King and The Director, respectively. Jerome Flynn makes an appearance with a spectacularly misguided attempt at a Moroccan accent and Asia Kate Dillon is monotonous as The Adjudicator, clearly a choice but one that doesn’t really pay off. 

Keanu Reeves and Anjelica Huston in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019). Photo: Lionsgate

The director, Chad Stahelski, has turned everything up to 11; the sound of every gunshot, punch or kick is deliberately over-edited to reverberate throughout the theatre. The fight scenes are even longer and more elaborate than the previous two films, perhaps too long as they can become repetitive or excessive – a knife through the eyeball springs to mind, or a scene where John is thrown into glass cabinets not once or twice, but six times. Even suspending disbelief becomes difficult as John is battered within in an inch of his life repeatedly and still somehow prevails.

It’s best not to try and think about the finer details too much if you want to enjoy the film. For instance, John is the most recognisable assassin in the world and yet never once does he don a disguise, although he does change suits a couple times. Nor does he ever try to escape the world he had once left, instead trying to find a way to be held in good graces again. This is no doubt in part due to the mysterious world-building, where we rarely see the powers that be but characters do repeatedly say how impossible it is to escape.

But for the most part, the film is successful in immersing the viewer in this reality-adjacent world, and a man rebelling against the unseen puppet masters in such magnificent style makes compelling viewing. While it has its faults and could be about 20 minutes shorter, Stahelski must be commended for taking his successful formula and experimenting with it. A marked improvement from Chapter 2 and nicely set up for the inevitable Chapter 4. 

John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum Rating: 6/10