Brian’s review published on Letterboxd:
The third punch really packs the biggest hit when it comes to John Wick as 2019s Chapter 3 - Parabellum is a major improvement over its sequel and is the best in the series thus far.
Immediately kicking off where Chapter 2 ended, we find John Wick (Keanu was born to play this character) frantically running down a rain soaked New York City street as time is running down. That’s because when the clock reaches zero, a bounty will officially be placed for his head and the spectacle rarely lets up thereafter.
The opening act is akin to The Warriors as a bunch of eclectic assassins, hitmen and hitwomen vie for John Wick’s head and this is one of the best openers for an action film. Period. We have cars, knife fights and John Wick riding a freaking horse in New York City, killing everyone that gets in his way. Chapter 2 had an identity crisis as it was finding its footing but Chapter 3 rectifies this immediately — John Wick is in full stride here.
As the series continues to grow, so does the locales. Again, the only way for John Wick to expand is the world and original screenwriter Derek Kolstad is now joined by a group of screenwriting hitmen to do exactly that. The last film had John go to Europe? Ok, now he’ll go to Africa (will he go to Asia in Chapter 4?).
And with each new locale Mr. Wick ventures off to, director Chad Stahelski makes it look absolutely gorgeous and he has a recognizable face to give us some of the series absurd dialogue. In Parabellum we don’t just have a scene-stealing Halle Berry but we even have Anjelica Houston showing up.
I absolutely love how Stahelski does his casting with these films — it makes each scene a surprise to see who’ll show up. This kind of feels like The Expendables with the cast it’s accumulating but in a good way.
Clocking in at the lengthiest film at a little over two hours, Parabellum does have a lull here and there but at this point Stahelski’s direction has crystallized into a bona fide style, orchestrating a techno-infused ballet of bullets.
Keanu Reeves’s physical work here is quite amazing, demonstrating a committed performance of sheer force and will. The rest of the stunt work is of the highest standard for Hollywood filmmaking and Stahelski’s framing and collaboration with cinematographer Dan Laustsen is currently unparalleled.
Something that Parabellum relishes is in the violence — and I think when it comes to John Wick that’s a good thing. Chapter 2 felt a tad more held back but Chapter 3 really goes for the jugular. There’s a scene where John puts a knife up close and personal to someone’s eye and I was not expecting to see how this scene would unfold.
Parabellums biggest improvement over its predecessor is that it actually has stakes in the finale. Returning side characters performed by Ian McShane and Lance Reddick assist John in a lobby Gun battle reminiscent of The Matrix and you don’t know who’ll be standing by the end of it (this is in contrast to the second movie where I didn’t feel that about anyone — we all knew John was living).
As each film progresses, it’s also become clear that Stahelski is at once making his own film but also a tribute to cinema and stunt people. John Wick: Chapter 2 opened with a shot of Buster Keaton in The General (its poster is also an homage to Harold Lloyd) and I’m sure there’s plenty more.
Parabellum continues this trend with a a shot of Buster Keaton in The Goat, John riding a horse could be reference to True Lies, there’s an homages to Casablanca, has multiple references to The Matrix (Randall Duk Kim and Laurence Fishburne return and John even says “Guns. Lots of guns.” Whoa!) and the aforementioned Warriors reference.
It’s clear that Stahelski — like Tarantino with Kill Bill — purely wants to make a “movie movie” and John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is a masterclass in action direction and the best in the series thus far.