John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum ★★★½

Fundamentally, the odd-numbered JOHN WICK films are more concerned with the man himself--how the world he inhabits bears heavily on him--and the even-numbered films more concerned with the world and its complicated, convoluted rules--how John Wick seems to bear heavily onto the world around him. (I also now kind of see this as one film plus a trilogy; a standalone revenge flick followed by a mythology-heavy trilogy that tells its own streamlined arc.) The lore-heavy CHAPTER 2 paves the way for another stripped-down action film focused on Wick's vitality. The alternatively clever and meaningful aspect to the first film was introducing the viewer to John Wick through his more human, vulnerable side, the aspects not so readily apparent to his colleagues; CHAPTER 3 is the natural result of gradually revealing the aspects that mythologize him in this world as an unstoppable force of nature as it maintains a more clear-cut, lean structure.

That doesn't necessarily make it better--my initial assessment be damned. I'll maintain that this installment has some of the franchise's most memorable action sequences (as many others have noted, within the first twenty minutes), but it really does feel more and more like a tease to the epic CHAPTER 4 in that it feels the most concerned with providing connective tissue than it does with truly expanding its world in meaningful ways. More an on-the-run action flick--don't get me wrong, a really good one at that--but a less rewarding installment, both in terms of John Wick's personal journey and in terms of exploring the politics of the oppressive--if appropriately calculated--mechanics of the High Table.

It's all relative; the set pieces bookending this film are exhilarating, their settings exuberant, and if we're judging these action films based on the quality of their set-pieces, there is very little to complain about. It's personal preference, but I still love the hand-to-hand sequences that place greater pressure on Wick and expose more of his physical vulnerability than whenever he keeps a gun in his hand and whenever he feels more invincible (the gunplay is a little less complex this time around, a bit too repetitive and clean compared to its predecessors). It's in these moments--specifically the early knife fight and the penultimate sequence in which Keanu Reeves faces off against THE RAID stalwarts Yahan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman (let's pretend the latter two aren't pulling their punches)--where PARABELLUM sets high standards for what a contemporary action film should be and maintains what this franchise accomplishes the most. Most film series would be lucky to have a lesser installment that hits as many of its highs and then some as this one.

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