John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum ★★★★

So now it's come down to the "John Wick" and "Mission: Impossible" franchises tag teaming to keep pure action cinema relevant and invigorated in the late 2010s through meticulously choreographed torrents of extreme stunts and excessive brutality within unique battle arenas. Is this the best time to be a fan of big budget American action movies since the mid-'90s?

"John Wick 3" is probably the best of its litter so far, outdoing itself in spectacle (now we're globe trotting!), novelty (an elaborate fight scene with trained dogs!) and tribute to its own genre (nice touch making your final bosses Mark Dacascos who should've been an action movie star 20 years ago, as well as a couple of the badasses from "The Raid"). That knife fight early on was so breathless and inventive that I was laughing uncontrollably in exhilaration. One crazy "oh shit!" move after another for minutes on end. Then incorporating dogs into a multi-level massacre, then riding a horse down the freeway and fighting off samurai bikers, then a bunch more sequences after that...and all while wearing a suit and hardly saying a word. As embodied by (/custom-made for) Zen-cool Keanu Reeves and ambitiously crafted by director Chad Stahelski, John Wick isn't just a cult hit anymore; it's a Hollywood icon and a legend.

One side effect of pushing the envelope, though, is creating unreasonable expectations. Because of the three or four exquisite ballets of violence throughout the movie, I was numb for all others in-between, making the "lesser" (though still well-done) shoot-outs and punching feel repetitive and a little dull. My mind started to wander. The movie can't maintain its thrilling bravado for a runtime as stretched out as this movie, and the plot, even more so than the last 2 "JW"s, is a lateral flat-line of interchangeable nonsense about rituals regarding fees and favors from special guest stars like Anjelica Huston, Laurence Fishburne, Halle Berry, Jerome Flynn (Bron!), and an underwhelming casting choice for the role of almighty Elder who rules over this entire crime world. He's a good actor, but they should've chosen someone literally older and more showstopping in recognition. By the end, sure the tables have turned on the stakes awaiting us in the pre-planned 4th movie, but it's become apparent that none of the all-important rules that define this assassin's world matter much to anyone, nor that anything of consequence is going to happen. The story is spinning its wheels, perhaps indefinitely for years to come until this series becomes unprofitable again.

But in the meantime, we have a director who knows what audiences want to see from a shoot 'em up picture, and has the skill and elegance to deliver. He knows that seeing a horse kick the fuck out of a bad guy is so cool that we should see it twice, so he makes sure it happens again. He knows that there is pleasure to be derived even from the way our hero loads a shotgun with panache. He gets it. We're in good hands here.

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