John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum ★★★★★


The original John Wick was a surprise – an almost (!!!) direct-to-video actioner with a leading man hot off of roles in 47 Ronin and the Day the Earth Stood Still remake that somehow became a gripping, melancholic reverberation of emotional trauma evolving into rage. Its function was its flourish. What was mechanical was, in the same instance, beautiful and pure. The reality of the danger and the vulnerability did not limit its detached, methodical position. I did not comprehend it at the time, as my brain was still scattered across the auditorium, but it’s a marvelous film about bodies – those lost and those taken away, and what we must ignore in order to satisfy ourselves. John Wick Chapter 2 was an expected progression in improved flourish and an increase in world-building, but it was stuck in an existential rut, both intentionally and unintentionally. What John Wick cared about no longer mattered; the present-moment and the fight for survival was emphasized, a reverent underworld becoming an antagonist one. Chad Stahelski, while rising higher amongst the ranks of the finest modern action filmmakers, lost his grip on balance between expansive environmental detail and the personal focus of Wick’s hellish descent.

Whatever disappointments Chapter 2 may have offered are minuscule in comparison to the groundwork that it laid for Parabellum, a vicious climax and outrageous victory lap and open-ended announcement of the franchise’s permanence on pop culture, all at once. With a samurai sword to my throat, there has never been an action film like this, and there never will be again. Not something as complete, as distinct and ready to please. Its synthesis of previous successes within the franchise and in the realm of domestic and international action productions allow for an extravaganza that will now only exist as an example to topple or knock off its metaphorical throne of dominance. Many films in many action sub-genres (recent examples being The Raid 1 & 2, Drug War, and The Villainess) lead to the amalgamation of ideas and graphic executions present in this razor-slice of perfection. While I humbly and eagerly await the next John Wick chapter, the series is now in a position of topping a film so thoroughly immersed in its own mechanics and poetry that to rise above it will inherently suggest a knowingness of status. Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves and team, from Halle Berry and Asia Kate Dillon (a prominent non-binary character who isn’t just relegated to a product of difference: amazing) and Anjelica Houston to Laurence Fishburne and Mark Dacascos and Ian McShane; they’re fucking proud of this movie and they know it. It’s felt in every soaked, bruised frame, gushing with bold blood and time’s immovability, a masterpiece of aching brutality and one of the greatest action films I’ve had the pleasure of viewing.

What Parabellum achieves is practically impossible to quantify, but it’s somewhere in between the first major kill-shot and the last major kill-shot – total annihilation set within a complexity of both world and ensemble. What Chapter 2 limited was a commitment to the world *beyond* John Wick; in Parabellum, John Wick is one interesting body out of many, and the key to Wick’s story is that it isn’t necessarily about him, instead tuned into his status and influence on the universe in which he resides. It’s no longer a traumatic character study, connecting his feelings to his wife, or to his dog. Those are mere memories in a sea of trauma within a man unable to let his own past catch up with him. His idolization, his name, both profane and sacred, becomes an integral component to expanding the character arc to unforeseen destinations. Baba Yaga, the spiritual demon who retired because of his wife and rose in anguish because of his dog, must face the realization that he would rather live as a killer than die as a clean-slate, never to wash the sins off his hands, adding numbers to the board. Parabellum then achieves a balletic equilibrium of recognition and disruption, with Wick being reminded of his mythos around every corner, and how he’s destined to never truly die. He must carry the weight of his past, or else the world will crumble beneath his posture, limping towards another barbaric encounter.

With Parabellum freed from the confines of tethering to Wick’s recent personal history, its exploration of the body, and bodily harm, is not based around anger, but an accumulation of life’s violence. Even gunning past inevitability, Chapter 3 is rooted in a fear and comedic value that the bloodshed may just never stop, something that Wick relishes and buries deep within that swanky, brain-specked black suit of his. The film is a nonstop spurting object of endless depravity, gleeful in every gunshot and bone-snap, every whoosh of a knife and growl from an attack dog. Never have I seen such violence in a mainstream film done away with such joyous abandon. I had tears in my eyes throughout. I was laughing as much as I was gasping for air and being pushed back by the swiftness of the choreography (bless these stunt performers, give them all the awards right now please thank you). This is closer to the savagery found in the recent crop of Indonesian action, which highlights the visual, graphic severity of the inhumanity but doesn’t allow an emotional pull for every single body on screen, but Stahelski’s coverage is cleaner, narrower, so close to running past its intended length. His staging is awe-inspiring, teetering fully into the Musical genre as stages are set and aesthetic shifts are highlighted. The dances move through space and light and shadow in sustained set-pieces of carnage, each with their own narrative function and variety. The facelessness provides an existential dilemma for the viewer – how is one supposed to perceive the slaughter?

While Chapter 2 continued with the first film’s basis in personal vengeance – Parabellum makes a bold claim on the outset to enjoy the violence for its own sake, without a connection to an ongoing redemptive arc. Luckily, even if the narrative tissue of this installment wasn’t as enthralling as it’s ever been (which it is, tremendously so), the violence is stripped and abstract, unrestrained from the robotic framework of its predecessor. There is nothing but graceful, unceasing sadism in this fucking crazy-pants movie. It flows like water down a lucid, neon alley-way, with every crack and puddle contributing to the texture of the setting. From libraries and museums to Casablanca markets to glass structures and hotel lobbies and side-streets, there’s a headrush of a gunfight or something of the assortment in all of them, and it is perpetual. Tick tock tick tock. Every gesture is more calculated than the last – the difference is that John Wick has no reason to keep doing this, other than to keep going. And going. And going. Like the energizer bunny. His myth is self-sustained.

Random thoughts:

- Many good dogs in this who love to protec and attac, but shoutout to the cat that just lays on the restaurant counter and eats all day. A queen.

- The three-tiered climax is kinda like Karate Island? You think John Wick would be into timeshares?

- IMAX was a total trip. Emphasized the flawless sound-design (all the shattering glass!) and full-bloom of the colors.

- I'm pissed.

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