John Wick movies exist in the landscape of dreams. Dreams where colors flash boldly in all directions, where back alleys lead to underground worlds, where assassins live in odd corners, doing odd jobs, part of an endless syndicate of hidden identities and blood oaths. Walking out of a John Wick movie is the wake-up moment; your eyes adjust to a world far duller, less intoxicating. But you still enter it with your fists clamped, ready for what’s around the corner just in case.
In John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, what’s around the corner is a more loaded contemplation. After the events of Chapter 2—when Wick (Keanu Reeves) killed High Table member Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) on the grounds of the should-be safehouse Continental hotel—he’s now a man on the run; he’s excommunicated from the assassin community and there’s a $14 million bounty on his head. Unsafe and alone, with only a few totems that might help with an escape, he runs through the neon streets of New York City, looking for salvation and dodging bounty-seeking killers left and right. This gives way to some of the franchise’s best action sequences, include a gory moment with a library book, an extended and positively breathless knife fight, and a chase scene on a horse. Yes, John Wick fights bad guys on horseback in John Wick 3. Dream logic, remember?
His escape attempts bring him face-to-face with several of this film’s new, recognizable movie stars. Anjelica Huston plays The Director, a ballet instructor and member of the High Table who once housed the orphaned John and trained him in his future hit-man ways. She’s able to smuggle Wick away to Casablanca, Morocco, where he encounters Sofia, played by Halle Berry. The two have worked together in the past, as you can tell by their choreographed fight sequence in the Moroccan city streets, which is so well-done that it’s downright mesmerizing. Reeves and Berry each give it their all, fighting with Sofia’s dogs, who steal the show; given the puppy-killing events that kicked off this series, watching dogs rip the legs off of bad guys is as cathartic as it is fist-pumping.
The film also features a notable turn from Asia Kate Dillon, who plays the Adjudicator of the High Table, the higher-ups who are dead-set on punishing Wick for breaking protocol and challenging the odds at every juncture. The most memorable newcomer is probably Mark Dacascos as Zero, who is recruited by the Adjudicator to take on Wick along with his henchmen (who are played by the martial artists from The Raid). Zero is both a brutal swordsman and a John Wick superfan, and in that dichotomy he is able to find a hilarious, fun villain who want dead as much as you want to grab a drink with.
Old staples are back, too, like Ian McShane as Winston, the Continental’s manager; Lance Reddick as Charon, the hotel’s concierge; and Laurence Fisburne as the Bowery King, who gets even more delightful moments to shine this time around. They make the world of John Wick feel familiar, but not exactly safe; this is a legion of assassins, after all. You never know who to trust.
John Wick 3 builds on the impressive mythology of the first two films in new, beautiful, and often haunting ways. This is such a clever franchise, and each entry gets more elaborate and more endlessly fun to participate in. It’s clear Reeves is pouring every ounce of his body and talent into the role of Wick, who continues to be haunted by the memory of his dead wife, but who gives the audience a genuine reason for his own desire to survive: So he can keep his wife’s memory alive. That’s the touch of humanity a movie like this needs, and Reeves makes you believe it. You root for him even though he reciprocates so little, emotionally. But it’s that vagueness that makes him such an impressive hitman, and that makes these movies so ruthless. You believe that Reeves is John Wick, and he’s never felt more perfectly in character than he is here.
The film can feel a bit much by the time the third act comes around, but that’s no fault. In fact, that’s the highest compliment. John Wick 3 is a balletic action film, with bullets sounding off like punctuations, knife flicks creating harmonies of whirls and punctures, punches landing like drums on bone. The film finds a beauty in the carnage, but only if you submit to its otherworldliness. This is a dream, after all. I never wanted to wake up.
4.5 out of 5
Images: Summit Entertainment