Sunday 19 May 2019

John Wick Chapter 3 - Parabellum

John Voyage

John Wick Chapter 3 - Parabellum
2019 USA Directed by Chad Stahelski
UK cinema release print.

I have to say up front that I really like the John Wick movies, the previous two installments of which I reviewed here and here. Stunt coordinator turned director Chad Stahelski brings a certain flair to these films which contain large, balletic flights of violent carnage as lead actor Keanu Reeves uses bullets, knives and his fists to defend himself from a number of opponents over the course of the running time. After an astonishing second installment which kind of left things on a very worrying cliff hanger for the lead character, I would have to say I was pretty much desperate to see how things would be progressed in the next movie and I have to say that, while I was a tad disappointed with this new film, John Wick Chapter 3 - Parabellum, it certainly lived up to its predecessors and didn’t drop those all important story beats which are, in the first two movies at least, used as punctuation between violent set pieces as opposed to the other way around.

This third movie kind of does the opposite of that and though there are the usual swathes of extended bloodshed, I got the feeling it was there in service of a film more interested in both story and character development this time, which is perhaps jettisoning a little of what made those first two films a little different from most of the other movies that are similar in style. That being said, this is very much a worthy sequel and I did enjoy it a lot.

The film continues within 20 mins or so of the last installment, with John having been driven to committing one of the greatest sins in the almost surreal ‘international assassin’ world in which he operates... spilling blood on the grounds of his local branch of The Continental, the hotel way stations which are a temporary home for assassins about their business. At the end of John Wick 2, Winston - the manager of this particular branch of The Continental, played by Ian McShane - had been forced to declare John Wick ‘ex communicado’ but generously gave him an hour long head start as this means that every assassin in the world will be after him. This film explores how John Wick gets himself out and, of course, back into danger as he and his loyal dog try to survive this latest blow but, also, shows the consequences of the actions of those who have helped him when an ‘Adjudicator’ sent from The High Table (who run this ridiculous underworld), played by Asia Kate Dillon, is sent to various people to ‘adjudicate’... including both Winston and the Bowery King, played once again by Laurence Fishburne. This sets in motion events that will change this corner of the assassin’s world considerably. A chain reaction of Russian Dolls which keep being opened and layered on since John Wick’s puppy was killed in the first movie.

Helping her to... ‘adjudicate’ is Zero, an assassin with considerable, deadly skill played here by Mark Dacascos, who I loved in a truly great and unusual movie from years ago called Brotherhood Of The Wolf. Here he also plays a fan of the title character but, along with his ‘students’, is not going to shirk his duty to help the adjudicator conduct her business... as various characters in the movie find out to their cost. Actually, since there are so many deaths in public places happening with alarming frequency here... I was wondering why the police never seem to show up at any time in these films.

Meanwhile, John Wick is calling in a lot of old markers and goes to get the help of an assassin he once helped called Sofia, played really well here by Halle Berry, of all people... perhaps finally fulfilling the idea that she could be an action hero after her turn as the wonderful character Jingo Jinx in the otherwise truly terrible Bond movie Die Another Day, when she didn’t get the spin-off movies that this character was earmarked for originally.

So, yes, we have a slightly more convoluted story in this one and you even find out a little more about John Wick’s past... and real name... as the film progresses. And yes, there is a fair amount of action but not, as far as I can recall, as much as the previous movies and although one relatively early fight scene in it is even more graphic than what we’ve seen in past installments, I felt that it never really matched up to the previous film’s set pieces. Although, I have to say, one of the ways John Wick uses a horse in this film... and I’m not talking about when he rides one... was a fresh twist I didn’t see coming. In fact, the films creators seemed as impressed with their ‘action horse’ cleverness here that they did the same stunt twice in quick succession... which was fine by me.

In terms of that action, the director’s ‘Wickian’ trademark fingerprints are all over this movie... the style of fighting, bashing knives and swords repeatedly into bodies, up close head shots to punctuate the hand to hand combat and a sequence which, in many ways, resembled the art installation mirror room from the last episode, are all present and correct. I also like the way Wick’s lines are kept to a minimum again and this allows Keanu Reeves, who is really a great actor and a much loved (deservedly so) personality, to be able to play with these and time them for maximum comic effect in some places. I won’t be spoiling it here because it’s out of context but really simple lines like... “I get it” got a big laugh from the audience I saw it with but you need to go and see the movie to find out why that line is funny (and also a big shout out to the short history of the franchise). Like Arnold Schwarzenneger, Reeves proves himself really remarkable with minimal dialogue and shows, once again, that he can be as much of a visual performer as anything else. A true, all rounder cinematic artist, for my money.

My biggest disappointment with this movie, though, was the cinematography. I loved what Dan Laustsen did with the second film and the way he pitched primary colours against each other on the screen in a truly Bavaesque fashion. Astonishingly, it’s the same cinematographer here and yes, especially in the final fight of the film in ‘deconsecrated ground’ (no, I’m not going to explain that reference, go see the movie), you can see he is going for the same kind of lighting style but, it has to be said, I found the greens, reds and purples to all be looking a bit wishy washy in this one... whereas before they had been rich and violent gialloesque hues befitting the kind of kinetic bullet ballet that these films do so well.

That being said, John Wick Chapter 3 - Parabellum is still a joy to watch and with wonderful little cameo characters played by the likes of Anjelica Huston and Saïd Taghmaoui (who was so good in Wonder Woman, reviewed by me here), the audience is surely never likely to get bored in this one. I’d certainly recommend this to any fan of the franchise, with the caveat that it’s not a jumping on point by any means. I’m hoping a fourth installment will be forthcoming too because... well, you’ll see why if you see this movie. Keeping my fingers crossed that certain actors and actresses can be persuaded to come back for another chapter at some point soon. I didn’t think the ending of this one was all that satisfactory in terms of finishing off the story arc, to be honest.

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