Of the three John Wick films, Chapter 3 has the best action, the best humour, and the most profound character moments. Yet I’m hesitant to say it’s the best in the series (perhaps just because it’s the only one with a stupid subtitle). As these films improve in their action and spectacle they lose their more erratic unpredictability. Remember when this series was just about a guy killing some low-level gangsters because one killed his dog?
In Parabellum every few scenes conclude with Wick or someone else changing allegiances. The plot moves forward entirely on arbitrary rule changes. When there is a beautiful gun fu sequence or a bone-crunching martial arts moment, Parabellum is perfect. When people stand around and talk it’s staggeringly mediocre.
Halle Berry shows up as essentially a female Wick and provides some awesome action, but it’s a good thing she’s not in the film long. Two John Wicks on the same side defeats the appeal of the one man against the world action. Things like this make Parabellum very close to failing. The set pieces all work but the whole film almost falls under its own weight. It has too many bad ideas and only struggles past them by inserting action moments which distracts you away from any failings.
It is nice to see Parabellum play homage to a variety of films and filmmakers. Action stars Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian, best known for their work in the masterful The Raid series, have secondary roles that allow them to showcase their fantastic talents. There’s also dialogue nodding towards The Matrix and even a reference to Andrei Tarkovsky in possibly the weirdest cinema nod. Shallow as it may seem, it’s nice to see the John Wick series embracing its influences, as it’s clearly a franchise in debt to many other great action films.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is a lumbering mess that works only because it delivers entirely in its action. I loved watching Parabellum but that’s only in spite of its narrative problems. This is uninspired cinema that works because the filmmakers know how to craft a scene, not because they know how to craft a whole movie. It’s an action choreography masterclass but desperately in need of a better scriptwriter. Still, it’s hard not to recommend an action film that goes this hard and delivers so much in terms of relentlessly inspired fight scenes.