Movie Review : John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)
* This review contains spoilers *
The John Wick movies are quite simple on the surface. They consist in Keanu Reeves hypnotically gunning down hundreds of men with the grace and movement precision of a ballet dancer in long, overstylized scenes, for reasons that get murkier and murkier as the films progress. Something about a dead dog, an even deader wife and a stolen car. But it’s mostly Reeves killing waves of nameless men in spectacular ways on screen. So, how do you keep that fresh for three movies? For John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, the devil’s in the details… and the themes. Of course.
The excellent John Wick: Chapter 2 left us on a cliffhanger in 2017, with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) breaching the rules of the assassins’ organization he belongs to and murdering a rival in the consecrated grounds of the Continental Hotel. An open contract for 14 million dollars was put on his head and every assassin invited to participate to the sweepstakes. Nowhere on Earth is safe for him anymore, Wick decides to leave New York and go on a trip. Because if the rules don’t allow him to live anymore, there will need to be new rules. Violently implemented rules.
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is a movie about rules. No shit. Man-made rules that create order and therefore hierarchies in society, like the High Table rule of not killing on consecrated grounds. In order to enforce that rule, they sent The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon). She’s also tasked with punishing the people responsible for facilitating John Wick’s transgression, which throws the power structure of the High Table out of balance. At least in New York city, because there people are Winston (Ian McShane) and the Bowery King (Lawrence Fishburne).
For the High Table, people are a disposable commodity, but rules aren’t. That’s why they can only allow members to exist if they adhere to them. That’s why when the Adjudicator brokers deals, she always makes people say they’re going to be under the High Table's governance. It means they comply. But John Wick is deadly enough to adhere to other rules. Namely, Newton’s third law of physics that you can read on this poster: every action has consequences or more precisely for every action, there’s an equal opposite reaction. The High Table is trying to hold Wick accountable for his actions, but they’ll have to answer to theirs in the process.
And no man is safe from the laws of physics: Hit a structure hard enough and it’ll eventually collapse. Wick is oddly safe from those, but that’s for another debate *.
If the philosophical argument over following rules made John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum somewhat riveting, art direction wasn’t without its say in the final product. Part of why John Wick works is that he’s not a super badass soldier lording over the weak and the defenseless. He lives in a Pantheon-like world of super badass people that have nothing to do with reality. And it’s never better expressed than in the cramped, neon-soaked, dehumanized version of New York shown in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum. There is no cheap pathos in this movie. It’s like a parallel, purgatory-like dimension of New York. It has more to do with Blade Runner than with real-life NYC.
And I thought that was really cool.
So director Chad Stahelski, screenwriter Derek Kolstad, Keanu Reeves and the gang made it happen again. John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is another smorgasbord of balletic violence, understated mythology and simple, but straightforward philosophical ideas that stand on their own. I thought that on the nuts-and-bolts aspect, the cramped framing and the shaky cam ruined some of the fight scenes, but it’s a minor issue in a big picture movie. John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum lives up to its unlikely legacy and there’s probably another chapter coming in 2021 or so. A John Wick movie every two years is something I could get behind for some time.
* The is-John-Wick-becoming-a-God debate. I’ll get high, rewatch the three movies and type that essay sometime in the future.