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Friday, May 17, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

With John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, the action franchise is starting to settle into a bit of a routine.  There are a lot of brutal and well choreographed fight scenes, there's a cute dog somewhere, and in the middle of it all, there's Keanu Reeves, who is oddly charismatic in an underplayed role as a hitman who kills probably around 200 faceless goons during the film's two hour-plus running time, but still seems to have a certain kind of humanity to him that makes him worth following throughout the series so far.

At this point, the series is starting to include standard elements, with the major difference being how the film itself is being executed compared to the previous entries.  For this installment, I would say that this is just as good as the earlier two films, but it just doesn't really do anything new.  It does build upon the film's world, which exists in kind of a comic book noir take on New York City.  It seems to be raining 90% of the time, and killers and assassins can have battles and brutal executions in the middle of Grand Central Station with no one blinking an eye.  You buy it here, because the movie draws you into its bizarre reality.  This is a series that has grown in scope and complexity over time, while still retaining the crucial elements that have been set since the beginning.  The first film had an almost comically genius premise of a retired assassin who goes out to kill the punks who murdered his dog when they broke into his home.  Since Chapter 2, however, the series has been adding more characters, more backstory, expanding the world, and creating a bizarre crime epic that is equal parts bonkers and brilliant.

Picking up where the last film left off, we have the titular contract killer (Keanu Reeves) having been made a marked man, and is now on the run from pretty much every assassin and killer in Manhattan, who seem to be crawling out of the woodwork to nab the $14 million bounty that's been placed on his head.  Along the way, he encounters as fellow assassin named Sofia (Halle Berry) whom he has a history with, and a mysterious figure known only as The Director (Anjelica Huston).  There are some old faces from the previous films as well, such as a crime boss known as the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), and hotel owner Winston (Ian McShane).  Really, the plot exists to set up the action scenes, which as per tradition with the series, are clean, well-edited, and incredibly graphic at times.  There were certain death scenes in the film that made my audience gasp and groan with discomfort at some of the violence on display. 

Still, the film should be commended.  These are some of the most brutal and elaborate fight scenes I have seen in a long time in a Hollywood film, and they definitely create tension and excitement.  Even though we know that John Wick will be okay in the end, the movie does definitely put him through the wringer.  Even though the goons he fights are clearly no match for him, they don't go down without a fight.  And I admire the filmmakers for letting their hero get so brutalized, instead of simply having him blow through mobs of bad guys effortlessly like so many recent action films do.  John Wick's life is incredibly painful, and the movie never lets us forget it for one second.  The action set pieces in this movie are not as elaborate as the ones seen in the recent Mission: Impossible films, but they carry a sense of danger and urgency that we just don't get in a lot of modern day action thrillers. 

John Wick: Chapter 3 carries on all the best traditions of its predecessors, so it's likely that if you found anything to enjoy about the earlier movies (as I did), you'll feel the same way about this (again, as I did).  However, there is some small cause for worry this time around.  I somewhat fear that the series might be going a bit too far out there as it carries on.  What started as a simple revenge story has grown into a massive and bizarre crime world that has an increasingly large cast of characters that have titles like the High Table, The Director, The Adjudicator, and so on.  I can imagine a future film in this series that goes too far over the edge, and loses the simplicity that has made things work.  I really hope they can try to keep this grounded in some kind of reality, even if it's a tiny bit, because I fear that in the future, this will just become an over the top kill-fest with none of the personality that I have come to enjoy.

For now, though, I am optimistic.  The movie carries on the well-worn tradition, and does so with a style and occasional humor that I found enjoyable.  Does the movie run a bit too long?  Probably.  But I am still invested in John and his world, and the action scenes probably are some of the best we will see this year.  My concerns lie solely with a vision that I can see the series going with time, and I hope it never comes to that.  Chapter 3 is more over the top than before, but it still knows what makes this series work, and it's largely a success.

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