Take cover: the boogeyman is back. No, I’m not talking about the creature under your bed, I’m talking about John Wick. Returning for a third round in what is quickly proving itself one of the greatest action franchises of all time, Keanu Reeves teams up with stuntman-turned film director Chad Stahelski once again for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Latin for “prepare for war,” Parabellum earns its title, as Chapter 3 outguns its predecessors as the bloodiest, most jaw-dropping work of choreographed violence in recent memory, and it’s clear that John Wick isn’t done yet.
We were first introduced to John Wick (Keanu Reeves) shortly after losing his wife Helen to a terminal illness. Before Helen passed, she made arrangements for Daisy, a beagle puppy to be delivered to John to help him grieve. Soon after, however, Daisy was murdered, and John’s vintage Mustang was stolen by Russian thugs. This sent Wick, one of the deadliest assassins in the world, back out of retirement on a warpath to wreak vengeance. In Chapter 2, having heard of his re-emergence, an old associate that once did Wick a favor tasked him with taking out a target.
After John completed the job, however, D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) put a contract on Wick’s head to tie up loose ends. He forgot who he was dealing with, though, and John killed him. The trouble, however, was that John shot him inside the Continental, a hotel run by the High Table, an international crime ring that doesn’t take rules lightly, and doesn’t allow business to be done in their hotels. With a new $14 million contract on his head, every assassin is out for John now, and this sends Wick on a desperate path to re-pledge his fealty in Chapter 3 – Parabellum.
Coming from a martial arts background, Chad Stahelski was friends with the late Brandon Lee, and stood in for him after Lee was fatally shot while shooting 1994’s The Crow. From there, Stahelski became a go-to stuntman in Hollywood, serving on the sets of everything from Escape from L.A. to Alien: Resurrection. In 1999, Stahelski worked with Keanu Reeves for the first time while filming The Matrix, and in 2014 the two united again for Stahelski’s directorial debut John Wick, a stylish revenge flick that demonstrated the pair’s impeccable cinematic chemistry.
From a storytelling standpoint, John Wick was hardly exceptional for the action genre, but from a technical standpoint it was. Drawing on his veteran expertise as a stuntman, Stahelski guided Reeves to perform a plethora of gravity-defying feats, and applied a visual template that was rife with seductive style. Then in John Wick: Chapter 2, the pair outdid themselves with a sequel that was even richer with visual flair and ultra-violent stunt work. Delving deeper into the cutthroat, yet professional underworld of assassins, Chapter 2 further fleshed out the series’ mythology.
And now in Chapter 3, all of this progress rises to a glorious crescendo that is nothing short of astounding. If the first two chapters were John Wick just getting started, Parabellum is John Wick utterly unleashed. The scale and the stakes here reach epic proportions, and with the entire assassin world out for Wick’s head, John is pushed to battle harder than he ever has before. With three decades of stunt experience at his disposal, Stahelski likely pushes Reeves harder than any actor has ever been required, and the awe-inspiring prodigy is more than up to the task.
Parabellum’s first act begins with Wick frantically fighting for his life, with threats cropping up in every conceivable direction. Assassins who got word of Wick’s contract are everywhere: sidewalks, park benches, alleyways. It’s clear the action component is going to be strong here as soon as a towering librarian (Serbian basketball player Boban Marjanović) pursues John in an early scene, forcing the killer to get creative. From here, the ingenuity in the depiction of conflict is far from over, as Stahelski goes to town in generating a host of unique combat scenarios.
If there is one thing that renders John Wick: Chapter 3 unforgettable, it’s Stahelski’s innovation in fight sequences, as well as Reeves’ willingness and competency with carrying them out. Stunning choreography and death-defying stunts are everywhere: in one scene, knives fly through the air with dazzling technique and rhythm as Wick battles Chinese martial artists. In another, horses in a stable function as tag-team partners as enemies receive lethal kicks to the face. In others, motorcycles, handguns, and even dogs contribute to Stahelski’s gleeful fun.
Action veteran Halle Berry stars as Wick’s old friend and colleague Sofia, and she shares Wick’s soft spot for canines. Sofia commands two strictly obedient Belgian Malinois (trained in part by Berry herself) and they share in the havoc as Sofia sics their ferocious rage on her employer after he tries to shoot one of them (“I get it,” John confides). Sofia is not someone to play with, and Berry doesn’t disappoint. In addition, franchise regulars Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Lance Reddick meet and surpass expectations as their respective representatives in the business.
Along with Sofia, Parabellum features two more newcomers that gleam with oppressive intimidation: Anjelica Huston as Ruska Roma, who runs the ruthless orphan assassin training program from whence Wick came, and Asia Kate Dillon, who serves the High Table as the Adjudicator with zero regard for mercy. As the world of John Wick grows, so does the mayhem, the technical prowess, and the bewildering amazement. Flush with exotic locations, artful set design, and a delightful lack of regard for realism, John Wick: Chapter 3 is a delirious marvel.