'John Wick: Chapter 3' Review: A Blood-Soaked Ode to Joy
Late into his career, Keanu Reeves caps off a near-perfect action trilogy.
I don’t know if John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum is the end of John Wick. It could be, and it would be very good end to a whole trilogy. But like a gunslinger who rides into the sunset at the end of a western, things are wide open if Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski feel that we, the moviegoing public, demand more. And with the third John Wick upon us, I have a feeling the people will want John Wick for years to come.
In theaters on May 17, John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum (henceforth just John Wick 3) picks up right after 2017’s Chapter 2. With a $14 million bounty placed on his head, Wick (Reeves) begins a blood-soaked odyssey to escape New York City and confront the High Council once and for all.
A murderer’s row of supporting actors come along for the ride: Lance Reddick and Ian McShane return as series stalwarts, Charon and Winston respectively, both of whom are as delightful as they’ve ever been, while Laurence Fishburne reprises his hammy Bowery King from Chapter 2.
Newcomers include Halle Berry as Sofia, a femme fatale who owes John Wick a favor; Asia Kate Dillon as the Adjudicator, the eerie avatar for the High Table; cinema legend Anjelica Huston as a Russian headmistress known as the Director; and Mark Dacascos, a charming antagonist who fanboys over the fact he gets to (try to) kill John Wick.
Locked and loaded with all the thrills you want out of a John Wick movie, and then some, Reeves and company have outdone themselves. There’s never a dull moment when Keanu’s onscreen. While there’s some mild pacing issues (minor spoilers: things grind to a halt when John Wick ends up in a desert) the wall-to-wall adrenaline more than makes up for its few shortcomings.
Everything action junkies love about John Wick is in John Wick 3, dialed up to the point that the movie sometimes feels like a parody. The first film, released in 2014, was refreshingly no-nonsense in its action design, and Chapter 2 maintained that style, keeping the action tight and tactical while expanding Wick’s sandbox universe. (A network of hobo assassins in the Bowery? Sure. Awesome.)
This remains mostly true in John Wick 3. Reeves still fights as you’ve seen him these past five years, and our glimpse of the Continental widens even further. I want to know everything about the tattooed clerks who work on a mix of tech from the ‘40s, ‘80s, and 2019, while a tour through a Russian academy of dancers/killers is a compelling basis for a spin-off. But like the sequels to contemporaries Fast & Furious and Mission: Impossible, John Wick is now daring to go wild.
In John Wick 3, you’ll see John Wick: 1) kill with medieval daggers, 2) kill whilst riding speeding motorcycles, 3) kill with comically big shotguns, and 4) kill with animals, including a horse who kicks dirtier than Messi. (Say it with me now, in John Mulaney’s voice: There’s a horse, kicking a criminal!) If Avengers: Endgame defined action cinema as a once-in-a-lifetime dramatic epic, John Wick 3 is non-stop video game violence. And it rules.
John Wick 3 also takes our sharp-dressed killer to new and exciting places, though one has to wonder where the limits for this series lies. Once again, Wick goes abroad, this time to Morocco which feels uncannily like Connery-era Bond.
But John Wick 3 is really Wick’s tour through hell, as he just barely survives the far-reaching clutches of the Continental with nary a coin to his name. Of all the movies, John Wick 3 is the one that cements Reeves as the action hero for the 21st century gig economy.
We’re no longer interested in John Wick’s story. At this point, we just want to see what he does next. So welcome, John Wick, to the Action Hero Hall of Fame: the Man With No Name, John McClane, and Wolverine welcome you.
No spoilers on the ending of John Wick 3, but — Where does Wick go from here? I’m intrigued by the increasingly difficult corner Reeves and Stahelski are finding themselves. This series can only get bigger and meaner; that’s how you convince moviegoers to shell out twelve bucks. But can John Wick really survive escalating narrative outgrowth while staying true to the grounded realism that won over audiences in the first place? How soon until John Wick in Space, and will we even want to see that movie?
That’s another question for another time. For now, John Wick 3 is still a John Wick movie, and a great one at that. The action is spectacular and the plot is functional, which is all it needs to be. Even pointless detours like Morocco are still peppered with fun, including most of all, an elaborate set-piece where Halle Berry sics two Belgian Malinois on bad guys. (It’s pure wrath of God stuff for dog lovers.) John Wick has yet to jump the shark, but maybe soon John Wick will actually jump over sharks. We’ll probably still love it.
John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum hits theaters on May 17.