Back like a bullet, sharp as a knife, John Wick is preparing for war. All he wanted was peace. In Chapter 1, living quietly and grieving his wife, a mobster was daft enough to kill his dog, unleashing hell from the former assassin. In Chapter 2, he offs the oily tick who wanted to take over the High Table, the guild of elite assassins: not good, especially in the sanctuary of The Continental – the high-class hotel for killers. In Chapter 3, Wick (Keanu Reeves) is “excommunicado”. Picking up 20 minutes after the end of Chapter 2, he’s forfeited all right to immunity and now has to evade the guild’s top hitmen and women. With a $14m price on his head, can he stay alive and turn the Table? Tick tock…
Fortunately for Wick, he’s not the underworld’s boogeyman, “he’s the person you call on to kill the ******* boogeyman.” He’s a killer who can use guns, knives, hands, cars and a pencil, “he killed three people - with a pencil!”. In a blistering opening fight in New York’s Public Library, Wick kicks off Chapter 3 by snapping a guy’s neck on the spine of a book. Moving from one superbly-choreographed set piece to another, Parabellum is beautifully bonkers. True to its own sleek aesthetic, it spools back to the beginnings of cinema itself.
Creatively cut-throat, it’s certainly violent: a knife to the eye; dogs in body-armour – canine Keanus – seizing crotches. An angry horse back-kicking bad guys across the screen. Martial arts of serpentine complexity; a samurai-sword motorbike chase. It’s all there, breathless and bold. But the film’s rat-a-tat rhythm is not so much about bullets to the head – although there’s lots of that – but the tap-dance bravado of the choreography. All wrapped up in Bushido codes and darkly medieval chivalry.
The world of John Wick is knowingly artificial. After all, it’s a 15, not an 18, certificate. But it’s so well executed – pun intended – and well-performed by Reeves, that you forget how daft it is. The twilight world of midnight blue and gold is deliberately unreal. Danish cinematographer Dan Lausten (John Wick 2) imbues Parabellum with the same visually-burnished, netherworld feel he brought to The Shape of Water. Director and former stunt performer Chad Stahelski, plays it like a Fred and Ginger movie, without the repartee, with gunplay and martial arts standing in for foxtrots.
And Stahelski brings the best out of Keanu Reeves, who performs all the martial arts himself - not bad for a fifty-something guy. He’s joined, in a ball-breaking cameo, by Halle Berry, who handles the bullet-and-jujitsu combos with aplomb. And martial arts actor Mark Dacascos (Brotherhood of the Wolf and many straight-to-DVD movies) is a great grinning-skull of a villain. Halle Berry’s twin attack-dogs, leaping across the screen in synchronized time to take out two baddies, is a brilliant joke, proof that this is more about choreography than violence. A film that uses the staccato rhythms of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as the backdrop to a gunfight is telling you something about its tone.
At the start of Chapter 2, a silent slapstick movie is projected onto the side of a skyscraper. In Chapter 3, Harold Lloyd is similarly checked. With minimal dialogue, the Wick films are effectively silent movies, relying on movement and physical performance to propel the action. No surprise, then, that Parabellum homages other ground-breaking physical movies. It nicks two of the fearsome martial artists from The Raid and The Raid 2. Keanu’s final fight, in a completely glass-built complex, looks cool for sure, but nods to Jackie Chan’s iconic Police Story, both finales seeing their actors repeatedly flung through glass cabinets.
Beautiful, brilliantly choreographed and intelligently put together, John Wick – Chapter 3: Parabellum is breezily the best of the trilogy. A fourth is set up. But this will do for now.