The best movie experiences are often the ones that surprise you the most. When John Wick came out in 2014, star Keanu Reeves was far removed from the highs of The Matrix trilogy, and not much was expected from the relatively small film. The visceral nature of the unrelentingly violent movie won over critics and moviegoers, though, and now here we are with the third film in the series, John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum.
Picking up directly in the aftermath of the second film, Wick (Reeves) has been declared “excommunicado” from the hitman syndicate known as The High Table after killing another hitman on the property of The Continental Hotel, normally a safe zone for anyone in the group. Every hitman in New York City and beyond is now on the hunt for Wick to collect the $14 million bounty put on his head.
Unable to rely on friends like The Continental’s manager, Winston (Ian McShane), or Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), Wick must go far and wide to avoid being killed. Among the people he encounters in this search are The Director (Anjelica Huston), who leads a Russian gang, and Sofia (Halle Berry), an old friend with a penchant for using her two dogs in attacks.
Early on, director Chad Stahelski and the quartet of writers do what the John Wick films have always done best: Pile up the body count in as many unique ways as they can. Thus, potential assassins get killed by Wick via a flurry of knives, samurai swords, point blank gunshots, and, most memorably, a book. The inherent unreal nature of the series allows the filmmakers to get away with gratuitous killings for which other films would rightly be criticized.
But, in perhaps the perceived need to keep expanding the series’ narrative, the film devolves into a variety of complex side stories that slow the plot way down. After a figurative and literal breakneck first 20 minutes, the film noticeably drags for the remainder of its 130-minute running time. This even goes for the action scenes, as Stahelski and his team don’t seem to grasp when enough is enough, keeping fight scenes going well past the point of being interesting.
As with the other films, the world of John Wick intrigues with its religious symbolism and stylized characters and buildings. Words like “excommunicado” and “deconsecrated” are straight out of the Catholic Church, and Latin words like the one in the title (which means “Prepare for war”) are sprinkled throughout. Other things, like the heavily tattooed and pierced group tasked with assigning hit jobs, a new character called The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), and the mix of modern and old buildings, are designed to constantly catch the eyes of audiences.
Although actors like Reeves, Berry, and Fishburne tend to go over-the-top with their characters, the film balances them out with the relatively subtle performances of McShane and Lance Reddick. Dillon is also reserved, but perhaps a little too much, as their character could have used a bit more menace.
The third chapter in the John Wick series shows the toll a story can take once filmmakers have to stretch it out beyond its natural ending. A series that was once praised for its simplicity is now too convoluted for its own good.