Tuesday, 21 May 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019) - Movie Review

John Wick may be the single most important non-superhero action franchise still active today. While Fast & Furious and Mission: Impossible may have the longevity and their respective fanbases, it’s hard to argue that John Wick didn’t still have the larger impact on the landscape. Whether it’s the fight scenes, the visual style, the kind of world-building that puts most comic books to shame, or even just the moment when people finally started to take Keanu Reeves seriously as an actor (even The Matrix, as popular as it remains, couldn’t manage that), it has captured the zeitgeist in a way that very few film franchises ever could, both past and present. And with how Chapter 2 concluded, stakes are very high for the latest in this series to measure up to the grandeur of what came before. To the surprise of likely very few, this film manages to do just that and with gusto.

Chad Stahelski and the first film’s silent co-director David Leitch may not have invented aestheticisation of violence in cinema, but they are certainly the ones who helped elevate it to a higher platform, this film being no exception. It carries the same brutality and efficiency as what we’ve come to expect, with everything from gun fights to knife fights to book fights, but the creativity on offer here has somehow managed to reach a new plateau. It is frankly insane how detailed the choreography can get here, especially with the inclusion of animals in the main action like with Halle Berry’s Sofia and her combat canines, not to mention the utter hilarity that is the horse stable fight.

But what makes the action here feel as great as it does isn’t down to any one scene, as highly memorable as pretty much all of them are. Rather, it’s because of how they are framed. One of the biggest dramatic moments here is when we learn a bit more about John Wick’s backstory, namely how he even got into the world of the Continental in the first place. Through an expertly-placed Anjelica Huston (I swear, the casting in these films is nigh-on perfect), we see a juxtaposition of the intense training and dedication needed to perform something like ballet or even Greco-Roman wrestling, next to the precision behind the gunplay fight scenes. It insists on the action being treated as a form of art, and with how well it's executed, it's hard to argue with.

There’s also how, even with the brutality on display, the film never makes the mistake of wallowing in its own bloodshed. For as much as it delves into the more spiritual side of this world of assassins, it carries enough of a sense of humour about itself that it doesn’t end up taking itself too seriously. When we’re watching thugs get stuck with enough knives to recreate the opening to Kitchen Knightmares, the film knows that it looks a little silly. And because it is well-aware of its own optics, it keeps the fight scenes and even the frequent in-jokes about the event that kick-started this franchise off very entertaining, which is a good thing because there’s a lot of them here, even for a John Wick entry.

Knowing that writer Derek Kolstad basically built this world from the ground-up all on his own with the first two films, the idea of not one but three new co-writers being brought in did give an initial pang of worry that this would turn into a spoiled broth situation. But honestly, I’d argue that the writing has only gotten better here so those new writers are certainly pulling their weight. It keeps building on the world of the Continental, adding more exotic locales to the canon, but it also introduces a more spiritual edge to the proceedings. Where the first film was all about introductions to this carnage-fuelled landscape, and the second film was all about how pervasive and suffocating it is, this delves more into classic action-flick mysticism.

John Wick’s personal journey over the space of a week (yeah, for the uninitiated, the events of all three films thus far have taken place over no more than a couple weeks in-universe) has led him out of the life he once knew, dragged him back into it through happenstance, dragged him back again out of past promises, and here, he not only has a price on his head but is cut off from any outside assistance. A saying that keeps coming up in these films is how “rules are what separates us from the animals”. Well, considering John Wick being separated from an animal is what started all this, it seems like he is growing tired of playing by their rules. And while this isn’t exactly a trilogy ender as much as just the latest chapter of the story, things could only escalate from here.

And that, honestly, is the part that makes me really fucking love this film. It’s not just the amazing action scenes, the terrific performances, the mouth-watering detail put into the writing and the universe it inhabits, but the fact that this isn’t even a real conclusion and yet I have zero problem with that. If leaving things open-ended means we get more of what is one of the most consistent action franchises of all time, then I am all for it. And since we’re not only getting another sequel, a spin-off and a TV series based in this vibrant world, but also a rumoured cross-over with Atomic Blonde… holy shit, I am so on-board with all of this.

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