I really want to like these John Wick movies. John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2 were doing things with the action movie format that I’ve been waiting for Hollywood to do; they’re shot cleanly, their action is hardcore, they aren’t cracking stupid jokes every ten seconds. And yet despite everything they do right I wasn’t really able to fully get behind those first to movies because, at the end of the day there were things in those scripts that were just too stupid to ignore. I can forgive a lot from the story in certain genre movies. Comedies can overlook all sorts of logic and get away with it if they’re still funny, martial arts movies and be all kinds of simplistic as long as they’re solid showcases for the skills of their performers, and similarly these action movies like John Wick can get away with a lot simply because they very effectively accomplish the main thing they set out to do: make Keanu Reeves look really cool while killing a whole lot of people. But there’s a difference between giving a movie a pass for having great action scenes and fulling embracing a movie as a great action movie: for that you need to have the full package and these John Wick movies just don’t. But just the same I was looking forward to the next fix that the third installment would provide.
The film picks up immediately after John Wick: Chapter 2 with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) having less than an hour before he’s declared excommunicado and a fourteen million dollar hit is put out on him and he’s barred from all assistance from all branches of The Continental and any other organization affiliated with The High Table. On top of that, The High Table has sent an Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to clean house and punish anyone who assisted Wick in the last movie including Winston (Ian McShane) and The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne). She even recruits an assassin named Zero (Mark Dacascos) to carry out her dirty work. But first Wick needs to find a way out of New York and much of the film’s first half deals with this chase to find some degree of sanctuary.
Let’s start with the positive, which is largely the same positive that was there in the first two movies: the action scenes. They’re still pretty good, especially in the first half. As the movie opens Wick is essentially on an elaborate chase through New York and goes through several landmarks like the Public Library (which closes way earlier than that for the record) and the central part carriage ride stables. Each of these are accompanied by some fairly creative action beats like a fight against a seven foot tall assassin and a fight through a hall of antique weapons and knives. I will say though that the movie does kind of blow some of its wad early and some of the later scenes feel more generic like a mid-film gun fight which is well staged but seems to go on forever and a finale which in some ways just feels like more of the same of what we’ve seen before. In some ways the film seems to be emphasizing unarmed combat more than the previous film, which would seem like a good way to mix things up but Keanu Reeves isn’t really a martial arts expert and that does show a bit in the film.
Of course the complaints I’ve had about these movies are also still here. There are a lot of people who come to find the world building in these movies to be really charming but I’ve never really been a fan. These movies take place in a rather strange world where there are so many assassins that it’s hard to imagine there being enough “contracts” to keep them all employed. I also generally get the impression that they’re sort of making the rules of this world up as they go and it often goes back on some of its own premises. For example, in the beginning Wick’s excommunicado status is set up as something so firmly set in stone that a doctor can’t even finish stitching up a wound once it goes into effect and yet later Wick seems to very cavalierly enter other Continental locations without even bothering to try to disguise himself in any way. Even worse than that though is that I’m not entirely clear on why we’re supposed to root for Wick in his war against The High Table. Yes, they’re obviously an evil organization but Wick is himself a mass murderer and their various rules don’t necessarily seem that unreasonable when compared to his ethos of killing thousands in retaliation for the death of a damn dog.
So are the action scenes in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum enough to save it from its shortcomings? Yeah, probably, but I must say I feel like the franchise has been taken about as far as it can be. That would be fine if this were a final film to cap off a trilogy but, and I don’t really think this is a spoiler, it isn’t. The basic arc of the story has John Wick more or less ending right back where he started and the film’s ending is clearly a setup for a Chapter 4, and on top of that much of the film’s second act feels like a backdoor pilot for a spinoff series starring Halle Berry. That’s a problem because this third installment frankly didn’t leave me wanting more and the fact that it was in many ways an exercise in treading water just left me kind of frustrated.
*** out of Five