Dir: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, and Anjelica Huston
There is a moment in John Woo’s seminal action classic, “The Killer”, when the movement of bodies amidst the barrage of bullets begins to find an unexpected rhythm, as if throughout the gratuitous violence there is a dance being organized. There is a moment in Lana and Lily Wachowski’s film “The Matrix” when the meticulously choreographed fight scenes begin to have an unanticipated elegance, a ballet of bodies dipping and dodging one another within the chaos of viciousness. It’s mayhem and carnage arranged with beautiful and artful composition.
These pure, cinematic, adrenaline-fueled qualities are prominently on display in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”, the continuation of the lone assassin dressed in black hell bent for revenge. In true action movie sequel style, everything is amped up to the highest degree. However, where some movies lose track of how to handle the bigger and faster element of it all, “Chapter 3” somehow deftly handles the lofty expectations and crafts the one of the best action movies of the year.
John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is still out for vengeance, taking his unstoppable skillset to task against the bad guys that killed his puppy, then the organization that betrayed him, and now, in this third installment, it seems like Wick is out to fight the entire world. After being “excommunicado” from the assassin agency, known as the High Table, a 14-million-dollar bounty has been set for Wick’s life and every assassin in the world is provided the open opportunity. Hoping to find mercy from the leader of the High Table, John Wick travels across the globe to find atonement for his actions.
One of the downfalls with modern action films exists within the design of the action. Some directors will shoot with a realistic camera perspective, one that shakes and jolts in discombobulating ways with every punch and kick. Other directors will overedit scenes, cutting at moments to hide the fact that the actors in the movies just don’t know how to sell a fight. The great Jackie Chan, an action actor/stuntman who meticulously choreographed all his own fight scenes, has discussed this concept of fight scene composition at great length, specifically how the modern action movie falters in the design of human combat.
“John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”, in the first 10 minutes, has one of the most exhilarating and impressively composed fight scenes seen in some time…inside a quiet library and with the utilization of a book as a weapon! Add a chase scene with motorcycles and horses with homage to “The French Connection”, ingeniously orchestrated gun combat involving two Belgian Malinois dogs, and the superb casting of the underappreciated Mark Dacascos of the 90’s action film “Only the Strong”, and “John Wick: Chapter 3” is doing everything at its highest quality.
Director Chad Stahelski, who started his career as a stunt coordinator and stunt double for Keanu Reeves, deserves much of the appreciation for the great structure of action seen throughout this film. The hand-to-hand combat is often times shot with a wide-angle lens, showing all the movements within the frame so that the viewer gets all the visual information they need to distinguish characters and see the ferocity of the hits.
Keanu Reeves should also be praised for his performance throughout this series. With a quiet and calm demeanor, Mr. Reeves’ John Wick feels like a faster, more agile version of Clint Eastwood’s Blondie character from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. Plus, take a moment to search for YouTube videos of Keanu Reeves training with real weapons for this film, it’s absolutely amazing. This type of training provides a foundation for making the physical movements of the character have purpose and reason, all adding to making the many fantastic elements throughout this film somehow seem reasonable and realistic.
“John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” is not the strongest version of the story told within the series, but it is the best composed in terms of action set pieces of all the films. It’s brutal, bloody, barbaric action composed with so much artful attention that it’s impossible to look away. Prepare for a war of the senses in the best way possible.
4.25 out of 5.00