clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Keanu Reeves as John Wick, riding a horse under elevated train tracks at night, with a motorcycle chasing him through traffic
Keanu Reeves as John Wick, on a horse.
Summit Entertainment

Filed under:

In the third John Wick movie, everybody loves Keanu Reeves

John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum follows the same formula, with a few improvements

There is something profoundly funny about the idea that John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is so much better at his job (that is, killing people) than everyone around him that he has the time to reload his gun multiple times during any given fight. It’s not that he’s not capable of doing it quickly — he’s John freakin’ Wick, he could do this in his sleep — but that it puts distinct pauses in the action that would be inconceivable in any other movie. Each time, a few seconds pass as he jams new bullets into his pistol and his opponents simply stagger around him. He doesn’t have to rush! He’s just that good!

John Wick is a legendary assassin, also known as the Baba Yaga. Though he managed to get out of the game for the sake of his wife, he’s gotten back in after her death thanks to a few thugs who didn’t know who they were messing with. John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, directed by Chad Stahelski, begins with Wick’s excommunication from the global organization of assassins for refusing to follow the rules. There’s now a $14 million bounty on his head, which is a high enough price for practically all of New York City to come after him.

John Wick facing off against two other assassins.
John Wick facing off against two other assassins.
Image: Summit Entertainment

From there, Parabellum mostly follows the established Wick formula:

  1. The beginning, in which there is an establishing fight sequence, reminding us that John Wick is not to be messed with.
  2. The middle, in which John travels in order to find information and complete a task that usually turns out to be — pardon my French — bullshit. This part lags a little, especially if it takes John out of New York.
  3. The end, in which there is a fight that John wins by just a hair, and a twist occurs that broadens the mythology of the world and sets John up for even more fighting, later.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the Wick formula. The middle drags — particularly so in Parabellum, despite a fight scene with attack dogs and a pleasant guest appearance from Game of Thrones’ Bronn — but, gosh, are the beginning and end a total blast.

Parabellum also has the distinction of being the silliest of the John Wick movies; it’s like watching the live-action adaptation of a cartoon with all of the over-the-top character mannerisms and set-pieces left in. (This is, after all, a movie that opens with John paying a taxi driver a gold coin to take his dog to an assassin hotel.) The returning cast — Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne — have dialed their characters up to 11 (Fishburne lovingly tells one of his pigeons to “look away, my sweet” when blood is about to be shed), and the Wick newbies — Anjelica Huston, Asia Kate Dillon, Mark Dacascos — have all gotten the same memo.

Asia Kate Dillon and Lance Reddick in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum.
Asia Kate Dillon and Lance Reddick in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum.
Summit Entertainment

The most vital connecting thread, however, is that everybody loves John Wick. His notoriety hasn’t just earned him the fear of the assassins around him — they adore him, too. Later fights become sparring matches as assassins delight simply in the chance to fight John Wick himself, reveling in their love of the sport rather than slaughter. It’s a welcome change of pace; too much fighting becomes monotonous, even if watching Keanu Reeves slice, dice, and shoot his way through New York is still an unmitigated pleasure.

Keeping the action contained in New York, however, remains key. The international detour in Parabellum feels like dead air. The ever-expanding mythology of the assassin underworld is fascinating, but there can be too much of a good thing, and the Wick movies have trouble walking that line. The franchise is most fun when the mundane becomes lethal, e.g., Peter Serafinowicz’s gun “sommelier” in Chapter 2, or the entire idea of the Continental. A hotel? For assassins? Love it! Parabellum’s escalation, which feels more fitting of, say, Assassin’s Creed, doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Still, a good sense of fun helps move the slower parts along. Parabellum’s lack of self-seriousness is best illustrated by the appearance of Jason Mantzoukas (best known for his inexplicably appealing manic energy) as “Tick Tock Man,” and the way Dacascos goes from stereotypical stoic assassin to the kind of overly earnest bro who’d fit seamlessly into the Fast and Furious franchise. (Give him a spinoff, please!) The film also leans heavily into just how much its audience loves that John loves dogs — his pit bull (back from the sequel) is a sweetheart, and (spoilers) safely kept out of the line of fire.

Throw a horse chase, a Villainess-esque motorcycle-katana fight, and a healthy dose of electro-Vivaldi into the mix, and it’s just enough to keep the Wick formula working — and keep an audience wanting more.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon