“John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum” is most likely the most violent movie you’ll see this year, and possibly the most violent thing you’ve ever seen, that is, unless you have a taste for Italian exploitation films from the 1970s. The film is woefully low on character development or even storyline and high on body count and jaw dropping action sequences. But choreography and stunt-work are art forms of their own, and this film is an exemplar of those forms.
The film picks up from the last picture as… well, does that really matter? John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is still on the run from nearly every hitman and bounty hunter in town after killing off high-profile Russian mobsters as revenge for the thugs who killed his ex-girlfriend’s dog in the series’ first film. As “Parabellum” opens, a countdown clock ticks off the minutes until Wick becomes an open contract for $15 million for the first person to bag and tag him.
As much as story goes, that’s pretty much it. One gruesome – but amazingly choreographed – fight scene follows another. The first takes place in a weapons depot of some sort, where Wick faces off against a group of Chinese killers. Axes are thrown and land in all manner of places – chests, heads, faces. In the film’s most grim moment, Wick plunges a knife into a guy’s eye up close.
A subplot emerges in which various characters – including those played by Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and Anjelica Huston – who helped Wick in previous films are sought out for punishment by the “High Table,” the series’ somewhat ludicrous overarching criminal enterprise. In this film, the High Table is represented by an “adjudicator” played by Asia Kate Dillon and a sword wielding killer named Zero (Mark Dacascos). Dillon’s character warns McShane’s character that he is in danger of losing managerial rights to the Continental, the hotel where assassins are apparently on neutral ground, for helping Wick.
But I repeat: the storyline here is merely something to move the action along – and there’s a whole lot of it. Among the most stunning sequences are a fight between Wick and Zero’s henchmen in a glass-floored and ceilinged room, the aforementioned bout with all manner of sharp objects and a shootout that livens up an otherwise unnecessary subplot that takes Wick to Morocco, where he meets with an old friend played by Halle Barry. Some cringe-inducing moments involving her character’s two dogs attacking bad guys follow.
The “John Wick” series is one that involves little emotional involvement with its characters or story – and yet, it’s among the most successful of modern franchises. It’s all surface, but it gets by on the fact that the films are impeccably shot, beautifully choreographed and breathtaking in intensity. The film might not give you too much to chew on once you leave the theater, but the ride itself is the experience. And as such, “Parabellum” is one of the better action movies I’ve seen lately.