Review of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Went and saw the third John Wick film yesterday.

I was happy with it, but it wasn’t quite as good as I was expecting. Solid, still, and I’m actually more confident about the next film (because of course they set up another film in the series).

If you just want spectacle, Parabellum delivers. The storytelling is decent, and matched by tremendous visuals and acting, but there’s too little focus.

I’m going to be avoiding any spoilers in the review.

The Good

Parabellum is a worthy entry in the John Wick series. The choreography isn’t as revolutionary as past movies, but that’s because it’s hard to push back perfection. There’s a lot more hand-to-hand combat and less gunplay, and Keanu is just as excellent at it.

The acting itself is tremendous. Halle Berry in particular shines, but it’s a star-studded cast with no duds.

We also get to see a lot of the other characters have events play out. There’s a glimpse into the underworld outside what we’ve seen so far, though not much insight into the High Table or other noteworth figures.

The visuals are stunning. John Wick has always had a really daring visual direction and it pays off.

John Wick actually goes through some character development, and he really gets more deep in the underworld.

The Bad

John Wick 3 just doesn’t pull off the pacing as well as the earlier two films. It is a mixture of slow exposition at the start that don’t tell us anything we didn’t already more or less suspect, and generally I think just a problem with character/locale bloat that made for issues.

Dare I say it: maybe a little too gruesome at parts? I don’t think that’s quite it. I think it’s just that the incredible hyperviolence could stand to be left implied at times. Ties into the pacing issues above, I think. The action scenes are cool, but how many times do you need to see a sword stab through someone before you get the point? (Technically, they’re the one getting the point, but I don’t think I need to stress this.)

Let me put it this way: in an early scene, there’s a fight in a stable. I think horses kick people like four times during that fight, all because Wick gets them to. At that point it’s not actually productively adding anything, because it gets trite. “Oh hey, look at that bad guy preparing to go behind a horse! Bet he gets kicked!”

I’d compare it to the Expendables in this regard. John Wick is better than the Expendables in every way but one: the Expendables went really all-in on their action scenes and made sure that repetition could be kept to a minimum.

Likewise, there were a lot of times that I think they were going for comedic effect and they fell flat (or else my fellow patrons seemed to enjoy them and I didn’t), or they created unintentional humor in an otherwise serious moment.

The problem that it has is that it’s competing against its two predecessors, and while John Wick 3 is an objectively great action movie, we also know that they can do better.

Verdict

I know that there’s more in the “The Bad” section than “The Good” section, but that’s because it’s John Wick. It’s sort of cliched to say that John Wick is basically the second coming of action film franchises, but it’s really a cut above most.

In this example, the big limitation comes from the fact that Parabellum just doesn’t innovate. It’s a tremendous blockbuster, and it’s definitely got everything you want in an action film.

But the first two films were mythological in scale, feel, and mood. Parabellum doesn’t present us with a John Wick that changes the universe, though it does set up for a sequel that could show us that triumphant Wick.

It’s a great action flick and I’d suggest it to anyone who likes the previous John Wicks, but it’s not a good starting-point for the series (go back to the original two and start there), and it really does feel like it’s a necessary transition to the next film rather than a stand-alone story.

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