If Batman is the hero that we deserve but don’t need right now, John Wick is the opposite. For years, moviegoers have been obsessing over mediocre action films and shelling out money for incomprehensible CGI-fests that could’ve been made by an algorithm. What did we do to deserve John Wick? Slickly directed, inventively violent, gorgeously neo-noir John Wick—we need you right now. Who cares if John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum has two subtitles? The third entry in the series is finally here.
If the first John Wick was a gleefully ludicrous shot in the arm for the action genre, John Wick: Chapter 2 was its intravenous drip of high art. Bursting with neon and violence, it maintained the comedic self-seriousness of the original while improving on its expert staging and interesting world. It also ended with quite the cliffhanger: Mr. Wick may have started his murderous rampage to avenge the death of a puppy, but by the conclusion of Chapter 2, a global organization of assassins was putting a bounty on his head. The stakes have been raised for Parabellum—which, by the way, means “prepare for war” in Latin.
Parabellum begins in media res. Chapter 2 may have been a sequel, but it was still structured with a concrete beginning, middle, and end. The third entry has no such machinations: it’s a third act from start to finish, completely relying on the velocity built by the first two movies. From a pacing standpoint, Parabellum isn’t so much a new John Wick movie as it is an extended denouement to Chapter 2.
Which is fine—an additional dose of John Wick is always welcome. But Parabellum’s third-act pacing is at odds with the movie’s narrative goals. Compared to the first two films, the action in the third chapter is surprisingly sparse: Parabellum dedicates a sizable amount of its runtime to worldbuilding. Chapter 2 also filled out details of the fascinating Wick world (trademark that, Lionsgate), but its fictional environment was the connective tissue of its action thriller identity. Parabellum feels like the reverse—the movie’s action sequences punctuate a two-hour exercise in developing the Wick world. The global scale of the assassin underworld is impressive and its hierarchies continue to captivate, but because Parabellum coasts on the momentum of Chapter 2 instead of constructing its own three-act story, the worldbuilding can come off like it’s stalling the franchise’s conclusion.
Eventually, the reason for this tension becomes clear: Parabellum is setup for a fourth John Wick movie. Another sequel is nothing to complain about, but it does cheapen the faux-finality of Parabellum and give the movie a bit of an identity crisis. It really is preparing for war more than it’s showing us one.
When it comes to the action, though, John Wick’s strengths are better than ever. Where Chapter 2 emphasized dazzling cinematography, Parabellum goes all in on choreography. Director Chad Stahelski—who was Keanu Reeves’ stunt double in the Matrix sequels—knows a thing or ten about action physicality, and when Parabellum fixates its frame on a fight, the results are palpably ferocious. The movie features some of the most brutal and stylistic action this side of The Raid, and even borrows actors from that Indonesian classic. Parabellum sees the art in martial arts.
And at the center of it all remains Keanu Reeves, steadfast in his dedication to performing his own stunts and putting his overacting to good use. There has perhaps been no better niche for Reeves than the maximalist world of John Wick, and even if the impending fourth film softens the blow of Parabellum’s potential, I’ll gladly stick around to see Reeves in this role as long as possible.