Thursday, May 16, 2019
Review: "John Wick: Chapter 3 -- Parabellum"
John Wick runs like an old man with rheumatoid knees.
Hollywood can do amazing things with faces, but the knees always give you away. Star Keanu Reeves staggers and clomps in a herky-jerky cadence that bespeaks of a man in his 50s who’s more worried about preserving his tendons than achieving maximum speed.
Yes, yes, if you’ve followed the legendary assassin’s journey through the first two movies, you know that Wick’s been repeatedly pummeled, stabbed and shot as he’s pursued by a virtual army of other killers, so that certainly factors into how much he’s slowed down. A couple of other assassins even makes jokes about his lurching ways.
He’s still game for a third go-round in "John Wick: Chapter 3 -- Parabellum,” which is a continuation of the story that plays out over a few days' time, during which Wick has waded through an increasingly deep ocean of blood.
The last portion of the title is Latin for “prepare for war,” so you know things are just getting ratcheted up to another level of ultra-violence.
I liked the raw kinetic energy of the first two movies, which were known for putting veteran stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski in the director’s chair, a then-novel approach that has since been much imitated. (And surpassed, imho, by “Atomic Blonde.”) The fights were in our face, unmasked with no jumpy editing or obvious stunt doubles.
The franchise reaches middle age here, relying more on CGI and other cheats, and with some fights that go on way longer than they should. Same for the movie in general, which feels bloated at 10 minutes past the two-hour mark. These sorts of action-reliant spectacles are best at a tight 101, like the first one.
Still, it’s hard to deny the movie’s still a lot of fun, what with all the Glock blasts to the face, people getting thrown through windows, motorcycle sword fights and chop-socky rope-a-dope. There are just enough talkie scenes to act as a deep breath before we plunge in for more slice-and-dice.
It seems in the last film Wick, who was reluctantly drawn out of retirement after five years, had committed the ultimate transgression against the High Table, the fictional ruling part of a worldwide association of assassins. They have their own little pet rules, with sanctuary hotels in each major city, always called the Continental, where killers can trade in special gold coins for refuge and weapons.
Wick killed a member of the Table on Continental New York grounds, so now he’s hunted -- excommunicado -- with a $14 million price on his head with nowhere to turn for help. A mysterious “adjudicator” (Asia Kate Dillon) shows up and deems that others are at fault too, including Winston (Ian McShane), the gravely manager of the Big Apple hotel, and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who runs the seedier side of town with an army of winos.
They helped John Wick before, and now must pay their own pound of flesh.
Halle Berry is a new face as Sofia, who manages the Continental in Casablanca and owes him an old favor. Ditto for Anjelica Huston, a Belarus matriarch who runs the ballet school where Wick grew up. That at least explains his grace with guns and knives, twirling in place like Nureyev as he takes one life after another.
Wick even gets his own assassin fanboy (Mark Dacascos), who runs a streetside sushi bar by day and commands a cadre of ninja assassins at night. He keeps telling Wick how honored he is to be fighting him, which is a hint of his long-term prospects.
Bedecked in a sleek black suit, long hair and scraggly beard, Reeves is more a force of vengeance than an actual person. But this is not the sort of movie you go to for dialogue and character development. It’s a gleeful orgy of bullets and bruises, film noir as bloodbath.
Drink deep, because it looks like we’re in for a whole lot more of these.