May 20, 2019
I’ve wanted to see today’s movie the second I walked out of the theater after “John Wick Chapter 2” in 2017. And I was excited to see “John Wick Chapter 2” the second I finished streaming “John Wick” two days before seeing the sequel, as I hadn’t yet jumped back into the deep end of movies. Now, does today’s film stack up? I’ll let you know in a second, but for a few other action films with great fight choreography, check out “Psychokinesis” (Episode #124), “Manhunt” (Episode #133), “Kickboxer: Retaliation” (Episode #205), “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” (Episode #211), and the incredibly brutal “The Night Comes For Us” (Episode #295).
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Here we go!
But first, One Movie Spouse summarizes “John Wick” and “John Wick: Chapter 2”.
Amy: So there’s this guy named John Wick, who’s having a tough time. His wife died of cancer, and he was feeling pretty low, but she sent him a puppy before she died. But then, Theon Greyjoy busts in with some goons, beats poor John senseless, kills the puppy, and steals his car. So, of course, everyone’s gotta pay. But a bounty’s out on his head, so other people are trying to kill him at the same time. And at the end, he adopts another puppy.
Joseph: That about covers it.
Amy: And then, in “John Wick: Chapter 2”, he’s like, what about my car? So, it turns out Theon’s uncle has the car, except he’s not like that douchebag Euron Greyjoy. Really, kind of a wimp. The car has a few minor dings, so he sends it away for repairs. Then, some new Italian guy says John owes him, and John says no, so he destroys John’s home, and then John says whatever, I’ll do it. So, John takes care of business, but then the Italian Guy and the new Batwoman try to kill him. And when *that* doesn’t work, they put yet another contract on his head. So, John calls in some favors, gets a bunch of weapons, and goes after the Italian Guy, while everyone else is trying to kill John. But most importantly, at the end, the puppy survives (YAY!), although it looks like John might not (BOO!).
Joseph: Works for me. And what are your hopes for Chapter 3?
Amy: Puppy’s gotta live.
Joseph: Agreed. Puppy’s gotta live.
Today’s movie is “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum”, the third installment in the pet revenge gun-fu action thriller directed by Chad Stahelski and written for the screen by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abrams, based on a story and characters created by Derek Kolstad. The film follows John Wick (Keanu Reeves), who has a $14 million bounty on his head, after quite intentionally killing a member of the international assassin’s guild on neutral ground. Now on the run, Wick must survive as the world’s greatest assassins come after him to collect.
Action films have come a long way. I only really had two choices for action films growing up. The first was the alpha male driven military action thriller, which includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and a host of other action stars. The focus was on explosions and bad dialogue, perfectly lampooned by the 1993 action comedy, “Last Action Hero”, and more recently with Stallone’s “Expendables” franchise. The second choice was the horribly-dubbed, but incredibly choreographed Asian action films, most eminently from the Shaw Brothers. I had no context in which to set their plotlines and stories, nor their success overseas or the size of their huge cult following in this country. But I was astounded by the fight choreography, and my friends and I would often try to recreate it, sometimes with disastrous results.
I thought the mainstream was alpha male action heroes, and the imported action films were just filler. Ignorant, I know, but it was before the time of the Internet and I didn’t have Tarantino at the local video store acquiring the hidden gems and steering me in the right direction. It wasn’t until Jackie Chan went mainstream in the United States with “Rumble in the Bronx” that I started to see a new level for action films, and the way the choreographers could adapt the setting into the action. While I could hear bare-chested alpha males firing machine guns one-handed in slow motion in the next theater, I was watching Jackie Chan take on all comers with whatever was available. So did a lot of other people, and fight choreography has only gotten better, more realistic, and captured better than ever before. The “John Wick” franchise has taken action films even further, becoming the live action equivalent of video game first person shooters, in all the best ways. And if you’re wondering if “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” lives up to the standards of both the franchise and the action film scene, I can assure you that it does.
I think it’s safe to say that the “John Wick” franchise is here to stay, as long as Keanu Reeves is willing to head it up. The first two films were both certified fresh, a rarity with action franchises which often overdo the second film. “Chapter 3” places us immediately after the events of “Chapter 2”, with John Wick attempting to outrun the excommunicado bounty on his head, which begins the first of many intense action scenes. And just as “Chapter 2” expanded the cinematic world, “Chapter 3” does the same, introducing not just new characters and locales, but also familiar faces and, as we’re reminded throughout the film, the consequences of Wick’s choices in the first two films. We see a much larger world and a much larger structure that governs it than either of the previous two films, a move from a franchise that knows it has staying power, and I’m extremely excited for whatever comes next.
However, all the worldbuilding comes at a cost to the rest of the film, especially as the franchise also begins to tinker with the formula from the first two films. John Wick has a bounty on his head from the get go, which creates a main storyline interrupted by random encounters from parties looking to cash in or seek other advantages. We get more information about John Wick’s past and the history of the Assassin’s Guild, but both sets of revelations also come with a lot more questions. As much as I love the action and the lore, the film has virtually no viable story, or at least one that doesn’t make complete sense, and probably won’t until more is revealed in later chapters. We have a lot more possibilities, but also need to consider revisiting the formula in order to continue having character growth.
My concerns are more for the franchise than for the film itself. It is probably the best second act comic book movie of the year, focused exclusively on moving plot within a larger universe, as told through one person’s story. It’s no longer an origin story like “Captain Marvel” or “Shazam!”. It’s not a saga conclusion like “Avengers: Endgame”. It is true to form, playing by the rules it has established, and digging into the non-action elements that are also endearing, especially the intentionally cliché dialogue and the well-timed comic relief. Rest assured, there will be more “John Wick”, and hopefully with another film, more answers that lead to more possibilities for intense action.
“John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” is a second act comic book action film that expands the franchise universe while emphasizing its many strengths. It maintains its incredible action choreography and distinct charm, but it can also feel more like a two-hour long interlude than a complete story. Fans of the franchise, or action films in general, should definitely check out this film. And for those who don’t know, the film contains some pretty heavy violence and graphic injuries. Viewer discretion advised.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 9.0/10
“John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” (2019) is rated R and is currently playing in theaters.