The last half decade has been good to action fans. Along with 2018’s excellent Mission Impossible: Fallout, the John Wick series has delivered some of the best action movies ever filmed. Yes, that sounds like prisoner-of-the-moment analysis, but even though I’ve just seen the third installment in the series, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, I’m confident that take will hold up.
One of the biggest factors contributing to John Wick’s appeal is a crass but most simple one: In a world filled with PG-13 films, there’s something great about a true R-rated action movie. There won’t be gunshot wounds to the shoulder with someone surviving. John Wick is definitely in kill-shot territory, and the onscreen results are consequently fun as hell.
If you saw the second installment from 2017, you’ll arrive to Chapter 3 to find John Wick (Keanu Reeves) the day after that movie ended, on the run after killing Santino D’Antonio. There is a $14 million price on his head, not for the killing, but the fact that it happened on grounds of the Continental Hotel, a place run by Winston (Deadwood’s Ian McShane) and a place that is safe ground for professional killers. No business on hotel grounds, but John broke this rule of the High Table council of crime lords, setting the conflict for this third film in motion.
That’s the entire premise of the movie, and that kind of simplicity is integral to the brilliance of the John Wick franchise. At their core, these are straightforward plots full of brilliant fight and chase sequences. This is, after all, a series that’s best known for the fact that its hero is inspired to action when somebody steals his dog.
In Parabellum, Winston and other characters from Chapter 2 are revisited by the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), who is going to anyone who helped John Wick get a head start on his contract. This leads John to travel to Casablanca and meet with his old friend Sofia (Halle Berry) in an attempt to get the price off his head. Sofia owes him because he has some thingy that pricks your finger and tests your blood to see if you swore a blood oath to help your homie out. She helps him — the fact that she’s also a dog lover, with two German shepherds, doesn’t hurt.
The film explodes after a meet-and-greet Sofia sets up, which she intends to proceed without violence, but we know that at some point all hell is gonna break loose. Incidentally, Parabellum is the most impressed I’ve been with Halle Berry. Her gun work as Sofia is amazing in a choreographed scene with Reeves, which amps up the anticipation for possible films to come featuring the tandem.
All told, the movie is just mayhem, and one moment puts this in perspective better than any other: Through a course of events, Wick ends up battling the High Table. When Winston asks what he needs, his response is simply, “Guns. Lots of guns,” allowing Reeves to parrot one of his most famous lines from his one of his most famous movies, The Matrix. Usually, when films are predictable, the critic inside me hates it. In Wick’s case, I know what I’m paying for, and getting it in droves is what makes the John Wick chapters some of my favorite film experiences.
It would appear I’m not alone — Parabellum earned $57 million during its first weekend at U.S. theaters, easily beating the opening tallies of the first two John Wick films ($14.4 and $30.4 million) and ending Avengers: Endgame’s historic run atop the domestic box office.
Side note: At the screening I went to, some parents brought their son, who appeared to be about 4. He cried, clearly afraid of the violence. Hey parents, get a damn babysitter for this one — it’s worth it.