john wick chapter 3 review

In the John Wick universe, the law of diminishing returns does not exist. Somehow, each new entry in the action franchise only ups its game, going bigger, bolder, and crazier. With John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, director Chad Stahelski takes the series to new heights, upping the stakes, expanding the mythology, and unleashing one jaw-dropping action sequence after another, to a point where it becomes damn near euphoric. John Wick 3 is a bone-cracking, horse-kicking, dog-biting, book-smashing, ax-throwing action masterpiece.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) can’t catch a break. All the world’s deadliest assassin wanted was to stay out of the murder business, but then some punks had to steal his car and murder his adorable puppy. Ever since then, he’s been stuck in a seemingly never-ending battle against countless scores of well-dressed killers who want him dead. John Wick: Chapter 2 ended with John breaking one of the sacred rules of The Continental – the hotel that assassins all over the world head to for a respite. According to the rules, there’s to be no business conducted on the Continental grounds. That is to say: no killing. But John was pushed to the edge by the smarmy Santino D’Antonio, and promptly put a bullet in Santino’s head in the Continental lounge.

Now John’s life is forfeit, as he’s been declared excommunicado – all of the secret underground assassin perks and protections are null and void to him, and there’s a multi-million dollar contract out on his life. To make matters worse, Santino was a member of the High Table – the shadowy organization that runs pretty much everything. John’s actions have drawn the attention of the haughty High Table Adjudicator, played delightfully by Asia Kate Dillon, who not only wants to punish John, but also wants to punish everyone associated with him. That includes John’s old pal Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of the Continental; the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who runs an underground of homeless spies; the Director (Anjelica Houston), an old acquaintance of John – and more. No one is safe.

This sets the stage for what is essentially a feature-length chase. John Wick: Chapter 3 wastes no time, picking up seconds after the last film ended, with John trying to get the hell out of New York. Easier said than done, as one trained killer after another comes for his head. John Wick, being John Wick, does what he does best: he kills them. And he does so in increasingly creative ways. After brutally dispatching one enemy with a book, Wick moves on to actually use a horse to dispose of two other bad guys. Things really heat up when he ends up engaged in an all-out brawl with several henchmen inside a location overflowing with knives, axes and other sharp weapons. And all of this is within the first fifteen minutes of the film.

John knows he can’t keep running and fighting forever. He has to somehow make amends, and he has a plan for that, too. That plan takes him to Casablanca, where he reconnects with old friend Sofia (Halle Berry), who doesn’t seem particularly happy to see him. Like John, Sofia has a soft spot for dogs. In fact, she has two canines she keeps with her at all times. And with good reason – she’s trained them to attack any fool who would get in her way. You better believe this scenario leads to a stunning action sequence in which John, Sofia and Sofia’s two pups obliterate a whole string of gunmen trying to cut to them down. Berry makes a perfect, ass-kicking addition to the series, and I want more of her and her very good killer dogs immediately.

There’s so much running, chasing, punching, shooting, stabbing, and exploding in John Wick: Chapter 3 that it can be just as overwhelming and exhausting as it is thrilling – and the movie knows this. Exhaustion is a running theme throughout the narrative: John Wick looks tired. Sure, he’s still very capable at slaughtering his enemies, but he’s lost the spring in his step. He’s rundown, and tired of running, and the movie – and Reeves’s performance – lean into that. Rather than make John Wick 100% superhuman, John Wick: Chapter 3 acknowledges that for all his skill, he’s still human – and engaging in repeated battles takes its toll. You get the sense that John isn’t trying to make amends to just save his ass – he also really needs a breather.

This tiredness also plays into the film’s sense of humor – Parabellum is the most playful of the three films. Stahelski and company have figured out exactly what this series is, and exactly who John Wick is as a character, and thus know exactly how to play John’s plight for laughs. A brawl near the end is immensely funny, as John tussles with two killers who banter about how cool it is to be fighting the legendary John Wick.

Also funny: Mark Dacascos, as the film’s secondary villain. Dacascos’s assassin character Zero is a full-blown John Wick fanboy, and he wants nothing more than for John to take him seriously – something that will never happen. Dacascos brings a breezy lightness to the role, garnering big laughs as he pathetically tries to get on John’s good side – even while trying to kill him.

As for Reeves, he continues to own this franchise. John’s exhaustion gives Reeves something new to work with here. The actor is still in fighting shape, but he’s clearly having fun letting John miss a step or two as the fights drag on, and as his body grows more and more pummeled and tenderized. As long as Reeves keeps making these movies, they’ll be worth seeing.

There’s more to John Wick: Chapter 3 than just incredible action. Like the second film, Chapter 3 expands on the mythology and world-building, opening up the world John inhabits even wider. The more we learn about this assassin underground, the more preposterously complex it grows. And yet, there’s always thought put into things, to the point where even the grandest absurdities have their own kind of logic. It makes for a highly enjoyable world that we want to spend more time in, and learn more about. That’s the true brilliance of this franchise. To just have John killing off people, with no real meaning, would get old fast. But by constantly expanding this heightened reality, we can’t help but get drawn deeper and deeper into this Wonderland, tumbling down a rabbit hole, waiting to see where it all goes. By the time John Wick: Chapter 3 ends, you’ll be almost as exhausted as John Wick himself. And just like him, you’ll be ready to come back for more.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer for /Film. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, Mashable, and more. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net