Cinema Dispatch: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

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John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum and all the images you see in this review are owned by Summit Entertainment

Directed by Chad Stahelski

So here we are once again.  Now I wasn’t the biggest fan of the second movie, but the John Wick movies have their own sense of style and craftsmanship that’s hard to ignore even when the story begins to fall apart, at least as far as I’m concerned regarding that sequel.  Now the time has come for them to hopefully right the ship and bring this franchise back to what made it great instead of the convoluted mess that we got last time.  Will we be getting the conclusion to John’s story that will make this whole wild trip worth taking, or is this franchise already too far into the rabbit hole for us to reasonably expect them to dig their way out of?  Let’s find out!!

The movie picks up mere minutes after the end of the last one where John (Keanu Reeves) has just been ex-communicated from The Continental for (SPOILER ALERT FOR JOHN WICK 2) killing what’s his face in the last film (Riccardo Scamarcio).  Now obviously no one expects John Wick to go down quietly, especially not the owner of The Continental (Ian McShane), and yet a bunch of assassins take a swipe at the guy with about as much luck as you’d expect.  However, John’s plan isn’t JUST to kill enough people to clog up the Hudson River; he needs to go and appease The High Table who I guess is in charge of The Continental and all the other Assassin Hotels which apparently was a THING in the last movie that I just forgot about.  Now what’s his face that no one liked from the last movie was apparently a member of this table (can’t be THAT great if he got a seat) and so John’s up to his eyeballs in not just hot shots trying to make a quick buck, but basically everyone within the orbit of The High Table.  This includes The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) who is there to clean up (i.e. kill) everyone with even a vague connection to John’s recent activities, and Zero the Assassin (Mark Dacascos) who’s band of ninjas have been hired to help The Adjudicator do his dirty work.  So while that’s all going down in New York, John is trying to get a meeting with a member of The High Table which is no easy task as he has to cash in whatever chips he has left to get help from his former trainer (Anjelica Huston) and a former colleague who owes him one (Halle Berry); both risking a lot even if whatever assistance they offer is through official channels because The High Table is having none of that crap anymore.  Will John find what he needs to in order to spare his life from the wrath of The High Table?  What will those back in New York do now that they’ve gotten the ire of the people at the very top of the food chain?  Just how many dudes do BOTH sides have to spare over this rather small dispute between the one guy none of them can kill and a dead dude who only got the job like a week ago?  Is there REALLY no other way they can solve this!?

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I propose a cutest dog competition!  I mean really, there’s no other reasonable way to solve this.

I’m… tired.  John Wick as a film series exhausts me the same way that Kingdom Hearts does.  It started off great with a personal story about the main character while also giving us a bit of intrigue as to the bigger world just underneath the surface, but once it was time to turn this into a FRANCHISE, we got bogged down in layer after layer of nonsense and bull-pucky that even the most elaborate and well executed action scenes can only do so much to overcome.  Even worse is that this entry isn’t JUST further devolvement into minutia to the detriment of character and an ACTUAL plot, it’s an Avengers: Infinity War style set up for a sequel that promises to ACTUALLY be good instead of just doing THAT movie right now and saving us all the trouble.  I just don’t get it.  I don’t understand why ALL the ridiculous nonsense that keeps piling up on what should be a rather straightforward franchise has taken center stage to the point that half of this movie is exposition and rather pedestrian world building while the other half is admittedly pretty great action sequences.  Character development?  What’s that!?

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“I sure do miss my wife.”     *BLAM*

Alright, so I’m gonna have a lot to say about what I DON’T like about this franchise, but let’s start this off on a positive note.  The fight scenes are incredible and worth the ticket price alone.  If you can tune out all the bad stuff going on around it, you’re treated to some of the most elaborate and brutally executed action scenes in any recent movie; perhaps even surpassing the big Marvel films in terms of sheer excitement.  Sure, they’re completely different KINDS of action, and I don’t want to dismiss the CGI heavy set pieces that make up a lot of modern blockbusters, but this is the closest we’ve gotten to old school kung fu cinema in quite some time; especially since Jackie Chan and Jet Li stopped starring in mainstream Hollywood films.  There’s a certain amount of realism that you actually don’t see even in movies that try to go for that aesthetic, yet it’s balanced so well with the over the top action that none of it feels out of place.  John Wick will always take the time to shoot someone in the head to make sure they stay down, yet the absurd amount of luck and perfect timing he has in every scene is a sight to behold.  He has to reload his weapons, but it’s done in such a way that it increases the tension whenever he does it rather than break up the flow of the action.  On top of that, while I’ll have PLENTY to say about the script soon enough, there are some genuine bright spots throughout.  Keanu Reeves is still hamming it up to the dramatic hilt whenever he actually says something in this, newcomers like Halle Berry and Mark Dacascos fit seamlessly into the world, and Lawrence Fishburne will ALWAYS be fun to watch; especially when he’s enjoying a role as much as does here.

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“You’ve got to remember… there is no bird.”     “What?”     “AHHH!!  I’M JUST KIDDING!  LIGHTEN UP, WILL YA?”

So that’s all the good stuff and frankly the things I didn’t like are PRETTY specific to my tastes so take the following with a certain amount of salt.  The first thing that really irked me is just how… cheap human life is in this.  This was kind of a problem in the second film where someone puts a hit on John and a bunch of up and coming wannabe assassins try to take him out, but they pump it up to ELEVEN here to the point that I simply cannot understand what are motivating these characters.  If John Wick is THIS well known, has killed THIS many people, and is in trouble with the highest ranking people in… I don’t know, THE WORLD, why do so many Johnny on the Spots and Diligent Dianas think they have a shot against the guy?  Henchmen are one thing, and I think the first movie did a great job of setting up why the bad guys NEEDED to fight back against John despite it being a losing proposition, but this is just an endless stream of guys who presumably who presumably all work together and know each other willing to not only TRY to take out the best of them all but go in thinking they have a legit chance of pulling it off.  It just feels so WASTEFUL in a way that most other action films don’t, and maybe it’s just me that worries about this kind of thing, but I never felt like there was a greater purpose to the violence except for greed and unchecked ego.  The only one that feels like an exception is Mark Dacascos who honestly isn’t THAT far off from the faceless masses of greedy and gung ho wannabes, but he has enough development throughout to give his motivation some weight and frankly he’s tough enough to pose a legit threat unlike everyone else who just throws themselves at him thinking that they will be the one to finally kill the unkillable.

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“Okay, I can either keep shooting people in the head, or we can settle this with a game of backgammon, what do you say?”     “Eh… I don’t have any dice with me, but I DO have plenty of henchmen on call…”

Now there are those who are trying to kill him for reasons OTHER than greed and narcissism, but here’s where my other problem with this movie comes into play and where my comparison to Kingdom Hearts starts to ring a bit true.  The first movie only had the semblance of lore as far as The Continental and whatever this league of assassins nonsense is to focus on John and his increasingly fragile state following the death of his wife and the unchecked rage with which he tries to deal with it.  Chapter 2 brought more of that to the forefront which bugged me to no end, but still felt relatively contained to John’s story.  This one?  Yeah, this one goes full franchise maintenance and world building minutia to the point that they’ve introduced a NEW level of hierarchical and bureaucratic nonsense that everyone seems to understand but is far too underdeveloped in my opinion for me to get behind it.  This is the problem with this movie being a setup for the next one because everything I simply don’t buy in this film will PROBABLY be explained or given the proper weight and significance next time, but The High Table and all that just never feels like a genuine threat to the point that everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) lets them run wild and make bullcrap declarations on everything.  Like… this movie is all about CONSEQUENCE, yet none of them really apply because anyone who COULD experience consequences doesn’t really suffer them, and the only ones who do are nameless goons who frankly don’t deserve what happens to them.  And I get it.  You read that and think what a fool I am for saying the bad guys are TOO MEAN in this, but at least in the context of this singular film (and not as a part one to a film we won’t get for two years) it doesn’t make for a satisfying antagonist; at least for me.  I don’t know, everyone’s treating John like HE’S the jerk, and it takes basically an entire movie for someone else to notice that hey, MAYBE the shadowy organization that controls the fates of all within it and rules with an iron and uncompromising fist MIGHT just be one that isn’t on the level, and I just don’t feel that was necessary; nor did it make for particularly compelling drama.  And look, there’s a certain amount of value in more or less flipping the script from the first film, someone taking a rash and impulsive action being unendingly and rigorously punished for it, but it works SO much better in that one than in here because everyone felt like CHARACTERS.  You felt the rage coming off of Keanu Reeves and you understood the no-win situation that Viggo was in when he found out what his son had done.  This movie feels like countless lives are being cut short and families being destroyed over what comes off as little more than a paperwork dispute for as much as The High Table are emotionally invested in this.  No one is crying over the death of what’s his face, no one seems particularly angry at John or doing anything with a sense of weight or gravitas to it (as interesting as Asia Kate Dillon’s performance is, the detachment of it does The High Table no favors in setting them up as worthwhile villains), and if no one is particularly invested in the action, the death, and the bloodshed happening on screen, then why should I?

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“How about we send thirty guys after him?”     “We already tried that.”     “Oh.  Seventy?”     “We tried that too.  They were gone within thirty minutes.”     “Oh dang.  Well I have to catch up on Game of Thrones, so how about two hundred and see if they last two episodes?”

Like with Infinity War, it’s possible that once they bring this to a close that everything will FINALLY click in place and I’ll look on this film a bit more kindly, but then that didn’t really HAPPEN with Infinity War when End Game came out, so… I guess we’ll have to see.  I have my own hang ups about what I want to see in movies like this, and the last two movies have done tripped over quite a few of them.  I’m not a fan of cruelty in films, in total detachment from the weight of ones actions, and especially endings that don’t resolve anything so that they can stretch out this narrative for another film.  If you aren’t bothered by any of that then I can’t see you having much to complain about here other than a lack of further development on John’s part and perhaps a bit of sluggishness here and there as everyone has to EXPLAIN just how important and weighty all this stuff is.  The action is great as always, and the actors perform their roles admirably, but there’s just not enough THERE for me personally to get on board; not even the copious amounts of unrelenting violence and creative camera work.  Maybe this will all work as one big quadrilogy, but for now I can’t quite recommend it based on how much I personally enjoyed sitting in that theater wondering why any of this was necessary on the part of anyone involved.  Seriously, if you just leave him the heck alone, NO ONE ELSE WILL HAVE TO DIE!!  That probably wouldn’t be the MOST compelling movie out there, but it’d at least make sense!!

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