“John Wick: Chapter 3” review — is Parabellum the best?

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum dir. Chad Stahelski 2019

Fans have waited patiently for John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum ever since Chapter 2 left us dangling.

Chad Stahelski's franchise kick-starter landed in 2014 and we've already arrived at John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum. In the opening shots of 2017's John Wick: Chapter 2, we see stuntwork projected onto a building in black and white, right before a speeding car collides into view. Here, we are thrown straight back into the mix, accompanying John Wick (Keanu Reeves) as he has one hour to prepare for an onslaught from what appears to be every man in New York City after his head. All eyes are on him, emphasised by a projection of classic film star Buster Keaton towering above him, scanning the scene. 

Keaton is widely regarded as one of the greatest stuntmen that ever lived, and his very inclusion draws attention to the film's heritage. The shot shows Keaton peering into the future, and we imagine that if he actually could, he'd be astonished and petrified by the sheer ferocity of John Wick: Chapter 3. This is a piece of work made by a dedicated crew who respect and acknowledge the origins of their craft, but the desire to push it forward - and to its very limits - is what makes it so incredible. 

In comparison to the first two features, the narrative feels less integral to our enjoyment. There are more lore and mythology, but they only serve to facilitate more bloodshed and send John from location to location, offering a new backdrop to the carnage. Essentially, everyone is after him; seriously. There are twists and turns, but Stahelski knows exactly why his audience are here, and exactly why he's smitten with the series — it's the action, and these films are fast becoming the new yardstick for cinematic violence.

Honestly, the first half hour of this latest instalment contains some of the most dizzying action sequences in years. The suspense intensifies as we follow John around a city crashing down on him in a hail of rain, knives and bullets. Action cinema aficionados will absolutely fall in love with it because scenes like this are rarely orchestrated with such perfection and authority. The main issue is that after this first act, it all feels a little underwhelming for a while. 

In the previous films, the protagonist had clear goals, but here his goal is essentially survival. The middle act does admittedly sag for some brief moments, but that's because John is in a state of purgatory, unsure of his own direction. Hence, the audience feels a little lost too. However, Stahelski always rewards patience with a parade of violence just around the bend. 

Once the action begins again at the Continental, there's absolutely no stopping this film. It's a sensory overload, with expertly mapped out fight sequences, hypnotic production design and a welcome sense of humour. Stahelski doesn't allow a minute to breathe for at least forty-five of them, and he has brought the very best out of Reeves. He may have been Neo some time ago, but now, he is John Wick; the man, the myth, the legend.

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