The “John Wick” franchise is the perfect counterpart to superhero fever. The series is now on its third movie, so it’s well known. But it creates a setting in which the action is a more intimate affair. John Wick is simply trying to save himself. He doesn’t care about saving the world. And yet, somehow that tiny distinction makes these movies even more meaningful.
“John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum” starts out just minutes after the second film ended. It’s mind-boggling to think that all the events that we’ve witnessed in John Wick’s life have taken place over about a week’s time. It’s like “24,” but if Jack Bauer had to sustain his action-hero nature for a full week’s worth of killing.
This latest installment of “John Wick” is relentless. We begin as John comes to the end of his grace period. At the end of the second movie he was pronounced “excommunicado” and given an hour before other assassins could hunt him down and collect the substantial reward now on his head. In this film John never stops running, fighting or killing the people trying to kill him.
It’s a wonder that a film like this — which is so focused on being an action film first and foremost — never becomes tedious. Instead the filmmakers continue to think of inventive ways to film action scenes. We’ve become so accustomed to the quick-cut, shaky-cam action filmmaking that we’ve forgot about the beautiful, violent ballet that action filmmaking can be.
Like the film “The Raid,” “John Wick 3” features sequence after sequence of death-defying stunts that you can’t help but cringe at. Not because they’re bad, but because you can’t believe people didn’t die filming these scenes.
There’s an amazing sequence in which John Wick (Keanu Reeves) and his newest accomplice, Sofia, (Halle Berry) are fighting a seemingly endless stream of masked enemies. The point of view constantly switches from Wick to Sofia and back again. At one point, Sofia is given center stage while Wick takes out bad guys in the background. Sofia has a completely different fighting style, and attack dogs that compliment it. The filmmakers give her ample chance to shine and to take the reins while the title character is dispatching people in silhouetted form far away. Even though Sofia is in the movie for a short time, the film still allows her time to participate in the violent ballet and to showcase her skills.
It’s then where you realize that this film isn’t just a one-note symphony. The “John Wick” movies exist on a different plane. The story is simple, but the world-building is remarkably complex. Every new movie digs deeper into this seemingly endless and intricate world of assassins for hire and the concrete code they live by. It’s almost a fantasy movie in which a completely different world has been created by its creators. Wick, for all intents and purposes, inhabits a different world and we’re just lucky enough to observe it. The “John Wick” series is all about portraying well thought-out action scenes, coupled with a revenge story. The world-building they’ve pulled off is an insanely awesome bonus.
In the way of pure action, though, “John Wick 3” does not disappoint. It sets out to top everything the first two movies have done, and it does so in spades. The fight scenes are fever dreams of violence and movement. There isn’t one wasted frame. The filmmakers allow us to see the choreography that went into these scenes and they only cut to a different view when absolutely necessary.
“John Wick 3” is another spectacular entry in this growing franchise that still manages to stick to its humble roots. I for one hope they continue in perpetuity.