John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum

Five years ago, I stumbled upon “John Wick” at a particularly low point in my life. A mindless action piece like that was just what the head doctor would order. I admired the commitment it made to the world that they had created and the fantasy of violence that resulted. Two years ago we got a second dose and it was a guilty pleasure that I never really felt guilty about. Revenge movies are probably my favorite go-to genre for relaxation and cathartic emotional action. As stories, these movies are not really deep or compelling. There is the barest sense of a plot. These are films that move on a few good characters, surrounded by about a million disposable ones. We watch as just about that many get disposed of.

“Parabellum” is the latest chapter in the series, a franchise that looks like it is going to be around for a long while. Keanu Reeves just gets more desperate, more beat up and more angry with every entry. The fantasy criminal society that he travels in is so ridiculously complex and interdependent that it defies credulity and simply has to be taken at face value.  The international nature of organized crime is something that makes SPECTRE look like amateur hour. That’s okay though, it’s cool to have your own mint, and to be able to turn every beggar, cab driver or bellman in a town, into a cog in a criminal enterprise. The idea of the “Continental” hotel working as a five star Marriot for crooks in multiple locations around the world gives some structure to we outsiders as we try to navigate the intricacies of criminal etiquette.

So if story is largely irrelevant, and the world building is fascinating obtuse, what makes the films work as well as they do? The answer is the star  and the action choreography. Keanu Reeves at one time was likely to be remembered as “Neo” in the Matrix movies. That may have been a bit unfortunate since only the first one was very good. I think however, that character will be replaced in his obituary with the role of grieving hitman John Wick. These movies are getting better rather than worse with each entry, and they are doing better business as well. That is a successful franchise worth being remembered for. His thespian skills mat operate in a narrow range, but his action skills expand every year. He is more polished and accomplished with the martial arts moves in these films and the choreography of the gun play is handled by him with aplomb.

There are new characters added to the story as we go along and one of them is played by Halle Berry. Some of you may have doubts about her, but rest assured, after this movie, her action credentials are in order and she has an open passport to kick ass in movies for the next decade. Her character only appears in the film for about twenty minutes, but it was a jam packed twenty minutes that sets up just enough backstory to make what happens feel natural if not credible. This sequence includes two other co-stars that shall remain nameless but who provide a great link between her character and John Wick. They get each other, even if they don’t much like one another.

The first section of the movie is a chase through NYC. We go through parts of Manhattan that are not covered on the “Big Apple Tour” bus schedule. John Wick runs, drives, rides and sometimes flies through the night, engaging in one fantastic confrontation after another. There is an extended knife scene that finally includes a moment of gore that will make you squint your eyes. The deaths in these films are usually so rapid and continuous that we don’t get much time to contemplate how they would really feel, this one is an exception. My two favorite “kills”, to use the horror vernacular, are provided by an animal that John encounters as he is running from all the pursuing assassins [this seems to include at least a third of the people in the five boroughs.] Don’t want to give too much away, but it is quick, unexpected, painful and hysterical all at once.

The closing fights with the Asian gang members played by the two badasses from “The Raid” films were terrific. The character of Zero, as played by actor/martial artist Mark Dacasos is intimidating and charmingly funny at the same time. This film moves into a more super stylized presentation than even the first two chapters, so much so that the jokes actually work as a result. Plain and simple, if you liked the first two films, you will certainly like this one, and there is a great chance that you will like it even more because the director, Chad Stahelski has added humor to his arsenal of weapons. I’ ready for Chapter 4 when it gets here.

Long Shot

One way that you can tell that Charlize Theron is a great actress is that you can believe she has fallen for Seth Rogan in this movie. Of course it plays to some of the worst traditional chauvinist fantasies that a beautiful woman can be in love with a shlub like this, but you know what, it works because the actress sells the idea and plays it in a low key manner with just the right amount of trepidation to start with and then a full blown commitment.

This is a romantic comedy filtered through the irreverent humor that typifies movies with Seth Rogan. The premise seems like it is something that should not work in the real world but we do have the American Political situation as it is, so it seems plausible. The President has decided not to seek a second term and is willing to endorse his Secretary of State to replace him. She would be the first female President and her background will be a point of contention in the election. Masters of Analytics have assessed her on her qualities and they need to punch up her humor numbers. Theron is the Secretary of State and Rogan is a long ago neighbor who happens to be an acerbic writer with some wit. After they connect by accident she chooses him to help craft her voice and make more of her points in an amusing way.

This is sort of the flip side of “The American President” with a little bit of “The Contender” thrown in. Layer on a big helping of “There’s Something About Mary” and you will understand what you are getting into. It is formulaic, but there are tweaks to the formula that are outrageous and make the movie funny in a way that we probably should not be laughing about. Rogan is presented as a clown at first, bumbling his way into the scene by making stupid mistakes. Theron is overworked, idealistic and ambitious, all things that typify a woman in the world of politics. Still, there are bits that are amusing before the two start to fall for each other. I loved the micro naps that Theron’s character indulges in, and Rogan’s mode of dress is infantile to begin with. Once they are thrown together and the sexual part of the relationship begins, the humor becomes more coarse. Frankly, the ultimate threat the couple faces from hacked footage on his computer is something that goes over the top, but “There’s Something About Mary” is over twenty years old now, so it will probably be old hat for audiences weaned on that sort of humor.

O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays Rogan’s best friend and he gets to have a moment that I never thought I would see in a Hollywood film. The two of them discuss politics at one point and Jackson’s character reveals something about himself and cogently explains his position and it is a moment of sanity about how the world ought to be. The willingness to look at other points of view is what allows us to function as a society, and this film acknowledges, even if it is for humorous purposes, that this is not the way politics currently functions. I don’t want to suggest that this is a serious political film but it does have some interesting themes and that is one of them.

In the end, your enjoyment of the movie will depend on your tolerance for the romantic comedy beats that make up the genre, and your willingness to care for the characters. I was won over despite feeling that both characters were a bit self centered to begin with. I liked the way their past is woven into the story to make them a bit more real, and the awkwardness of their attraction is not ignored by either of the characters. A real romantic partnership exists when the two people complement one another in the ways that their partners need them to. It may be a cliche when Jerry Maguire says in the romantic climax of that film, “You complete me,” but it is true of real love and that felt like it worked here.