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.