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John Wick 3, or “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” if you’re feeling fancy, is an action film directed by Chad Stahelski. Released on May 17th 2019, it stars Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane and Lance Reddick reprising their roles as John Wick the titular assassin, the Bowery King, the Continental manager Winston and its Conceirge Charon, respectively. Halle Berry joins the cast as Sofia, an old acquaintance of Johns who’s also a Continental manager herself, while Mark Dacoscos plays Zero, an assassin conscripted by the High Table and Asia Kate Dillon stars as the Adjudicator, a representative of the High Table.
Being the third entry in the series, you know what to expect by now: tight choreography centering around a blend of hand to hand combat and gunplay and frenetic set pieces. Parabellum doesn’t depart much from that. This time around we get some welcome seasonings to the action dish such as a knife fight that’s about as brutal as you’d expect, ingenious use of a horse in a fight and a performance from Sofia and her dogs that is a sight to behold. The icing on the cake, though, is ninjas. That’s right, this time we get ninjas.
“Yeah, yeah. The action’s good. That’s all I needed to hear”, I hear you say. Perhaps, but the best part of the movie (besides Sofia and her dogs) is that Parabellum is more introspective than I expected it to be. I don’t mean in a navel-gazing manner, but in a self aware manner. Act 1 seems to be dedicated to skewering the impulse that started the first chapter and ended the second. I remember thinking in act 2 of the first movie, “Wow, this is kinda stupid and unnecessary” and Parabellum seems to agree, by concisely referring to the thing that set John off as nothing more than “a dog and a car” and the scathing indictment that “I’ve never seen a man work so hard just to end up right where he started”. John has become a bane not only to himself, but to everyone he knows. Watching John revisit the places and people that made him who he was and, by doing so, burn them drives that home.
But then in act 2, Parabellum does something….odd. If act 1 says “This is stupid…”, act 2 says “…so what?” It turns around and doubles down on its premise so hard that it reenacts it with another character – as if to remind us why we bought into it in the first place. You’ll probably figure out who I’m talking about at some point, if you haven’t already, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a side story or spinoff starring them.
But all of this works because of the Adjudicator. While these people may be badasses, they are badasses functioning within an (albeit secretive) system. A system with rules and, dare say, consequences. Chapter 2, arguably carried the theme of consequences (“Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back”), but Chapter 3 makes it more explicit with an actual representative of the High Table. The only exposure I’ve had to Asia Kate Dillon was Valentina in Gen:Lock, but HOO BOY, do we get an amazing performance here as the Adjudicator. With an assertive, but levelheaded matter of factness, they exert an imposing presence that this series hasn’t seen. The closest we’ve ever gotten before are a few choice moments from Charon. He gets to shine in a different way this time around. There’s a certain level of stern professionalism to the Adjudicator’s demeanor. I had certain expectations of the Adjudicator as well as of those they interact with and the movie was more than happy to not oblige me. There’s a method to the way a representative of the the High Table operates and they’re the cold water to the face the audience needs.
Parabellum is a small scale shake up in the John Wick universe. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t compromise the stuff we want to see. It’s just a chance for the characters (and the audience) to do some much needed re-evaluating about what they’ve become and what the big picture is. I’m sure in chapter 4 (and there WILL be a chapter 4), we’ll be back at it again, guns blazing- just with a new found sense of purpose. I can be so confident about future installments because this is obviously a passion project between Stahelski and Reeves. You wind them up, throw them in front of the camera and that’s how you get the magic. However, this also enables the one (albeit minor) problem I have with the film: they have so much they want to do and show you that a couple of the set pieces go on a little longer than they ought to. Regardless, this is still a fun action romp worth your time and I eagerly await the next chapter.