Three Reasons to Watch John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum*
Each week, we pick a key film from the Curzon Home Cinema collection. This week it’s Keanu Reeves’ return as the hitman with a grudge in the third frenetic chapter of the John Wick series. No, seriously, it really is.
You haven’t visited the wrong blog. This is Curzon. And yes, we are taking about John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum, the third entry in the latest Keanu Reeves franchise to become a cult phenomenon. If you haven’t seen the first two John Wick films and don’t see the point in continuing to read this, wait right there, because your knowledge of the series’ increasingly baroque plot isn’t even close to the top of the list of reasons why you should see this film.
But first, a brief recap. A few years ago, John Wick hung up his holster (along with all his guns, knives, knuckle dusters, nunchucks and pretty much anything that would successfully stop all but a tank in its tracks). He had found love and the criminal fraternity he worked amongst gave him a one-off pass: he could live in peace and happiness so long as he didn’t ‘moonlight’ ever again. Wick and his wife’s life was happy and peaceful – as the brief flashbacks at the beginning of Chapter 1 inform us. But she died of a terminal illness. As a parting gift, she left Wick a dog to remember her by. And one night, shortly after her funeral, some idiotic son of a Russian gangster, desiring Wick’s car, breaks into the ex-assassin’s house and steals it, but not before he and his gang dish out some violence against our hero and, worse for them, kill the dog. Wick’s revenge is swift and brutal. He doesn’t so much take down the son as obliterate New York’s Russian underworld.
That was the end of chapter one. But now that Wick has re-entered the fray – and because that original film made its studio a healthy sum at the box office – former colleagues have the right to call in favours. The first is a particularly cruel parody of an Italian Mafioso, with a suit so shiny even Valentino would balk at wearing it and an accent thicker than any chianti Hannibal Lecter would care to sample. After some persuasion, Wick carries out the debt, but is double crossed and – this is the only bit you really need to know in advance of watching Chapter 3 – takes his revenge on the hallowed grounds of the Continental Hotel. The hotel, part of a worldwide chain that specialises in old school furnishings but exuding an air of menace that would have most mortals opting for a night at a Travelodge, is a safe space for all criminals. No violence is permitted on its grounds and a member who does so becomes ‘excommunicado’ – cast adrift into the world, with all aid refused to them and usually with a hefty price on their head. And so – SPOILER ALERT – that’s where Wick finds himself at the end of Chapter 2: on the run, with the clock counting down to the moment when the status of excommunicado becomes active and a world of killers priming their instincts.
You might have gleaned from this overview of the first two parts of the series that the John Wick films are violent. They are. But it’s neither the violence of a real-world crime drama nor the comic heroics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s more in tune with the John Woo bullet ballets of the late 1980s and early 1990s, such as The Killer (1989) and Hard Boiled (1992). But even those films pale against the rococo extravagance that stunt actor-turned-director Chad Stahelski unleashes upon us. Moreover, the latest John Wick shoot-‘em-all-up adds new meaning to the phrase ‘head shot’. And if there is art in this film (it’s unlikely that Sun Tzu was thinking of a John Wick-like figure when he composed his military strategy masterpiece ‘The Art of War’, even though I wouldn’t put it past Reeves’ character to spout a Tzu line like ‘Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt’) it lies in the sheer invention of the action set-pieces. Right from the get-go, Keanu Reeves throws himself into moments of furious physical activity. He might be known as the nicest film star in the real world, but start a camera and the actor becomes a straight-face SOB with a permanently blunt axe that requires constant grinding. It’s a role that suits Reeves’ cinematic skillset. Like his Jack Traven in Speed (1994) and Thomas Anderson/Neo in The Matrix (1999), Reeves’ latest box office star says much with little and even more with his fists. Moreover, you get the sense, by the time Chapter 3 has edged, bruised and bullet-strewn, to its end credits, that we’re only just starting to witness the full arsenal of antics this series intends to aim at us.
Three reasons to watch John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum
• The first fight. Chad Stahelski has chosen a library, of all places. (Later, a fight takes place in a museum of antique weaponry. It sometimes feels like Sotheby’s were employed as the location scouts.) It’s one of the most inventive fight sequences, but also underpins the sheer absurdity of the film – the pleasure lies in the whole thing playing out so straight-faced by its cast.
• And if you’re looking for irony, you need go no further than a droll Ian McShane, who plays the proprietor of the New York branch of the Continental Hotel. Think Deadwood’s Al Swearengen minus the profanity and you’re there. It’s a fabulous turn by the British thesp, who oozes charm and just the right amount of malevolence.
• Finally, Keanu Reeves. He has played everything from a Shakespearean villain and Buddha to no end of action heroes and the odd romantic lead. Some might question the range of his acting chops, but it’s hard not to be impressed by his commitment to a role. As John Wick, he hones his performance – physically, at least – up to 11 and tears through the complex action set-ups like the pro that he is.
* And for any curious minds, here's what one dictionary has to say about the word parabellum:
Early 20th century the name of a German make of gun, from Latin para bellum (from para! ‘prepare!’ (imperative of parare) + bellum ‘war’) in the phrase si vis pacem, para bellum ‘if you want peace, prepare for war’.
John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum is currently kickin’ ass on Curzon Home Cinema.