Five years ago Keanu Reeves was at the end of a decade-long post-Matrix hangover—a ten-year run that included a string of clunkers and crap, topped off by 2013’s dismal 47 Ronin. Then in the summer of 2014, we began hearing rumblings about a new Reeves starrer called John Wick, written by relative unknown Derek Kolstad and directed by novice Chad Stahelski, who had been Reeves’ stunt double in all three Matrix movies.

Based on its pedigree, John Wick had no business working, but by golly it did—in the process launching a mega-successful franchise that not only redefined a genre but also completely rebooted Reeves sagging (er, dead?) career.

Now the story is apparently coming to an end in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, arguably the best of the bunch and certainly the new benchmark for slam-bang action flicks. As superbly choreographed as it is highly stylized, Parabellum is an excellent and fitting (though suspiciously open-ended) conclusion to an excellent trilogy.

Overlapping with the end of Chapter 2, Parabellum opens with Wick (Reeves) less than an hour away from becoming excommunicado at the hands of the High Table after his rule-breaking murder of a crime lord. The contract on his head is $14 million, and he is officially cut off from any support from his previous allies. All he has is a few gold coins, a marker, and his trusty pitbull.

After his Belarusian “family” grants him safe passage to Morocco, he cashes in his marker with reluctant fellow assassin Sofia (Halle Berry), whose daughter John rescued years earlier. The pair then set out to earn John a meeting with The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), the only person who can officially revoke the bounty on John’s head. Gunfights, fisticuffs, and swordplay ensue. And then some.

As fans of Wick already know, though the series may seem focused on nothing but beating, shooting, stabbing, and otherwise assisting humans in shuffling off their mortal coil as efficiently as possible, it is in fact a supremely well orchestrated and smart version of the old “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” tale. Parabellum takes everything the first two films gave us and ups the ante even more to finish the trilogy in fantastic fashion. The fight choreography is among the best ever captured on film—and features death-by-horse and death-by-library-book as two of its more clever dispatchings. Reeves, meanwhile, has never been in better form, breathing the requisite life (and then some) into a character that could easily devolved into just a kick-boxing, gun-shooting robot.

Stahelski, however, is the real star of the show, proving that he has quite the artistic eye, from his visually stunning settings to his seemingly innate ability to take typical jiu-jitsu-heavy fights and turn them into something almost balletic in nature. (The beauty and grace of ballet, in fact, is featured brilliantly in a scene that juxtaposes Wick’s ultra-violence.)

Though Parabellum does leave things wide open for the return of Wick and his cabal of carnage, the franchise has apparently come to a close, and if that is indeed the case, it’s a wonderfully satisfying one. Never has one man’s campaign to kick as much ass as humanly possible felt more like a work of art worthy of appreciation.

Note: Lionsgate has just announced that John Wick isn’t done yet. Chapter 4 is officially set for release on May 21, 2021.


4.5/5 stars