I leaned forward in my seat and said, “Ew!” Not just once, but on multiple occasions.
That’s because “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” is one of the most violent, cringe-worthy actioners I’ve ever seen. For 32 years now, I have watched about 200 movies per year. This has to be in the top 25 of the most violent.
It’s also smart, acknowledges that its audience is intelligent, and often delivers its violence with a tongue-in-cheek approach. It’s what we’ve come to expect from this series that stars Keanu Reeves in the titular role.
Speaking of titles, this is a play on words. “Parabellum” is Latin for "Prepare for war." It’s often used with dialogue you’ll hear in this script: “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” which means “If you want peace, prepare for war."
A “Parabellum” also is a kind of gun or cartridge.
The movie starts moments after the second one, just minutes before a guild of international assassins places a bounty of $14 million on Wick’s head. Suddenly, it seems that everyone in New York is hunting down Wick, who already is wounded.
A desperate Wick begs a crime boss (an icy Anjelica Huston – “Art is pain. Life is suffering,” she declares) for a favor to get him out of the United States. He ends up in Casablanca, but not for long.
Throughout his adventures, he survives ghastly injuries, one of which he causes himself. And he dispatches his enemies with knives, guns, fists and anything else that’s on hand.
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He finds sorta/kinda support from other characters, including those played by Halle Barry, Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne.
There are nods to so many other films I know I missed most of them. Most noticeable, perhaps, is that Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Tiger Hu Chen and Randall Duk Kim are reunited here from “The Matrix.”
Additionally, in one sequence, Wick considers a number of revolvers in his quest for the best weapon. This is a nod to a scene with Eli Wallach who assembles a gun from other weapons in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”
Once again, the director is Chad Stahelski, a brilliant helmsman who cleverly covers the faces of most of Wick’s foes, choreographs fight scenes with the grace of dance numbers and uses backdrops from glass cases to psychedelic environments that keep the eyes dazzled.
This is a terrific film for action aficionados. It’s not a beginner’s movie by any means. If you aren’t familiar with the John Wick mythos, you wouldn’t want to start here.
This reminds me of action films by John Woo, Ringo Lam and Gareth Evans, particularly Evans’ "The Raid" movies.
A simple “Yeah” at the finale will have Wick fans grinning … and waiting for more.