Let’s be clear from the out set, the John Wick films are very well made pulp entertainment. They are not a comment on the current state of the world or the human condition. They are a series of films in which the titular John Wick has a lot of fights and fires a lot of guns in a series of inventive set pieces.
Why do I have to state this up front? To set the bar and expectations. The first film was a revenge flick predicated on the grief of his wife and dog. We are now going down the rabbit hole and entering a fantasy world in which dark underworld organisations partake in extraordinary acts of violence on the streets of a major American city and there isn’t even a glimmer of a blue police light.
John wick’s world is like a combination of The Warriors and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. The story is a direct continuation of the events of the second film. It boils down to John being excommunicated by the top tier of the underworld, the high table, and on the run from every hitman possible. I won’t spoil anything beyond that.
The film makers know what the audience is here for and provide it in spades, the first fight is within 10 mins of the opening. A brutal hand to hand fight using an ancient book as a weapon in the isle of a library. It just gets bigger and more brutal from there.
Each fight is a ballet of violence and my hat goes off to the choreographers and stunt team. Not only do the fights look great, there are a series of long takes with multiple fighters performing amazing feats of martial arts. It’s stunning to watch. Moreover, these don’t look like choreographed set pieces. Everyone has clearly worked incredibly hard to make them look and feel painful and impactful. There are several moments that reminded me of the violence in Netflix’s Daredevil corridor scenes (if you don’t know what these are, get yourself to YouTube now!).
In addition to the choreography and stunts, the film looks great. The set design and lighting are beautifully stylised, further elevating the feeling of this world as separate and other. Every location is excellently realised, however there are a couple of scenes that do have a feel of studio set rather than real location, but this can be forgiven in the overall experience.
By this third outing the regular players fall into their characters well. Ian McShane and Lance Reddick provide the ‘cool’in the continental, Lawrence Fishburne is endlessly watchable and Keanu Reeves is his usual zen self, which is now to be expected. Of the new additions, I want to call out Mark Dacascos as this films primary nemesis, Zero. He is a fun character and a worthy adversary to John. The film continually provides snippets of his skill leading to an epic final showdown, reminiscent of Enter the Dragon.
In summary, this is 2 hours of incredibly well performed and shot action. It’s not trying to be anything but entertainment and it massively achieves it. It will likely leave you breathless and hopefully wanting more. The title is well chosen, Parabellum being Latin for “prepare for war” this is a glimpse into a wider underworld, and introduces interesting concepts and characters. However, I hope this is only an opening salvo in a much bigger war.