In a film market oversaturated with messy, ugly action sequences, the 'John Wick' series has been a much-needed breath of fresh air. Keanu Reeves ('Red Pill, Blue Pill' franchise) stars as the titular Wick, a retired hitman who, after the one-two punch of losing his wife and his pet dog, decides it's time to bulletproof-suit back up and seek revenge. The main appeal of the franchise for many has been the glorious action scenes, where hand-to-hand combat is shot in a less frenetic but much more coherent (and as a result, exhilarating) way. Not only is the third instalment, 'Parabellum', the best of the 'John Wick' series, it is also one of the best action films of the last five years.
'Parabellum' picks up moments after the second instalment, with Wick having lost his alliances in the assassin world but gained a $14 million bounty on his head, and his hit is about to go worldwide. Those with a delicate heart need not apply for 'Parabellum'; the first fifteen minutes alone are packed with some of the most brutal on-screen kills since, well, the last 'John Wick' film. In 'Parabellum', everything (including the body count) is bigger. Guns, knives, horses, axes and books are all utilised as weapons for fights so intense that the audience in my screening were audibly gasping. And that's just the first act.
The 'John Wick' series has an incredible ability to make the dullest locations the grounds for white-knuckled fight scenes. The film's marketing material is bathed in wonderful purples, yellows and greens, and this thankfully extends to the film itself, tweaking the unnatural hue of freeway tunnel lights and making them green enough that the scene feels exciting. The set production is simply fantastic too, and there is an incredible level of detail and luxuriousness to the hitmans' headquarters, even if not all are necessarily the most practical. Sure, it looks cool, but the idea of a big boss hitman's office being located on an open, uncovered balcony feels ever so cheesy. It's obvious that this is a series that does not dabble in realism, but it's small moments like this that might distract some viewers.
The second act is where the film starts to slightly falter. While the first instalment remains the most robust from a narrative standpoint, providing a logical story has never been the strongest tool in the franchise's arsenal. Save for a glorious fight scene with more headshots than a Disney casting room, the film's middle is padded with dialogue scenes. John no longer wants revenge; he seeks redemption. Flanked by Halle Berry (the 'X-Men' franchise), John seeks the leader of The High Table to try and scrap together something of a life. A common criticism of the franchise has been the lack of stakes – after all, there is little to no suspense in watching the world's best hitman fight a bunch of lesser skilled assassins. Reeves is a rare and incredible case of an actor doing a large majority of his own stunts, but at 54, there are moments in 'Parabellum' where Wick takes a little bit longer to get back up, and little bit longer to throw another punch. These lend themselves to the film's main idea that Wick is tired, Wick is old, and Wick just wants to live in peace. For now.
"Pragmatic" is the last word anyone would use to describe the ‘John Wick’ franchise, and it’s surely the last word the franchise would want you to use either.
It should come as no surprise that 'Parabellum' brings down the house with its final fight scenes. Admittedly, I was slightly worried the film would cheat audiences out of a well-done finale with its use of flickering neon lights, but these are soon replaced in favour of a stunning set piece which delivers one of the most exciting fights of the franchise.
For all the film's cheesiness and occasional absence of logic, this may be by design. "Pragmatic" is the last word anyone would use to describe the 'John Wick' franchise, and it's surely the last word the franchise would want you to use either. There is something truly dramatic, truly camp about watching a well-suited man murder a horde of men, as marble floors are pelted with bullets, against an operatic soundtrack. 'John Wick' may not be the smartest franchise, but it's hard to care when you're having so much fun.