John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

 

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John Wick once again visits the old ultra-violence on armies of New Yorkers in an exhausting display of style over logic.

   

John Wick 3

   

You can’t take John Wick seriously. He is an emblem of indestructible cool beyond any notions of sense or logic. What the John Wick films provide are an ever-escalating display of stunt work that for pure stylization and scale are designed to sate the appetite of its fan base. Any unfortunate filmgoer who strays upon the franchise unprepared, will find themselves baffled and embattled. Once upon a time, any film as violent as John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum would have been banned, or at the very least had its more gratuitously violent moments excised. Now, such stuff is routinely delivered in 15-certificate packages, excused as fantasy escapism for video game-hardened ghouls.

 

What is more puzzling – and disturbing – is the critical candle held to John Wick. At least, in some quarters. After all, the films are little more than style parading as ‘entertainment’. And with the character’s growing commercial appeal – the second outing grossed twice as much as the first – the third chapter now has two Oscar-winners thrown into the mix (Halle Berry and Anjelica Huston).

 

Yet the dialogue remains defiantly absurd and self-conscious. Laurence Fishburne bellows: “I am the throne!” Anjelica Huston explains to Wick that, “as you know, art is pain,” while asking him, “How can you bury the ocean?” As for poor Ian McShane, he just sits back sipping a brandy while his luxurious hotel is shot to rubble by busloads of heavily-armed assassins. Only Keanu Reeves, as the retired hitman Mr Wick, has the sense to say as little as possible.

 

The story, of course, is immaterial. All one really needs to know is that a large chunk of the New York populace are trained assassins and that John Wick has a bounty on his head to the tune of $15 million (£11,785,800 in sterling). Yet because he insists on wearing the same black suit, white shirt and tie borrowed from the set of Reservoir Dogs, he is always instantly recognisable, even when staggering across the sand dunes of the Sahara.

 

There are some striking set pieces, although invariably they are pushed beyond their sell-by date. There’s a blackly comic sequence in an antique armoury, in which the exhibits are desperately wrenched from their glass cabinets. There’s a chase scene on a Manhattan street in which Wick outwits his assailants on horseback. And there’s the episode in the New York Public Library when he kills a giant with a book.

 

More ludicrously, not long after Halle Berry has shot him down in Casablanca, he bounces back up and joins her in an epic gunfight with countless swarms of Arabs. Of course, the stunts themselves are awesome – and, no doubt, that will be enough for Wick’s growing legion of fans. But Chapter 3 is also preposterously pretentious, completely barmy and utterly exhausting.

 

And for those who care, the title refers not to a geometric figure, but to the Latin for “prepare for war.” Be prepared, indeed.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane, Saïd Taghmaoui, Jerome Flynn, Jason Mantzoukas, Tobias Segal, Randall Duk Kim, Robin Lord Taylor.

 

Dir Chad Stahelski, Pro Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee, Screenplay Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams, Ph Dan Laustsen, Pro Des Kevin Kavanaugh, Ed Evan Schiff, Music Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard, Costumes Luca Mosca.

 

Thunder Road Pictures/87Eleven Productions-Lionsgate.

130 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 15 May 2019. Cert. 15.