I went to see the absurdly-titled John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum this week.
While I’ve watched the whole series, I’m not sure I’d call myself a fan. I like the action, but the assassin political intrigue leaves me cold. So, does the third film in the franchise get the balance right?
The first 20 minutes of John Wick III: Return of the Wick are the best. Our hero is on the ropes, wildly outnumbered, and has to improvise with whatever is at hand.
This leads to some great slapstick moments – I loved John taking down enemies by provoking a well-timed kick from a horse, or that moment where both he and his opponent realise they’re having a fistfight in an aisle full of knives.
But it’s also a lot more compelling to watch a fight scene when John actually feels like the underdog and there’s a sense that things could really go wrong for him.
I was reminded of my favourite Every Frame a Painting video about Jackie Chan’s action comedy, where they point out that Chan always starts at the bottom and has to fight his way to the top. In that case, it’s an opportunity for a joke. But this is important even for a serious action film. It’s a lot more satisfying to see someone survive not just through sheer power, but also through their wits.
By comparison, some of the later action scenes are downright videogamey. Watching Halle Berry’s character and her two dogs join the fray was a novelty, but it was hard not to hear “Player 2 has entered the game” in my head as she and Wick easily slaughter dozens of nameless goons.
As for the shootout in the hotel, it’s like watching someone play a first person shooter with hacks. When one tall guy in a library seems more dangerous than an entire tactical team of the High Table’s fully-armed best – and is more dangerous, since the library fight leaves John needing emergency surgery, while he escapes the gunfight without a scratch – then the balance of peril feels really off.
There’s still some good action near the end of the movie, in part due to appearances from The Raid‘s Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman. But those inventive first 20 minutes teased me with what I thought could be a favourite film of the year, and I don’t think the rest of the film lives up to that promise.
Mark Dacascos appreciation station
The other best bit of John Wick, Part the Third: Alia Iacta Est is Mark Dacascos. Dacascos plays a rival assassin called Zero and he totally steals the show.
Dacascos is a veteran of low-budget action movies (and, uh, Iron Chef America) and he’s a fun martial artist to watch. But what makes him really enjoyable is his decision to play Zero as a total John Wick fanboy. He really wants to kill John Wick, but he’s also just so gosh-darn excited to meet him.
I think the film really benefits from this sort of giddy enthusiasm. The John Wick series can be a bit po-faced at times, with its dead wives and dead dogs, but it can also be really, really, silly. This is a world in which roughly 10% of the population appears to be part of a secret society of paid murderers. In which offices are decorated with guns, iTunes visualisers and collections of crystal skulls. In which “just go walk into the desert a really long way until you almost die or whatever” is considered a valid set of directions. It’s impossible to take it too seriously.
And which side of John Wick 3D: The Third One (Casablanca Drift) would you rather have? The one where everyone sits around having very serious meetings about assassin bureaucracy? Or the one which considers a well-placed horse as a valid weapon, like it’s some sort of R-rated Looney Tunes? Give me option 2 any day.
The High(ly boring) Table
Unfortunately, a large chunk of the movie is taken up with its plot, which is boring.
I miss the days of the first John Wick, when we just had a straight-forward revenge story. Instead, John wIIIck: Wick Takes Manhattan is bogged down in a lot of nonsense about an audit from management.
Meanwhile, John spends a large chunk of the movie trying to track down a High Table bigwig so he can beg for forgiveness, but then he changes his mind and defies them again almost immediately.
None of this is very interesting. But even worse, none of it is resolved, as the film would rather tease John Wick: Chapter 4 – Semper Ubi Sub Ubi. So John starts the film excommunicated from assassin society, with no resources and the High Table out to get him. And at the end, he is in exactly the same situation, except now he’s angrier.
Three stars for John Wick 3. Five stars for Mark Dacascos. I will still see the inevitable fourth one.