Wick: Parabellum delivers goods, stumbles at the end

Chuck Koplinski

In the classic Hollywood musicals starring Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, it wasn’t uncommon for them to use props as they danced.  In addition to their partners – which included Jerry the Mouse on one occasion – they utilized canes, chairs, hats and whatever other useful objects that might be at hand and would hoof it up on stage, the byways of New York City, a rainy urban street or even a revolving room.  The excitement they, and others of their ilk, generated was through the precision of movement, the razor-sharp choreography they would employ that would create a sense of wonder and delight in the audience.

In many ways, the John Wick films are like these musicals.  They too, are dependent on elaborate choreography, precise movements and generating a sense of awe in the audience.  The only difference is that the titular hero uses firearms as props and may do the tango with multiple, adversarial partners or perhaps a pack of wild dogs. They are a wonder in that regard and appreciating them as violent, noir musicals is the only way I can justify watching and appreciating them.  In the era of gun violence we live in, it’s hard to endorse such violent endeavors as these, what with their massive body counts.

And so it goes in John Wick-Chapter 3: Parabellum, the supposed final act of the Keanu Reeves’ series.  When last we left our hero, he had committed the cardinal sin of taking a life in the assassins’ safe space, the New York Continental Hotel.  The establishment’s manager, Winston (Ian McShane), gave Wick a one-hour head start, as a league of assassins will now be on his tail, hoping to collect the $14 million bounty that’s been placed on his head for this infraction. Chaos and mayhem ensue.

Wick’s flight forces him to look up old friends and call in debts he’d rather not collect. Dropping in on The Director (Angelica Huston), a mother-figure from his past, proves enlightening, whereas looking up an old colleague, Sofia (Halle Berry), nearly grinds the proceedings to a halt as this subplot is superfluous and the actress gives a rather irritating, one-note performance. Along the way, Wick visits Casablanca, becomes lost in the Sahara desert and winds up back in New York City to complete a task that will take the bounty from off his head.  In the process he is kicked, hit, shot, stabbed, run over, branded (twice), loses a finger, is thrown off a building and adds a belt and a book to his arsenal, both lethal weapons in his hands.

Of course, none of this is to be taken seriously, and for the first hour, director and ex-stuntman Chad Stahelski delivers one impressive set piece after another as Wick is put through his paces. Of note is a scene in which he dispatches six bad guys with very accurate and imaginative knife throwing, and an all-too-brief moment where our hero finds himself on a galloping steed on the streets of New York with two motorcycles in pursuit.

The second hour lags badly, brought low by the Berry interlude and a needless subplot involving The Adjuticator (Asia Kate Dillon) who metes out justice when any of the assassins fail to follow their society’s rules. That the screenwriters decide to introduce plot this late in the game is silly and upsets the tone of the movie.  

The Wick films have been propelled by dark humor, killing guys real good and giving Keanu the opportunity to glower and self-consciously deliver his tough guy dialogue. For the most part, that’s what we get, but the repetitious and unimaginative final act suggests that Reeves should hang up his guns with this installment.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at koplinski@usd116.org.

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