JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM - Tick Tock, Mr. Wick
Rules have consquences… as does potential bloat in this otherwise stellar franchise
A running theme throughout “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum”, the latest entry in the wonderfully violent and visually stunning franchise from director Chad Stahelski is that rules, especially breaking rules, have consequences. In “John Wick: Chapter 2”, the title character played by Keanu Reeves broke one of the cardinal rules of this world ran by the all-powerful High Table where it seems an overwhelming majority of the population is part of an underground collective of assassins. Reeves killed someone the grounds of The Continental, a neutral ground that is respected by everyone in the game. As a result of Reeves breaking the rules, he was given the consequence of being declared excommunicado by Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of The Continental, along with having a $14 million contract placed on his head. Winston, being Winston, gave Wick an hour head start before the excommunicado was made official.
That is where “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” opens. For those who might have failed high school Latin, parabellum means to prepare for war. The full phrase, as mentioned in the film, is “Si vis pacem, para bellum”, which translates to “If you want peace, prepare for war”. Wick, who desperately wants peace and has wanted peace for two films at this point, does, in fact, prepare for war because of the consequences of the excommunicado. He prepares to show The High Table that they have to face consequences for their rules, and that drives the plot of “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum”. This movie is about a world where a hierarchy ruthlessly tries to maintain control through rules upon rules while their most dangerous creation is like, “Nah… your rules are garbage, and I think even less of your consequences'“.
The film opens with Wick racing through New York as the clock ticks down on Wick’s sixty minute head start. This is where we meet one of the film’s most inspired casting choices with Jason Mantzoukas playing Tick Tock Man, an associate of Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King, who seems to be having an absolute blast hamming it up in this role. As Tick Tock Man gives Wick a warning, the swarms of ambitious but misguided killers start to come out of the woodwork and into the rainy New York City nights. Wick has to fight his way to and through the New York Public Library to retrieve a few key items. Before I jump away from this point, I must state that Wick’s fight in the New York Public Library with Boban Marjanovic is flat out incredibly creative and really does emphasize the power of readings and books. I say this as the fight comes after an insane one involving horses. I’ll just leave it at that.
From there, Wick tries to get his affairs in order before dipping out of the country, thanks to the help of The Director, played wonderfully by Anjelica Huston. She and Wick have history, and she helps John get out of the country and to Casablanca. Wick goes there to meet up with Sofia (Halle Berry), the owner of a couple of very good tactically trained killer dogs and attempts to find a member of The High Table that can help Wick with the consequences of his actions.
I’ll jump here in to bring up my biggest criticism with the film. When things get to Casablanca, the action grinds to a halt, even though there are crazy insane fights featuring said very good tactically trained killer dogs. One quickly gets the sense Sofia exists as a character only to do a potential cinematic version of a backdoor pilot. I don’t think anyone will be shocked if and when the word comes out that Halle Berry is getting her own film in the John Wick universe. I get what is being done, especially in establishing the Sofia character and continuing to show the international aspect of The High Table, but I didn’t like it. Give me a Tick Tock Man spin-off before a Sofia one, and I’ll die defending that hill.
There is no reason a John Wick movie should be over two hours. Even with the world building, things should be lean and mean. The film should be as tight fitting as John’s suit. Sofia’s entire character could have been removed, and the Casablanca stuff still would have worked. That’s not a good character addition when you think about it. The franchise should be mindful of the bloat because, if it gets away from the core concept of “John Wick killing everything in his path in wonderfully amazing ways”, this whole world could come crashing down in a heap.
Now that I got my chief criticism out of the way, let me talk about something I loved. The villains in this entry are aces. The High Table, throughout the film, frowns on people assisting someone that is excommunicado so they send The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to inform those individuals, our friends Winston, The Bowery King, and The Directory. of their transgressions and to prepare for punishment. The Adjudicator recruits Zero (Mark Dacascos) and his students of sushi chefs/ninja assassins (Fans of “The Raid” will be rewarded), and the table is set for wonderful cinematic carnage.
Asia Kate Dillon’s turn as The Adjudicator is a wonderful display as they play the role as just a cold and unforgiving bureaucratic way. There is no gray area for The Adjudicator. If someone breaks the rules, The Adjudicator is the type that is more than willing to quote regulations and sub-regulations. The character, though, does not personally engage in violence. They are merely a representative of those engaging in violence. Introducing a villain who does not fight in a franchise that is all about the most insanely structured cinematic brawls is a hell of a choice. Bringing in The Chairman from Iron Chef (Dacascos) as a literal chef, ninja warrior, and, well, admirer of John Wick, is also a hell of a choice. Both roles were a delight in completely different ways.
While I’m speaking on casting, I must also commend the performance of Lance Reddick as Charon, the concierge of The Continental and fan of John Wick’s nameless dog. His character has always been aces in this franchise, but he really gets moments to shine in this entry. It is obvious he is a character with a code of ethics that is above The High Table and, pardon the hotel pun, has no reservations about helping Wick when the time comes. Charon is a character that really deserves a killer backstory, and if it turns out he’s been a mastermind all this time, well, I won’t be surprised one bit.
In terms of the visual approach of the film, Dan Lausten continues his stellar cinematography from “John Wick: Chapter 2” in this film, and I sincerely hope he’s back for whatever comes next. I am an absolute sucker for cinematography that showcases a cityscape in the rain, and boy, does this one tickle my fancy. The cinematography also scores major points during a third act fight sequence between Wick, Zero, and his students in a mirrored board room. Along with the library fight, the board room fight is the best in the film. This is a franchise that is all about stylish choices, and that boardroom fight is as stylish as they come.
Setting aside the bloat and problems with the trip to Casablanca, there is a lot to love about “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum”. The fights are crazier, the villains are better, and the world continues to be built before our eyes. I didn’t even mention Wick’s trip to the doctor or the extended time we get with Accounts Payable. With all the eye candy, the crux of the story is still The High Table trying to maintain control via their rules systems and consequences for those, such as Wick, that breaks said rules. The flip side is that those who make rules also must be mindful of consequences. It just so happens the consequences, well, consequence, is named John Wick.
Tick tock, High Table. Tick tock. I really want that Tick Tock Man spin-off.