Slick and stylish, John Wick 3 brings out the best in the franchise

IMDB Synopsis: Super-assassin John Wick is on the run after killing a member of the international assassin’s guild, and with a $14 million price tag on his head – he is the target of hit men and women everywhere.

John Wick 3: Parabellum picks up right where John Wick 2 left off: With our titular protagonist (Keanu Reeves) on the run after coldly killing what amounts to a board member for the shadowy international assassin’s guild. In the 3rd installment of this action gun-fu franchise, director Chad Stahelski smartly expands this assassin underworld universe to far reaching locales. Even though only a couple days have passed since the activity in JW1, it’s a welcome treat to have the John Wick world expand even further. The subtitle of the film, “Para Bellum,” means “Prepare for war.” Apt, as John Wick isn’t out for revenge anymore, he’s fighting to clear his name and reclaim his life.

Picking up where JW2 left off, Wick is frantically on the run for a doctor to patch him up before his excommunicado sentence via Winston (Ian McShane) takes effect. As the underworld’s kill squads zero in on Wick, they predictably fail, but it’s in this exercise that the John Wick franchise shines. He’s not fighting red shirts, he’s doesn’t face Kill BIll-esque numbers… the set pieces are equal parts inventive, visceral, and impressively staged. Without giving too much away, they involve a fight in a knife shop, a tag-team spec ops-like raid with another operative and her German shepherds, and visually inventive glass box fight with big time assassin Zero (Mark Dacascos). There’s a swordfight on motorcycles! Fighting armored wet work teams in a darkened hotel! It’s all gorgeous and immaculately staged.

In addition to the set pieces, the movie smartly introduces new characters that are a great compliment to the universe. They are vibrant, standalone characters that are stylish and feel fleshed out. The aforementioned Zero breathes some humor into an antagonist. Halle Berry‘s Sophia has a broken past that Wick is a part of. The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) and The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui) build out the assassins guild lore. Anjelica Huston as The Director! The one exception is The Tick Tock Man (Jason Mantzoukas). Not that he’s not good, but his screen time is limited. Here’s hoping for more of him and the Bowery King (Laurence Fisbourne) in JW4.

The other improvement over previous installments is that Wick seems to have a physical toll exacted. Unlike JW2, his bulletproof suit doesn’t absorb all the damage. He pinballs off a roof, he get stabbed, gets shot… and it matters! Sure, John Wick is the greatest killer this side of Beatrix Kiddo, but he’s not invincible and we can track the wear and tear throughout the film.

In a cinematic climate that’s full up with middle of the road Superheo flicks (some are good, but still), broadly appealing yet underperforming action (think Skyscraper), and straight up bombs (Rambo), John Wick 3 is refreshing. It’s refreshing to see some original IP that stylishly and smartly built itself up from the previous films without preaching or jumping the shark.

Highlights: The action set pieces. All of them. By pushing the limits of what’s possible with stunt coordination, they are a perfect intersection of practical action and stylistic filmmaking.

MVP: It has to be Keanu as John Wick.

Should you see it: If you don’t see this, you’re not missing anything culturally omnipresent, but if you are a part of the John Wick hive, then this is a great installment. 8/10.

Director: Chad Stahelski

Studio: Lionsgate // Original release date: May 17, 2019