Back for another taste of the old ultraviolence, Keanu Reeves adds to the legacy of what could be his best — or at least most fitting — character as the titular assassin in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum.
Directed with gusto by Chad Stahelski and full of tremendous action sequences, the film builds on the series’ record-setting number of grisly head shots and enriches the appealing secret world of hired killers and their intricate code of conduct, atoning for the thrilling but visually flawed Chapter 2 and delivering entertainment on par with the saga’s first installment.
Its subtitle is Latin for “prepare for war,” and the film smartly picks up right where the previous adventure left off, with John on the run and declared “excommunicado” from the hitman sanctuary of The Continental after breaking the aforementioned set of rules — and with one hour until the ruling body of the High Table’s $14 million contract on him goes into effect.
The bounty naturally attracts hefty interest, and as the range of would-be killers tries their damnedest, it’s again difficult not to chuckle at John’s ridiculous skill set, ingenuity and survival instincts, as well as the impressive body counts he leaves behind after each video-game-level-like encounter.
Creative as these chase sequences and showdowns are, there’s an occasional monotony to the fighting, be it a few too many crotch attacks by the pair of German shepherds trained by Sofia (a refreshingly badass Halle Berry) or John getting thrown through more panes of glass than a crash test dummy.
Easing the blow as John survives, advances and calls on favors is Parabellum’s array of colorful characters. Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Jerome Flynn (Bronn from “Game of Thrones”) and Laurence Fishburne all have a blast playing oversized figures and blessedly keep their dramatically limited star from talking too much.
The outlier is the robotic Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon, Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black”), whose no-nonsense administration of the High Table’s laws may fit her job description but clashes with this cool, sophisticated world through her jarring, personality-free vocal delivery.
With Dillon’s ill-fitting portrayal nonetheless achieving the part’s purpose, Stahelski steadfastly conducts this bloody symphony and crafts a milieu that faithful viewers won’t want to leave. When the credits unexpectedly roll after two brisk hours, it feels as if there’s still room for another act before the magic wears off — but thankfully it appears Parabellum is far from the last spin in this tantalizing universe.