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John Wick 3: Chapter 3 — Parabellum (2019)::rating::3.5::rating::3.5

Like the Sundance Kid, the John Wick movies do their best work on the run.  Indeed, the opening shot depicts a broken, bloody Wick (Keanu Reeves) huffing his way through a Manhattan downpour, his faithful, fateful dog panting alongside him.  From there, the movie barely slows down long enough to take a deep breath, which works to its favor because the audience doesn’t have time to scrutinize some of the goofier plot details.  And that might sound like a jab at the movie, but it’s not.  This franchise has never been about building an airtight storyline or sweeping character arcs.  Life for John Wick is an entirely visceral experience:  Kill or be killed; keep moving or die.

This third chapter assumes you’ve experienced its blood-soaked predecessors, as it kicks off immediately after the second installment.  John Wick has just committed an egregious act by dispatching a powerful enemy on neutral ground.  Now, the shadow origination for which Wick worked as an assassin has put a massive bounty on his head.  Frantic, friendless, Wick now finds himself a million miles away from the peaceful life he gave up so much to get.  He turns to two powerful women to guide him toward safety and possible redemption:  The Director (Anjelika Huston), a Belarusian crime boss who acts like a hard-ass surrogate, and Sofia (Halle Berry), a fellow killer and former ally who shares Wick’s love of dogs.  With their help, Wick has to settle some old scores before a legion of lethal people can close in on him.

Mostly, this plot exists as an excuse to place Wick in a series of virtuoso action scenes.  It’s an underlying joke of the franchise that John Wick is a well-tailored boogeyman, known to every mercenary in the world.  He speaks just about every language and knows every hotel concierge.  So, when Wick’s bounty goes live, pretty much every scumbag killer in suits up and goes hunting for the most dangerous game.  Wick has to brawl his way out of anywhere he goes, where it’s a library, a subway station, or a store that sells knives.  (Incidentally, if knives and axes plunging into skulls is your kinda thing, then this movie will reward you several times over.)

John Wick has always felt like a distant cousin to Jason Bourne.  Both men are relentless, razor-sharp killers who mow down any enemy by any means necessary.  They are resourceful, and damn near indestructible.  That said, there are some key differences:  While Bourne spends his movies engaged in a lean, hungry pursuit of truth, Wick is fully aware of who he was, is, and wants to be.  Bourne’s violence feels crisp and clinical, and his lower body counts reflect that.  Wick’s brawls are infused with bold, ballsy Tarantino flourishes that reach an almost operatic grandeur.  (At several points, this movie harkens back to Uma Thurman’s demolition of a Japanese restaurant in Kill Bill.)  Put it this way:  Take a Bourne-style instrument of death, infuse him with some of Charles Bronson’s apocalyptic revenge-rage, and you get John Wick.

Third movies in the franchise are usually where all the air finally goes out of the balloon, but John Wick 3 does a great job of clearing the same bar set by its predecessors.  The action scenes are tightly edited, brilliantly shot, and endlessly involving.  The whole thing is exciting to the point of being exhausting.  John Wick never stops running, and we never stop running with him. If you enjoyed the previous films, there’s just no excuse for missing this one.  John Wick 4 has just been announced, which begs the question:  Are there seriously any bad guys out there John Wick hasn’t already killed?

131 minutes.  Rated R.


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