Even with conservative expectations, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum disappoints. Even with adjusted expectations as the film progresses; the first act seems like it’s going to be a two hour real-time action extravaganza with lead Keanu Reeves fighting his way through seventies and eighties New York City filming locations, only with twenty-first century fight choreography, special effects, and gorgeous high dynamic range photography. The film’s lighting is explicitly, intentionally exquisite and director Stahelski prioritizes those possibilities in the composition. It’s a great looking film.
Even after the first act, when Reeves is off on a quest to find the master assassin–there’s definitely a movie buff involved in making the Wick franchise; this time Reeves does a Tuco homage—Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—but it doesn’t seem like it can be screenwriter Derek Kolstad because the script sounds like no one involved with writing it (shouldn’t dump it all on Kolstad, he had three co-writers on this one) has ever seen a movie. Just video games. Yet someone knew Reeves on a horse versus ninjas on motorcycles would be great.
And a lot of Parabellum is great. Lots of really good supporting performances—Halle Berry’s action sidekick is outstanding and the film’s less once she leaves the story. And not just because Reeves ends up roaming a very artificial looking desert in hopes of the aforementioned master assassin giving him a last chance. No spoilers on the master assassin but… it’s a casting disappointment. Not just because the actor’s not a big enough name for a film very deliberate in its guest stars, but also because said actor’s performance is wanting. Parabellum is like if a video game were well-acted. Ian McShane is outstanding with absolutely nothing to do except act it up. Same goes for Anjelica Huston, who plays Reeves’s old teacher; she teaches mastery assassin classes to the boys, ballet to the girls. They never get into the gender split.
But pretty immediately Stahelski makes it clear the ballet is going to be a metaphor for the action sequences. And he delivers on them. The fight choreography is fantastic, the lengthy endurance fights are awesome, Evan Schiff’s editing doesn’t break anything (doesn’t really help either); Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s music is solid. They seem to be borrowing from a John Carpenter theme for this score. I think They Live but I’m guessing. Effective music. The film’s exceedingly well-produced, well-executed.
Oh, yeah, great cameo from Jerome Flynn. Don’t want to forget him.
Now for the negative adjectives.
The third act is a disaster. Not because it’s got this big double-cross and triple-cross or whatever cross, but because of how poorly the previously complimented creatives execute the crosses and crossing. Parabellum doesn’t sour right away, it starts by one thread not paying off, then another, then finally it becomes clear they’re just setting up the sequel. Only in a way you could never make a sequel but promise further adventures. No rest for the wicked type stuff.
Maybe if Larry Fishburne weren’t so eh in his role as an erstwhile Reeves ally. Or if Asia Kate Dillon’s emissary character (she works for the still unseen big crime bosses and assesses betrayals or something) weren’t blah. Dillon plays it better than the part deserves, especially since Stahelski ignores Dillon’s successful infusion of comedy into the role. But the most disappointing performance is Mark Dacascos, who’s an absurd (but deadly) assassin out for Reeves’s blood. Dacascos gets wackier and wackier as the film progresses, culminating in what could be a seriously funky homage (saying to what would spoil) but it doesn’t build to anything. He’s just runtime fodder to get Reeves to the sequel setup.
It’s a real bummer, considering the often excellent production. It’s a super-violent, extravagently silly action picture; good lead from Reeves (he doesn’t get too much dialogue this time), great fights, beautiful looking. The writing just catches up with it. The writing and the uneven distribution of good supporting players.
Parabellum could’ve been a contender. But isn’t, which is a bummer.