JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 — PARABELLUM (2019, Chad Stahelski)
Magic can be subdivided into different kinds. Guys like David Copperfield and Criss Angel and shit, they’re illusionists. People who can read minds are mentalists. A guy who saws a woman in half is doing “big box” magic (Penn & Teller do a lot of creative stuff with big box magic), and then you’ve got the guys like Shin Lim, who come up to just a few inches away from your face, take out a deck of cards, and practice such insane sleight-of-hand that you question your own eyes — that’s close-up magic. To make an analogy to action movies, FURY ROAD is big box, AVENGERS is illusion, and JOHN WICK is close-up magic. It earns its money with hand-to-hand combat, well-staged fights, practical stunts, and bloody, gory kills that can make you jump out of your chair.
For the first half hour or so of PARABELLUM, there’s about half a dozen of those moments. Wick fights a giant with a library book, gets in a knife fight with way too many bad guys in an antique weapons shop, uses a horse to kick away his foes, and has to fight off his enemies while riding full speed on a motorcycle. It’s relentless — until it relents. And when it relents for dialogue scenes, you realize it’s crawling way too far up the crevice of its own mythology, answering questions nobody ever asked. Did you care if Wick got his name from his actual Belarusian last name of Jonovich? Do you need to know about tickets, coins, passes, rosaries, consecration, and excommunication? If not, tough shit, this movie is going to explain the hell out of it.
Plot-wise, it’s simpler and more boiled down than Chapter 2 — but in paring down the story, it also fails to give Wick any motivation beyond mere survival. In the first film he had only revenge on his mind, but revenge is more fun to get behind. In the second film he had twisted loyalties and goals to achieve. Here, it’s just ‘can he survive,’ and that doesn’t give Reeves as much to do in the acting department — though he still manages to be as cool, physically, as any action star alive. Unfortunately. Halle Berry is also in the movie, and she’s quite bad. Her big action scene in Morocco is beautifully staged (and those dogs are awesome) but it’s also a lot of who-cares. Angelica Huston does more with her 3 minutes on screen than Berry does with her 23.
Then the movie keeps adding new faces and new villains and gives Wick more faceless henchman to dispatch. As impressive as it looks (and the production designer has a field day), it doesn’t really snap because the mythology just isn’t that interesting. To give you an example of just how repetitive it is, it climaxes with a scene similar to the ENTER THE DRAGON-inspired Hall of Mirrors from Chapter 2, but this time it’s a Hall of Breakaway Glass Cases. About 20 of them, and Wick gets thrown into every single one — each time it explodes with loud foley effects, doing no discernible damage to Wick’s body, and just keeps going. By the 14th glass case that’s destroyed, we’ve stopped wanting to see this magic trick again. I know where the ace is.