Splendid simplicity of bloody ‘Wick’ redundant, but still works

BY NEIL MORRIS, CN+R Film Critic
Posted 5/17/19

The “John Wick” series carries the patina of a neo-film noir, but its real roots lie in westerns. It’s fitting, then, that as “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” allows the violent …

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Splendid simplicity of bloody ‘Wick’ redundant, but still works

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Keanu Reeves stars in ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.’..
Keanu Reeves stars in ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.’..
Photo courtesy of Summit Enterta
Posted

The “John Wick” series carries the patina of a neo-film noir, but its real roots lie in westerns. It’s fitting, then, that as “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” allows the violent revenge triumvirate to reach the same duration as Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy, director Chad Stahelski tosses in some overt western homage. Early on, the taciturn Wick (the taciturn Keanu Reeves) pieces together a makeshift six-shooter just in time to gun down a band of baddies as they burst into the room. Wick commandeers a NYPD horse, galloping down the middle of Manhattan as he takes out a posse pursuing him on motorbikes. The film concludes with an against-all-odds last stand in the spirit of Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo” and Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.”

In between, “John Wick 3” continues the splendid simplicity that made the original a surprise hit five years ago, when the retired Wick was pulled back into the assassin’s life after some Russian ruffians stole his car and killed his dog. “Parabellum” opens immediately on the heels of “Chapter 2,” with Wick on the run after being declared excommunicado by the assassin’s Illuminati-like leadership, called the High Table, for breaking the hitman’s code and doing bloody business on the neutral turf of The Continental Hotel.

The choreographed chaos remains the star of the series as Wick fights his way through a worldwide sea of assassins aiming to cash in the $14 million bounty on his head. Wick literally takes a lot of knives to one gunfight. He takes on a lumbering hitman (NBA player Boban Marjanović) with a library book. He dispatches a cadre of cannon-fodder using a stable of bucking equines. He and an old friend (Halle Berry) lay waste with the aid of two armor-clad battle dogs. Of course, there are also plenty of firearms and fisticuffs along the way. Overall, it’s a bloody, Buster Keaton-esque ballet married to the exquisite brutality of Sam Peckinpah.

Meanwhile, a High Table Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) and her squad of Asian henchmen are sent to exact retribution against those who rendered any aid to the wanted Wick, including the Continental’s wizened manager Winston (Ian McShane), a pigeon-owning Bowery strongman (Laurence Fishburne), and a Belarusian ballet director (Anjelica Huston) who helps shepherd Wick to Morocco. This background narrative is serviceable enough until it intersects with Wick’s survival quest, when the plot becomes lurching and contradictory and even the fight scenes start to feel redundant.

The ending of “John Wick 3” is left wide open for a fourth installment, and in comparison to its blah action flick contemporaries, there’s plenty of room in the cineplex left to revisit Wick’s world. That said, there’s not enough made of the side characters (new and returning) in “Chapter 3,” and even the sumptuous, inventive “Wick”-verse is starting to show its seams. Stahelski and Reeves have a winning formula, but like Keanu’s last action trilogy, “The Matrix,” all good things must come to an end sometime.

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