Someone stole his car and killed his dog.
Many characters in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” lament the inciting incident of the titular assassin’s revenge tour that racked up over 75 deaths in the first installment and more than 125 bodies piling up in the second.
The calling card of these Keanu Reeves films is indiscriminate, callous violence and “Parabellum” maintains the course with lengthy, high-octane fights using an assortment of guns, knives, fists and feet.
As audiences get further away from writer Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski’s initial vision for the “John Wick” films, the more reason fades away and unrelenting bloodlust takes over.
Viewers just want to see people die and not ask questions why, an exploitation of baser instincts.
John Wick killed over 200 people in the course of a few weeks, but his final execution at the end of “Chapter 2” has put him in the crosshairs of an endless slew of international killers hell bent on putting him in the ground.
His one task: get off the kill list or die trying.
Playing John Wick doesn’t require a lot of complexity as Reeves has maintained a unique blend of stoic anger and grief for three movies now. Where he excels is as an action star.
Reeves places his body in harm’s way often, not unlike Tom Cruise in a “Mission Impossible” film, but not as death-defying.
Great detail is paid to the physical wear and tear Wick endures over the course of the film. Reeves realistically portrays a pain threshold that’s exceptional yet faltering and fight choreography throughout masterfully takes this into account.
Halle Berry appears as a former associate of Wick in an obvious attempt to spinoff the growing franchise, though her limited screen time works better for her character’s Belgian Malinois dogs that rip through baddies with reckless abandon.
The dog-centric sequence stands out in a film filled with interesting moments as a revelation in live animal action within the genre. The Belgian Malinois perform better than their human counterparts in a sequence devoid of special effects, running in and out of frame in a perfectly choreography dance of death combined with Berry and Reeves blasting away with revolvers.
There’s a modicum of opportunity for Stahelski to provide depth for both Wick’s character history and the backdrop of the world he moves through. But this is casual, transactional work intended mostly to break up the violence and keep the story moving forward.
In this way, “Parabellum” – and prior installments as well – feel organically improvised and free-flowing, a stylistic choice that relies on an unknown understanding between filmmaker and audience that neither knows what’s going to happen next.
For a franchise designed to be a vehicle to watch anonymous bad guys die in creative ways, “Parabellum” is a huge success.
The kills are fresh and distinct, memorable both for their unbelievability and their precise execution.
Action is frantically kinetic yet beautifully, almost orchestrally choreographed as Stahelski, Reeves and the fight designers pay homage to classic action films while making sequences their own. Stahelski earns every bit of the R-rating given to “Parabellum” as blood flows freely and deaths grow more gruesome minute to minute.
Levity comes as sweet relief both in and out of the fight through a dynamic comic tone that’s probably only 50 percent intentional. Viewers will crack up at some of the more unexpected, ridiculous ways Wick takes out his foes, but it’s scene-stealing Mark Dacascos as shinobi leader Zero that takes the cake with his character’s incredulous fawning over the mythical Wick.
Moments when Stahelski and company embrace the absurdity of the whole franchise draw the audience in. When they start taking themselves too seriously in between all the fighting, that’s when things start to stumble.
As a film, “Parabellum” is average at best.
As a spectacle of practical effects, stunts and fight choreography, it’s a movie at or near the pinnacle of its genre worth checking out on the big screen.