John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (Summit Entertainment, R)

Keanu Reeves delivers with aplomb as he goes to war with a world of assassins in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, a truly spectacular display of brawls and blood that treats the action genre as an art form as well as popcorn entertainment.

Legendary assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run after killing mafia boss Santino D’Antonio in the Continental Hotel, a haven for criminals where killing is one of the few things restricted on the premises. All Continental services have been stripped from Wick, and the criminal underworld leaders that make up the organization called the High Table have put a $14 million global contract on his head. As Wick fights through multiple assassins, he seeks to get the contract revoked, which means going to many members of the High Table. This journey leads him to Casablanca, where he asks the city’s Continental manager Sofia (Halle Berry) for help, which she must provide in order to keep a promise made to Wick long ago. When Wick finds the people he is looking for, he learns that there is an even bigger price he must pay in order to revoke the contract. Meanwhile, the Adjucator (Asia Kate Dillon), a member of the High Table, deals with those who have helped Wick along the way, including New York Continental owner Winston (Ian McShane) and the crime lord known as the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne).

The John Wick franchise has been the series that could. There was such an element of surprise that a later Keanu Reeves-led thriller could deliver, given the state of his career. What director Chad Stahelski has managed to do is play into Reeves’ strength. His performance here is mostly physical, but he sells the breathtaking action sequences. His presence also says a lot about this character. You believe in the reputation that makes so many of the worst criminals fear him, but he has quieter character moments that make you want to root for him. This is a role that will come to define Reeves as much as Neo in The Matrix. Throughout all of these films, Reeves has proven that there is more to him than what’s on the surface. He is joined by a cast that equally treats this material with maturity. In her limited role, Berry brings fierceness and a renegade streak to the film (she is also at the center of the film’s best gunfight). McShane is always a pleasure to watch, and Fishburne chews the scenery expertly.

Besides its action, the series has managed to build a criminal underworld that is inventive and interesting. This world was originally created by screenwriter Derek Kolstad. Here, he shares co-writing credit with three others (Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abrams). They continue to expand the world into something kind of glamourous, a far cry from the dark, seedy underbelly that this type of world is usually portrayed as. These expansions also raise the stakes to new heights. The script’s construction of the world is greatly helped by some ingenious production design that would make those interested in architecture drop their jaws in awe. The way these sets experiment with symmetry and how they are incorporated into the action is nearly Oscar-worthy. Accentuating the beauty of these sets, as well as familiar cities like New York and Casablanca, is the stunning cinematography from Dan Laustsen. Laustsen makes great use out of both natural and synthetic lighting. The depressing world of crime has never looked so good.

But really, what draws people to this franchise is the slam-bang, brutal and inventive action sequences. You might find another film this year that has action as breathtaking as this one, but you would really have to try. The already high bar set by the previous entry has been toppled. The brawls, the gunfights and the chases have been cranked to the max. Knives are flying everywhere, rabid dogs are tearing people apart, and Wick manages to evade motorcycle-bound criminals on a horse. You would think that the third time around would see a creative slump in the choreography, and that the wall-to-wall nature of the action would make it tiresome. Neither are could be further from the truth. The secret ingredient to this action is that it can breathe by not being heavily edited or filmed via shakey-cam. This film makes no insinuation that this is the final John Wick film, and this third installment shows that Stahelski and company are just as, if not more, excited about this franchise.

Between the John Wick series and the Mission: Impossible films, it is a delight to see that there are filmmakers who believe in the power of the action genre and where it can go. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is the best film in the series to date, and a rollicking good time at the multiplex. |Bill Loellke

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