John Wick 3: Parabellum (2019) Take Two

It’s been a while…

…Mr. Wick.

We’ve danced darkly together now for several years, lit in such scarce, vivid blue and purple. I gaze up to you, whisper to you, cling to you, and go unnoticed. You’re beyond me. Always have been, and forever shall still be. You belong to them, now. To everyone. But even if you forget, I never will. No — I’ll always remember those nights we shared, the smell of blood and burning metal in your wake as I held tightly to you. Even when I can no longer taste your bitterness on my tongue, even when you’re gone, I always remember.

But now you’re back, with a brand new movie, and it’s time to go back to where things began. Me reviewing you, and you being astonishing. Maybe that’s as it should be.


I’m serious. Don’t give me that look.

For the purposes of this review, I’ll be referring to John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum as just Parabellum, because I don’t need to be put through that every time, and I doubt any of you really need to be forced to endure it either. I was initially considering making this a completely spoiler-free review, but eventually reconsidered on two notes — firstly, that that wasn’t the way I did it for the first two films, and secondly, that nobody who’s already invested in the franchise is going to choose whether or not to see the third John Wick movie on the opinion of an idiot like me. I’m going to assume you’ve either already seen it or have no plans to see it, and as such, bewarrrre, here there be spoilers.

[Here are links to Alex’s John Wick and John Wick: Chapter Two reviews!]

So, things looked pretty fucking bleak at the end of Chapter Two. Wick had broken the rules of the Continental and become excommunicado (getting a $15m bounty on his head, to boot), and not even his closest allies can safely house him without fear of repercussion from “The High Table” — three words we’re gonna hear a lot of times over the course of Parabellum, despite still never seeing any of them. Hopefully we see them in Chapter 4, which, considering the actual fuckton of money Parabellum’s making, seems far more likely than I might have thought when Chapter 2 wrapped.

Speaking of Chapter 2, let’s take a look at how it differs from Parabellum. The 6-or-7 of you who’ve read my other John Wick reviews (and by the way, thank you, I love you and you rule) will know that I gave Chapter 2 quite a bit of shit for quite a few reasons. A summation of some of my big issues with it were that the emotional stakes had fizzled, the coin-currency and rules of the assassin world were very inconsistent, and that it was the first movie in history in force me to say it had too many damn assassins. You know how hard that is to say? You know how much that hurts me? I love assassins, and Chapter 2 still needed to cool its fucking jets for a second.

Unexpectedly, however, Parabellum takes strides to correct the latter two subjects. The assassin minibosses don’t feel stumbled into, but like John was hunted down and found by a finite number of assailants, often organized into groups. Likewise, the currency and lore now feel more significant, touching down more frequently on how the underworld operates outside the rules of the Table rather than vaguely explaining the rules themselves. The will of the Table itself is efficiently humanized here in the form of The pretty-hot-in-a-“step-on-me”-kind-of-way Adjudicator, who makes the entire situation with this shadow crime council a much, much easier pill to swallow.


You… can feel free to give me that look.

The lack of emotional stakes, unfortunately, is here to stay — but Parabellum at the very least doesn’t try to do what it knows it hasn’t the heart for. Wick going berserk over a dog has become an in-universe meme that’s spread so rapidly even John himself is in on the joke, tossing out a quip or two of his own. While this lacks the impact that a more resonant storyline might have had, it at least doesn’t feel like a swing and a miss. Parabellum simply accepts that it’s a grim action film, and focuses more on combat, snippets of comedy, astonishing stuntwork, and… y’know, cameos. Because it literally isn’t a John Wick movie without cameos out the ass, even if some of these are a little more substantial than the one-scene-wonders featured in the last two films. Mark Dacascos in particular is a treasure, and I feel more at ease with Laurence Fishbourne’s character in tandem with the campier vibe of Parabellum.

Now that I’ve touched on the action, though, it feels right to stay here for a moment. The action in this is mind-blowing, especially in scenes where it lets itself breathe and be as creative as possible. The library fight, knife-store fight, attack dog brawl, underwater shoot-out, glass hall ninja battle, and belt-fight are some of the most delightful things put on screen. Ironically, for a movie promoting itself largely around guns, it’s the scenes not featuring them that stand out the most as genuinely inspired pieces of action cinema, wonderfully shot and easy to follow. Attacks are rapid, forceful, and almost unnecessarily brutal, with loud thuds and whacks, and John pulls off a few fatalities that would make Mortal Kombat characters wince. The theater I watched this in was filled with gasps, oohs, and ahhs — it really is that incredibly done.

Not that I didn’t have some problems with the movie as a whole, of course. I did. While the lowered expectations of coming off of Chapter 2, rather than Chapter 1, did a great deal to lessen the sting, this still had a couple issues — two in particular that stick in my mind.

Firstly, the Elder felt like… a waste. After being built up as the one entity above the High Table, a mysterious figure who could shape John’s future, it felt like a really tall order to fill, and I was fucking pumped to see who it would be, how everything would turn out. This was an opportunity for a really cool side-story of John wandering out into the desert to learn from the master assassin himself. Visions in my mind of Wick dressed like a ninja and holding a scimitar quickly filled my mind, of grand wisdom given and a great price asked. Instead… ehh. It’s a short and sort of awkward exchange, winding back around to “hey you can come back if you want, go kill Winston.” And yes, while I realize all of that was necessary for the eventual culmination of this film’s plot, it didn’t really feel satisfying. I needed more.


No, don’t cry Mark Dacascos, I’m not talking about you, you were wonderful. You’re the best of us.

Secondly, the whole ending. The status quo now has changed very little — the only alterations made are that Winston is (maybe?) a cockmunch, the Bowery King is taking over the gutters of the underworld and declaring war, and John’s really, really pissed (and missing a finger I guess). He’s still excommunicated and still in conflict with the same exact enemy, one that he spent the entire course of Parabellum failing to deal a significant blow against. Even the siege defense of the Continental is ultimately handwaved as a cute attempt at defiance that really meant nothing. I left the theater with the sinking sensation that while Parabellum was cool as hell and pretty fun, it could have honestly just been… skipped? Or like, a completely different movie altogether? It advanced so little that it sort of felt, to me, like wiping the pieces off the board and setting them back where they’d been when Chapter 2 ended, and that wasn’t a great kicking-off point the first time.

Maybe a weird complaint, I guess, and something I feel kinda bad for even bringing up, but it leaves a sorta masturbatory taste in my mouth.

Wait, no, that came out wrong.

Like, the movie was masturbation, since it advanced very little. So very much like when a person… and the taste of… no, it still doesn’t work. Fuck. Okay, forget the taste bit. It just felt a lot like masturbating.

Fuck, no, that’s not it either.

Anyway, it’s a good movie and you should watch it, if for some weird-ass reason you read this whole review before seeing it. And there’s gonna be a-fucking-nother one so you’d better be all caught up for John Wick: Chapter 4: In Space Nobody Can Hear Your Dog Get Killed. Sure to be an instant family classic.

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