Review: 'John Wick 3: Parabellum' delivers with a bang

Third chapter of action franchise is ultra-stylish, ultra-violent and ultra-awesome

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Keanu Reeves in "John Wick 3: Parabellum."

The definition of "parabellum" is "prepare for war," and "John Wick 3: Parabellum" is not only prepared for war, it goes to war, guns blazing.  

This bananas three-quel is a celebration of choreographed violence at its most operatic and over-the-top. Save for a brief sojourn that disrupts its mojo, "John Wick 3's" engine never stops revving, and stays in the red so long it nearly overheats.     

Its broken glass budget alone must have been seismic. This is the kind of movie that rattles so hard the theater shakes. It's the kind of movie where you feel bad for the audience one theater over, who no doubt hear the sounds of gunshots and shattered glass bleeding over into their film. (If you plan on seeing a British drama and "Wick 3" is playing next door, consider other options.) 

It's also a movie that is in love with its own mythmaking. Even the characters facing John Wick, the stoic hitman played by the immortal Keanu Reeves, are enamored with Wick, as if they're beaming fans of the first two movies. Two of his enemies, part of an elite gang of sushi chefs-slash-assassins (really!), are so honored to be locking fists with Wick that they practically ask for his autograph mid-fight. 

That's the kind of humor and levity that helps elevate "Wick 3" from what could be a dour exercise in hyper-violence. Rather, it's a fun, entertaining romp that knows it's ridiculous from the moment that Wick takes out a towering 7-footer (the Philadelphia 76ers' Boban Marjanović) by beating him to death in a library with a book. And not only does he beat him to death with a book, he does it with style. That's the Wick way. 

"Wick 3" picks up from 2017's "John Wick: Chapter 2" with Wick being ex-communicated from his network of the world's top paid murderers, who place a $14 million bond on his head. Good luck collecting. Wick is sent scrambling, reaching out to old partners within his network, to save his life and live another day. 

One of those partners is Halle Berry's Sofia, who sends Wick on that aforementioned sojourn, which takes him and the movie on a bizarre trip to Casablanca. It's a disruption to the story and seems less than necessary, although the image of Wick walking through the sands of Morocco in his tailored black suit are indelible. 

Keanu Reeves (center) in "John Wick 3: Parabellum."

Back in New York, the Adjudicator (scene-stealer Asia Kate Dillon, from "Billions" and "Orange is the New Black") is tying up loose ends at the Continental Hotel, where Winston (Ian McShane) broke code by allowing violence on hotel grounds. The Adjudicator is also squaring up with underground crime lord the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for aiding and abetting Wick, and makes sure Wick's eventual return to New York is as unwelcoming as possible. 

This all manifests in fights, lots of fights. Fist fights, knife fights, gun fights, you name it. Director Chad Stahelski takes it as a personal challenge to keep upping the ante and topping himself, so if that means staging a fight underwater in a hot tub, so be it. And just like Wick, he does it with an elevated sense of style, setting the stage for one bout of fisticuffs with Vivaldi's "Winter" from "The Four Seasons." 

Reeves plays Wick as a man of few words, but when he talks, he means every grunted syllable. Asked what he needs when preparing for battle, he says simply, "Guns. Lots of guns." The 54-year-old is physically put through the wringer here, but it's his haunted silence as a character that acts as a counterbalance to the craziness of the on-screen action. "John Wick 3" hits with the precision of a bullet to the head, and it's Reeves who delivers the kill shot. 

'John Wick 3: Parabellum'


Rated R: for pervasive strong violence, and some language

Running time: 130 minutes