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Film Reviews Tick tock, time to coldclock: Why John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is the Swiss luxury watch of action cinema

Keanu Reeves as John Wick and franchise newcomer Halle Berry as Sofia.

mark rogers photographer/Entertainment One

  • John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
  • Directed by Chad Stahelski
  • Written by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams
  • Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Halle Berry
  • Classification: 18A; 130 minutes

rating

Toward the end of John Wick: Chapter 3 Parabellum, the ridiculously titled third entry in the ridiculously conceived Keanu Reeves franchise, I could not stop thinking about Swiss luxury watches. Mostly this was due to the fact that, during a penultimate fight between Reeves’s cool-headed title-character assassin and two soon-to-be-corpses on the top floor of a Manhattan hotel, a huge video billboard can be glimpsed in the background looping the same ad for Carl F. Bucherer timepieces over and over.

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“Should I get a Carl F. Bucherer watch?” I asked myself, as Reeves kicked in his enemies’ heads and slashed their torsos. “A Carl F. Bucherer watch seems like a good investment,” I muttered, as the screen began to fill with blood and a million shards of shattered glass. “Frankly, I don’t see how I could possibly live my life without abject shame unless I drop at least $10,000 on a Carl F. Bucherer watch at this very moment,” I concluded, as the film’s body count neared 200.

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As in the past two Wick go-rounds, Chapter 3 finds Keanu Reeves again facing a veritable army – the film picks up exactly from where the previous one ended.

NIKOTAVERNISE.COM/Entertainment One

In short: Product-placement works. In not-so-short: the John Wick series shares more in common with questionably pricey luxury fashion than either party might like to concede.

For starters, both look fantastic in that bombastic money-is-no-object kind of way. There are many films that fetishize the visceral splat of up-close violence, but few that collide the poetic and the profane quite like Wick. While series director Chad Stahelski test-drove this high-low formula in his first 2014 film, it was his 2017 sequel that leaned into the kind of excess that makes no distinction between style and savagery. Nearly every frame of John Wick: Chapter 2 felt like a tableau of contradictions, from the scene where contract killers engaged in a whisper-quiet gunfight in Santiago Calatrava’s sterile Oculus terminal underneath the World Trade Center to the fact that Reeves’s animal-loving hero murdered hundreds of dudes all while clad in slim and natty bespoke suits.

This new, third entry is no different, with Stahelski and returning cinematographer Dan Laustsen ensuring that every shot is framed as an ode to aesthetic overindulgence. It is not enough, for instance, that Manhattan’s streets be rain-slicked as Wick runs through them escaping his many anonymous enemies: They must be drenched to biblical levels. The city’s signs cannot just be neon-lit, they must be so blindingly bright that they nearly pierce your eyes open. And the various dens of thieves where Wick lies low this time around must not be merely indulgently furnished, they must be so ornately appointed that you’d think our hero wandered into the Palace of Versailles as imagined by a coked-up Jeff Koons. (There is one scene in particular, set in Casablanca of all places, whose set design is simply hilarious in its rabid desire to outdo the very concept of being outdone.)

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There are many films that fetishize the visceral splat of up-close violence, but few that collide the poetic and the profane quite like Wick.

Niko Tavernise/Entertainment One

There is also a certain precision shared between the Wick films and the finest of luxury watches. As in the past two Wick go-rounds, Chapter 3 finds our hero again facing a veritable army – the film picks up exactly from where the previous one ended, and no, you don’t need to know anything more than “a bunch of guys are trying to murder Keanu” – and again he dispatches them with killer timing. The action choreography is excellent in its brutality, and produces more than a few “aghghg, God no” moments of creative horror, which lead you to wonder just how many bodies are buried underneath Stahelski’s floorboards. And although fight-scene exhaustion is a permanent threat in these kinds of films, Chapter 3 takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin'.

But like the most coveted of watches, even those from my new close personal friend Carl F. Bucherer, there comes a point when you wonder why exactly you need another John Wick film in your life. Apart from the novel image of Reeves riding a horse while fending off attacks from samurai-sword-wielding motorcyclists (which, yeah, is pretty dang cool), there is little in Chapter 3 that feels essential. Or, at least, not directly imported from the first two entries.

Reeves’s old Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne, left, as The Bowery King and Ian McShane, right, as Winston in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum.

NIKOTAVERNISE.COM/Entertainment One

No-name assassins are still stupid enough to think they can kill Wick, and Wick is still happy to prove them wrong. Allies still pop up to support Wick at just the right time – including Reeves’s old Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne and franchise newcomer Halle Berry – and still disappear without notice. And all the mayhem is still soundtracked to Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s under-the-skin score, which achieves just the right balance between slow-burn neo-noir and scuzzy direct-to-video Mark Dacascos thriller (not surprisingly, Dacascos pops up here as another cocky Wick foe).

All right, there are bits and pieces of new material in Chapter 3, but they come in the form of gobbledygook world-building. What’s worse is that all this blather about the underground assassin economy arrives gussied up with characters uttering needlessly intimidating Latin phrases, a trick that loses its kick after the fifth or 15th utterance of “excommunicado” and “deconsecrated." And the less said about the film’s subtitle Parabellum (“prepare for war”) and its implications for the franchise’s future, the better.

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Still, there is something undeniably shiny and attractive about all this – both the Wick films and those watches. And did I mention that horse versus motorcycle scene? Time, for the moment, is on everyone’s side.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum opens May 17.

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