[The following review contains SPOILERS for the entire John Wick series; please proceed with caution.]
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum contains numerous references to Milton’s Paradise Lost—appropriate, considering that this third (and, in all likelihood, far from final) installment makes it abundantly clear that the entire blood-soaked series has been one prolonged fall from grace. The eponymous super-assassin briefly resided in Heaven, enjoying a peaceful, happy retirement with the love of his life. Unfortunately, fate conspired to drag him back down into the underworld. By the end of this film, he’s landed at the very bottom of the dark abyss, battered and bruised but still breathing—and if his parting line of dialogue is any indication, not even God can save the souls of those that have wronged him.
Like its immediate predecessor, Parabellum continues to flesh out the mythology of the franchise’s modern-day fantasy setting. Once again, the conflict revolves around the shadowy machinations of the enigmatic “High Table.” After our hero brutally murders one of its members on “consecrated” ground, the organization—which seemingly governs all criminal activity across the globe—sends an “Adjudicator” to punish him and everyone that offered him aid, including Ian McShane’s Winston and Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King. Of course, John is never given the opportunity to defend his actions, which were completely justified: his “victim” manipulated and betrayed him before abusing “the rules” to escape retribution. Much like the lords of feudal Japan (as portrayed in classic jidaigeki, anyway), the High Table is inherently corrupt, more concerned with maintaining the illusion of order rather than enforcing true justice—which makes it all the more satisfying when John decides to take a stand against its hypocrisy.
If my description makes the movie sound unbearably pretentious, don’t worry: the emphasis remains on high-octane, bone-breaking action, and the narrative adopts an extremely self-aware tone. In one particularly humorous scene, Halle Berry opens fire on a group of thugs after their boss (non-fatally) shoots her guard dog; when she tries to explain herself, John simply sighs, “I get it.” Mark Dacascos is also an absolute delight as Zero, an unabashed John Wick fanboy that constantly gushes about getting the chance to fight his idol; two of his underlings (played by The Raid’s Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman) are so respectful and honorable that our infamously merciless protagonist actually refrains from killing them.
I’m sure the naysayers will complain that Parabellum is nothing more than mindless, gratuitous violence, but there is genuine beauty in its madness. The graceful, dancelike choreography is a feast for the eyes… but the real sustenance comes from the surprisingly complex moral dialectic at its core.