‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ is an Action Movie Buff’s Wet Dream

John Wick Chapter 3 movie poster

The “John Wick” movies have been an action movie buff’s wet dream, and “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. It is an exhilarating ride featuring a vast assortment of brutal fight sequences with all kinds of weapons being utilized, and even horses are around to provide painful injuries to assassins eager to terminate the ex-hitman who hasn’t lost a beat since his retirement. Yes, the body count is high, and taking this into account reminded me of what Col. Trautman told Sheriff Will Teasle will need to have handy while trying to capture John Rambo in “First Blood:”

“A good supply of body bags.”

Yes, and you need a really good supply of body bags when it comes to taking down John Wick. This ex-hitman has been legendary from the get-go to where crime lords, once they realize who they are up against, can only say “oh shit” when his name is mentioned. Going into “John Wick: Chapter 3,” I hoped those looking to take out Mr. Wick bought their body bags in bulk from Costco. Better yet, they still sell coffins, right?

“John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” begins shortly after Mr. Wick was declared excommunicado by his handlers at the High Table after killing a crime lord on the grounds of the New York City Continental. Winston (Ian McShane) has given John an hour head start, and this chapter starts off with only a half hour so remaining before the $14 million bounty is made public to all assassins. As John runs furiously through the streets of New York City, even a homeless bum is aware that the contract on his life is about to begin, so who can he possibly trust?

Even before his hour is up0, we find John fighting the first of many adversaries with only a book. It certainly worked for Matt Damon in the “Jason Bourne” movies, but Keanu Reeves takes things a step further by killing someone by breaking the guy’s neck with the book, and it is a brutal kill which had me saying “ouch” out loud in the theater. I love action movies which have me reacting viscerally to the violence on screen, and this is definitely one of them. Sitting back and passively observing routine action sequences is something I have long since grown weary of watching, so it’s always reassuring when something like “John Wick” comes along as the filmmakers make you feel all the punches, bullets, knives and horse kicks which come to be inflicted on dozens upon dozens of characters, most of whom have no idea who they are dealing with.

In “John Wick: Chapter 2,” it quickly became clear that it would take more than one bullet to take out an opponent. In this chapter, the same rule applies to when knives are used as it takes three or four to stop your assailant dead in their tracks. One of the first big action sequences involves characters hurling the sharpest of knives at one another, and I’m guessing it was adrenaline which kept some going even after the second knife inserted into their bodies failed to put them down. And just when you think a knife isn’t going to be shoved into a certain part of the body, it does. It’s nice to see an action movie which not only defies your expectations, but also refuses to set limits in terms of which body parts get damaged.

But in the midst of all the crazy action scenes, there is a story and characters worth following. With what seems like the whole world coming after John Wick, you have to wonder why he still wants to have a pulse after all he has been through. His answer is he wants to preserve the memory of his late wife, Helen, and to earn the right to do so. The question is, will he be willing to pay the price to make this happen?

Keanu Reeves is an actor most people are quick to ridicule as they don’t see him as having much range, and that’s putting it nicelt. We first got to know him as Ted Theodore Logan in the “Bill & Ted” movies, and since then many have been quite to call him a terrible actor as he appears to give only one-note performances. I myself am willing to defend Reeves more than my friends are willing to on a regular basis. He has given memorable performances in “Permanent Record,” “Speed,” “Point Break,” “My Own Private Idaho” and “The Matrix.” Still, there are those who are quick to remind us of the work he did in “The Whole Truth” and “Knock Knock,” and watching him in those movies proves to be as painful as the bruises he suffers throughout this sequel.

Reeves really hits it out of the park here, and he throws himself into this role in both a literal and figurative sense. I also have to say he handles guns with such ferocity and precision to where I cannot think of another actor who can accomplish the same feat so effectively. I had no problem accepting him as a hardened assassin who is lethal beyond repair, and he has long since turned this tragic figure into much, much more than the B-movie antihero he started out as. And considering how Reeves has suffered more tragedy in his personal life than any one person should ever have to endure, he has a full understanding of John’s loss and of the importance to stay alive to keep the memory of his late wife alive. Yes, it is hard to think of another actor who could inhabit this character as effectively as he does.

Oscar winner Halle Berry shows up as Sofia, a close friend of John’s and an assassin just like him, and she handles firearms every bit as well as Reeves does. Too bad she disappears from this sequel far too soon.

The great Anjelica Huston steals every scene she has as the Director, a strict dance instructor and member of the Ruska Roma who offers John safe passage. Even as Huston makes this character look cold as steel, she allows you to see the brief glimmers of humanity she is forced to show at her most painful moments.

And as always, it is great to see Ian McShane back as Winston, the owner and manager of the Continental Hotel in New York. Ever since I first saw him in the brilliant “Sexy Beast,” McShane has never failed to make the slimiest and nefarious of characters all the more intriguing to where you can’t take your eyes off of him for a second. The same goes here as he makes Winston an enigma as the character holds his cards close to his chest while manipulating those around him with a controlled glee.

I came out of “John Wick: Chapter 2” wondering if there was any way director Chad Stahelski could top the insane mayhem that sequel had to offer. While this third chapter has a slightly lower body count, I think he has succeeded in doing so as the ways Mr. Wick dispatches his enemies are infinite to where no one can or even should feel safe around him. The only thing more insane is how it sets the ground work for a fourth chapter which is now set to be released in 2021. Personally, I cannot wait for the next chapter as this third one proves to be the kind of exhilarating and exhausting action movie I am always hoping to see at the local multiplex.

It’s almost a shame “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” is coming out now as we can only pray the other movies of the 2019 movie season can measure up to this one in terms of endless excitement and the adrenaline rush. This one was well worth the wait, and it continues to provide Keanu Reeves with some of the best work in his long career.

I also have to say this sequel may very well have more scenes of exploding glass or characters being thrown into glass with epic shattering effect since “Another 48 Hours,” and that sequel came out in 1990. If there has been another movie since then which topped it before this “John Wick” chapter did, please let me know.

* * * * out of * * * *

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides poster

I am happy to say “Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is a big improvement over the previous entry, “At World’s End.” Whereas the latter had an incomprehensible story I gave up on following, “On Stranger Tides” has a plot which is a little more straightforward and easier to follow. Stars Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, and director Gore Verbinski have done left the building, and in their place are “Chicago” director Rob Marshall, Ian McShane and the alluring Penelope Cruz. With some of the dead weight removed and new elements thrown in, this showed promise. And of course, we have Johnny Depp back as Captain Jack Sparrow, whom without there would be no “Pirates” franchise.

This one has Jack sailing to the Fountain of Youth, and we’re not talking Beverly Hills. Along with him on the voyage is his former lover Angelica (Penelope Cruz) who proves to be every bit as trustworthy as Jack, which is to say not at all. Also onboard is legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) whose giant sword wields a vicious power even with a simple wave of it. And just when you thought he was out of the way, Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is back as well, leaving Sparrow with the usual number of antagonists working against him, and there’s always plenty to go around considering Sparrow’s checkered history.

You would think by now this franchise would have bought the farm as it seems the only reason for it to continue is money. But even in this sequel, Depp still looks to be having a blast as this rock star of a pirate. Never easily upstaged, except by Keith Richards who has one of the movie’s best lines, he finds much to play around with and hasn’t lost a beat since the beginning. It could have been a movie where he could have just taken the money and run, but if he’s still having fun then so am I.

Personally, I’m glad Bloom and Knightley are gone as their romance ran its course, and to have them bitching and moaning at each other yet again would have been tiresome from the start. Instead we have Penelope Cruz who remains an actress as fantastic as she is beautiful. She more than holds her own opposite Depp as Angelica as her character threatens to be even more devious than Jack. Seeing these two play off each other kept me guessing as to who was the more honest of the two, and if they ever reached a point where they start believing their own lies.

I’m also glad to see Geoffrey Rush back as well and fresh off the Best Picture winner “The King’s Speech.” His character of Barbossa has had an interesting journey throughout these films as he’s been an antagonist and then a protagonist. By the time you reach him in “On Stranger Tides,” you’re not quite sure what to make of him which is part of the fun. Like Depp, Rush still has a joyous time playing this enigmatic character, and his gleeful delivery of dialogue is highly entertaining.

Ian McShane was an inspired choice to play Blackbeard, but in some ways his performance is a bit of a letdown. He’s very good, but after watching him portray one of the most cold-blooded bad guys ever in “Sexy Beast,” I expected a lot more menace from him which would have made “On Stranger Tides”’ all the more enthralling to watch. Still, he’s a great actor and could have done much worse.

The one character, however, I could have done without is the stubborn missionary Philip Swift. He’s a bland character who serves no real purpose in a movie which already has more then enough characters to juggle. This is no fault of the actor playing him as Sam Claflin does his best with an underwritten role, but it felt like the screenwriters were making up for the loss of Bloom and Knightley, and they really didn’t need to.

I do have to admit I really dug the mermaids and their natural beauty as much as I did the filmmakers’ take on them. Whereas they are as lovely as we remember them from stories and fairy tales, these mermaids here pack a vicious set of jaws and would sooner devour you than kiss you. There is some nudity here but no breasts (it’s a Disney movie folks), and you will find them unusual than the mermaids you grew up reading about. I guess you could say this is Disney’s subtle take on “Fatal Attraction.”

With Rob Marshall taking over directing duties on this one, I really admire how he streamlined this venture. Even though the movie stumbles a bit in the mid-section, Marshall keeps things moving at a swift pace and none of it gets overwhelming. “At World’s End” was so over bloated to where I wouldn’t be able to describe the plot or remember the name of the character Chow Yun Fat played to you. But here you have a good idea of who everyone is, and even if there are things which don’t make complete sense, it doesn’t matter too much.

In the end, all I really wanted out of “Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”’ was a good time. It’s not a movie I ask too much from, and I liked how Disney learned from the franchise’s previous mistakes. While the wonderfully entertaining “Curse of The Black Pearl” set the bar high, this one reaches up far enough towards it. Along with another thunderous Hans Zimmer score, I was pleased with this fourth “’Pirates” film, and I am open to seeing a part five, and you know there will be one at some point in the future.

* * * out of * * * *