John Wick 3: Parabellum: Like the man himself, this franchise just doesn't know when to quit
John Wick 3: Parabellum (R16, 130 mins) Directed by Chad Stahelski ★★★½
The 2014 John Wick was a blast of inventive and often hilarious brutality that stripped the man-alone-seeks-revenge trope down to its absolute essentials and didn't waste a second or a pixel on anything that wasn't propelling the action to ever more ludicrous and loveable heights.
The role was written for Keanu Reeves and it's impossible now to imagine anyone else playing Wick, the ultimate cartel hitman, dragged out of retirement when he's attacked in his own home. Wick's sign-off line – "You killed my dog" – is a classic of perfectly rendered schlock.
John Wick followed Reeves, almost video-game style, through an escalating series of gun, knife and fist fights – punctuated by an absolute bare minimum of exposition – until he finally catches and dispatches the men responsible for the canine's demise.
John Wick is a lean and basically perfect film. Along with the sequel John Wick 2 and 2011's The Raid, it's about as good as the genre ever needs to get.
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John Wick 3 picks up exactly where 2 left off. Wick is on the run and about to be hunted down by every assassin in New York City for the $14m bounty now on his head. Wick has breached the rules of "The Table'" – the shadowy crime syndicate who seem to run the world – and now he must die. Wick, of course, has other ideas.
John Wick took place in a universe that didn't seem too different from our own. It's very easy to believe, wandering around New York's Lower East Side and Chinatown, that there really is a secret behind every door and forces at work you will never know of. John Wick 2 raised the stakes a little, but with this third installment, the series has gone from likeably deranged to Matrix-like levels of parallel-universe dementedness.
For a brief second-act, the action goes global, with Wick travelling to North Africa by unexplained means to meet with a man who apparently runs the entire planet from a tent reachable only by camel.
By this point, I wouldn't really have cared if Reeves was getting about the place using enchanted fireplaces, magic wardrobes or riding a sodding unicorn, so complete is the franchise's descent into fantasy.
The film even cracks a couple of Matrix in-jokes – one visual, one a line – just so we know that Reeves and co are in on the gag and winking at us to let us know.
Ian McShane (Deadwood) and Lance Reddick (The Wire) return in support, as the manager and concierge of the mythical Continental Hotel, while Anjelica Huston, Halle Barry and Asia Kate Dillon (Orange is the New Black) are all reliably excellent in support.
John Wick 3 is maybe the most-spectacular of the series, but it's also the weakest. Just as The Matrix irrevocably jumped-the-shark in the third installment, so this film goes tap-dancing across the roof of the aquarium at least once too often.
Hoping for the final chapter of a bloody good trilogy, instead – spoiler alert – I got the third episode in what looks like a series that is running out of ideas. I still enjoyed pretty much every minute of John Wick 3, but there are enough fumbles here to suggest a franchise that is cashing in, when it should know when to quit.
Strangely, I mostly remain invested and happily along for the ride.