"Buster Keaton returns-an update of the tireless, dangerous ways of physical comedy..."

Slick Wick Pic

(052419) The surprise of 2014’s “John Wick” led to the equally surprising “John Wick: Chapter 2,” which was the rare sequel to understand what made the original offering tick, electing to develop its strengths while gracefully expanding an assassin universe merely teased in the previous installment. The adrenaline rush should be weakening at this point, but nobody told that to director Chad Stahelski, who returns to active duty with “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” keeping up the good fight with an entertainingly chaotic second sequel that’s ready to deliver the battered and shattered goods once again, only this time there’s a distinct plan to move forward with the series instead of banging around from one sequel to the next. Keanu Reeves as John Wick. There’s not much more one needs from the saga at this point, but “Chapter 3” has plenty of eye-opening moments featuring blunt force trauma, and while Stahelski has some difficulty knowing when to cry uncle, he’s more than ready to showcase an exquisite display of stunt work.

After killing a rival in the lobby of The Continental, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has been declared “excommunicado,” with a 14-million-dollar bounty posted from the High Table for his murder. Offered a head start by friend Winston (Ian McShane), John heads into the wilds of New York City, pursued by a league of assassins ready to collect a small fortune by taking on an industry legend. Returning to his Russian roots, John cashes in a debt with The Director (Angelica Huston), who offers the hit man passage to Casablanca, with hopes to crack the High Table code and appeal to the organization’s secretive leadership. Interacting with a few slightly less hostile colleagues, including Sofia (Halle Berry), John tries to put his mess back in order. However, the High Table sends out The Adjudicator (a charmingly icy Asia Kate Dillon) to find the rogue assassin, doling out punishment to anyone who’s helped the marked man along the way.

Buster Keaton returns. Well, at least his image, with Stahleski once again prominently displaying the master performer in the opening moments of “Chapter 3,” reminding the audience that, when all is said and done, this series is merely an update of the tireless, dangerous ways of physical comedy, leading the charge with a full sense of visual gusto and fearless work from Reeves. While the screenplay continues to develop the world of The Continental and beyond, the second sequel knows exactly what it wants to be and what it has to be for the franchise’s growing fan base, and it doesn’t take long before John is back in action, only this time he’s a little fatigued, cut open, and painfully aware of his hour-long head start. “Chapter 3” doesn’t waste time getting up to speed, happily returning to John’s state of shock as he’s newly tracked by every assassin in the world, trying to remain one step ahead of a situation he’s never encountered before. Such pressure is the steam heat that drives the movie, keeping the character on the move as he initially defends himself against attacks inside a library and a weapons shop, giving the target a chance to smash, stab, and shoot his pursuers in a dazzling opening act, with the helmer once again dreaming up all sorts of peril for the titular character to navigate.

“Chapter 3” advances the overall plot with The Adjudicator, who’s arrived on behalf of the High Table, offering no mercy for those trying to aid John in his escape plans. We meet The Director, who’s known John for a long time, reluctantly assisting him with travel needs. The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) is losing his commitment to the High Table, ruling over his pigeon-laden nation without patience for the business of others. And there’s Sofia, who’s in debt to John, angrily providing support in Casablanca with the help of two highly trained dogs. Everywhere “Chapter 3” goes, mayhem erupts, but Stahelski is amped up to show off the work of his stunt team, who are truly the stars of the show. The physical might of the second sequel is hypnotic, as the helmer takes the chase through tight rooms, around glass mazes, and across city streets, with one amazing sequence showcasing John on horseback, dealing with armed enforcers on motorcycles. There’s a community spirit to the picture as well, finding Sofia matching John’s stamina and aim, while her dogs transform into killers, happy to sink their teeth into the vulnerable genital areas of aggressors. The Casablanca sequence is wild, summing up the “Chapter 3” viewing experience as outrageous violence is presented without pause, keeping the lead actors shooting away until every enemy is dead. While Berry’s part is small, her presence is welcome, giving John an equal partner in the mad dash to safety.

Unlike the previous installments, “Chapter 3” makes a few mistakes as it unfolds. Excessive length is an issue, with Stahelski refusing to shave down a few skirmishes that could use some trimming. Mark Dacascos (an actor always better seen than heard) is unwisely permitted to ham it up in his role as Zero, The Adjudicator’s top henchman. And the ending is really no ending at all, with the producers hoping to keep things rolling into future installments, though it’s hard to imagine how this fantasia of firearms could sustain itself for more sequels. A sense of finality is missing from the endeavor, but there’s no weakening of raw power, with the feature forever interested in displaying a clever visual effect or delighting in the flinging of stunt players. And there’s always Reeves to hold attention, delivering his usual 100% effort to the cause, and while his dialogue commitment is cut down with every new installment, his sheer cinematic presence is perfection. “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” is unapologetic bedlam, evolving into war, adding another volume of unreal ultraviolence to a franchise that’s already offered so much blood, sweat, and more blood.

Directed by:   Chad Stahelski
Written by:   Screenplay by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins & Marc Abrams. Based on a story and characters created by Derek Kolstad
Starring:   Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane
Released:   051719
Length:   131 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for pervasive strong violence, and some language

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3- PARABELLUM ©  2019 Lionsgate Pictures
Review © 2019 Alternate Reality, Inc.