Back in 2012, Keanu Reeves’ career was in crisis. His last big film, 2008’s The Day The Earth Stood Still, had bombed, while directorial debut Man of Tai Chi would gross even less. 47 Ronin, his next outing as a death-defying, martial arts messiah came out in 2013, and again disappointed. To most, it seemed like the ’90s pin-up was finished in the combat genre. John Wick soon changed all that.
Conceived by two former stuntmen, the hyper-stylised revenge romp cast Reeves as an ex-hitman who is forced back into the game when gangsters kill his dog. Pet pooch aside — the hard-hitting thriller brought freshness and realism via expertly choreographed fight scenes and gore levels dialled up to 11. At final count, Wick kills 86 people in less than 100 minutes. Add John Wick: Chapter 2 to that number and you’ve got 214 on-screen deaths in three and a half hours of movie — over a puppy.
Parabellum, the third entry in the franchise, does its utmost to kick things up a notch. Injured and on-the-run, John Wick is no longer the hunter in Chapter 3. Now excommunicated after killing a member of the international assassin’s guild, our long-haired enforcer is the target of hitmen, hitwomen and hitchildren everywhere — with a $14million price tag on his head. But how do you kill a man who, seemingly, can’t be killed? That’s the question Parabellum tries to answer in 130 minutes of giddy, exhausting and breathtakingly violent action.
Stuffed with perfectly cast A-listers, John Wick 3 is bolstered by some top notch performances. Ian McShane is back as enigmatic hotel owner Winston and Laurence Fishburne is on song as the crazed underworld veteran Bowery King. But it’s the female castmembers who really put the spring in Wick’s step. Anjelica Huston is delicious as yet another criminal kingpin and Halle Berry more than holds her own in a couple of mid-movie shoot ’em ups. Asia Kate Dillon gives the series its first true villain as the rule-loving Adjudicator, sent by The High Table to preside over Wick’s fate. Relative newcomer Dillon is delightfully evil in the role — and her ‘einfuhlung’ neck tattoo (the German word for empathy) must be more than an ironic coincidence.
In the end, though, it is Wick who provides the chiseled shoulders upon which Parabellum’s story rests. Director Chad Stahelski is a master of shooting hand-to-hand combat, but the ability to make us care about an emotionless killing machine is his greatest achievement. Exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure, the third chapter in this bonkers franchise is undoubtedly its best. But how long can a 54-year-old actor continue to put his body through the wringer in such a physically-demanding role? Time to get cracking on chapter 4, we think. Tick-tock, Mr Wick.