' ' Cinema Romantico: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Monday, June 03, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

It all started because of a dog. John Wick (Keanu Reeves), retired assassin extraordinaire, lost his wife to disease and then lost his wife’s dog to the violent whims of a Russian mafioso’s idiot son prompting Wick’s rampage of revenge. “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” nods to those humble beginnings with the shooting of another dog, this one belonging to the immaculately costumed Sofia (Halle Berry), former John Wick ally who owes him a favor, and who would have made the perfect romantic assassinating companion if we didn’t already know John Wick’s miserabilist tendencies. When Sofia’s dog dies, her reaction mirrors John’s – swift, violent, but not injudicious. After all, the Chinese Zodiac touts a dog’s loyalty and reliability. This ethos might seem parallel with the notion of “rules” that have become more pervasive in the “John Wick” series as it has advanced and expanded, building out a byzantine underworld of assassins governed by some nebulous High Table that has myriad vigorously enforced edicts, but that’s not quite true.

“Rules,” The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), High Table enforcer, says, “are what separate us from-“ “-the animals,” finishes Winston, proprietor of the assassins-only Continental Hotel, played once again by Ian McShane in a performance reaffirming how neither a gun nor innate knowledge of kung fu is necessary to exude maximum suaveness in a Gun fu production. There’s a reason why the good guys here are constantly flouting the rules and the bad guys are always violently tsk-tsking about them. As John Wick, Reeves might eternally be outfit in a stylish suit but his performance has always been at odds with that elegance, a little more primal, evoked in his halting, oft-hunched over sort of walk and run, appearing to carry the pain of a thousand martial arts fights, and the words taking form as grunts. He isn’t separate from the animals; he walks among them.

When last we left Mr. Wick, he had broken the rules by killing someone inside The Continental, a monumental no-no, meaning he was, per decree, stripped of protection with a considerable mark on his head. That’s a lot of backstory, granted, but director Chad Stahelski directly drops us into lockstep with a wounded John Wick as he runs through the neon-drenched, rain-slicked NYC streets cross-cutting with scenes of a more posh version of an OTB counting down to the commencement of his bounty, clearly, concisely evincing the live or die stakes which is one of the reasons why despite “Chapter Three’s” obvious interconnectivity to “Chapter Two” you needn’t have seen the preceding film to grasp the stakes.

Everyone means to kill him, which blessedly means we hardly wait for the action, pogoing from the NYC Public Library, where the sound of books as boxing gloves echoes through the cavernous room, to a Chinese antique store where Wick momentarily trades in his sleek modern handgun for a 1911 pistol with a discharge evoking the cartoon FX of Looney Tunes. This pistol foreshadows another showdown of another era Stahelski utilizing the Central Park stables in the service of his eponymous character making an escape by horse despite being pursued by motorcycles, a vindication for creative thinking, so much so that it renders a subsequent actual motorcycle chase much later in the movie as uninspired; who cares about motorcycles when you’ve already seen John Wick on a freaking horse?

The original “John Wick” was built on the back of such inventively staged action scenes. Yet the assassin-centric environment mostly existing on the periphery in the first film has now been amplified to such a degree that “Parabellum” keeps stepping out of its action so The Adjudicator can, you know, adjudicate, repeatedly lecturing various characters on their violations of High Table rules. And despite Dillon’s solid performance, occupying a comically dry air akin to Anne Hathaway, these scenes grow repetitive, mimicking the action sequences, where no matter how artfully blended the CGI and practical effects, the endless wave of faceless henchmen John Wick cuts through gradually just becomes so much noise to be subconsciously tuned out, inadvertently evoked in the movie’s most hilarious moment when Winston sits out the climactic showdown to just sit in an armored bunker and sip liquor. Cheers to that.

In its sheer exorbitance, this climactic showdown strains to honor “Kill Bill’s” House of Blue Leaves Showdown, though the former conspicuously lacks the latter’s playful glimmer, just as Keanu lacks the glimmer in his eye that Uma has in hers. That’s not Keanu’s fault. He is merely harmonizing with the material’s exhaustion by playing exhausted. Indeed, the chief villain, the appropriately monikered Zero, afforded none of the operatic backstory of O-Ren Ishi, is played by Mark Dacascos as something like a samurai space cadet, one openly acknowledging his reverence for John Wick, putting into perspective how the eponymous assassin has become a legend in his own time – i.e. old. You see that too in his earlier showdown with a pair of Zero’s proteges where Reeves evinces neither invincibility nor vulnerability but palpable fatigue, wearily gearing up to go again, leaning on the ropes, so to speak, barely hanging on, John Wick’s rope-a-dope. It’s entertainment shading into enervation. The conclusion intends to leave us wanting more but I just wished I were in John Wick’s corner so I could throw in the towel.

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