Friday, 30 August 2019
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
John Wick: Chapter 2 ended somewhere wonderful by weaponising the secret, subdermal societies that otherwise strain to give the films any sense of a terrifying, vampiric centre. It was a smart decision - taking the series' weakest, chummiest element then transforming it into a rolling, enormous threat. Wick trespassed against the rule-set, killing an enemy currently under the protection of the sacred hotel chain that offers its clients boutique ceasefire. Thanks to this action screenwriter Derek Kolstad was able to pivot, taking Wick out of the comfort provided by being a murderer among murderers. There's a bounty on his head. He's prey now.
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum begins shortly afterwards, plunging the title character into an Invasion of the Body Snatchers sized nightmare in which every single person in New York is living a pantomime life, concealing incredible martial arts skills and an intent to collect on Wick's head. For one act Parabellum keeps us locked into this paranoia - we see the bounty ticking up, our favourite assassin burning through former allies (including The Matrix Reloaded's Randall Duk Kim) and pointedly battling against foes he enjoys an otherwise friendly rapport with. Wick is attacked and injured, losing all access to the city's network of underground death bazaars. Gunless, he is forced to break into a museum armoury to assemble a six-shooter from antique parts like Tuco in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
Parabellum's problem is that it isn't interested in working through this idea of an assailed Wick. The character's fracturing sense of self is suggested then played at arm's length, the film preferring instead to lean back into the circuitous, disinteresting machinations that prop up this counterfeit world. Wick seeks audiences with higher and higher authorities, begging forgiveness along the way. These acts, which at least seem to be taking John somewhere compromised, are instead ways to massage through the dramatic dead-end of two opposing powers that cannot, yet, taste defeat. Still, the finale's the best yet - the aperitif before the tower climbing, Game of Death style, main course sets Wick against special forces soldiers clad head-to-toe in the same bulletproof material used by the assassin's tailor. Sustained gunfire does nothing but wobble the incoming hordes. Wick must instead get in close and use his pistol like a dirk - jamming its muzzle into the armour's creases to score the kill shot.