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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

A Rant: John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

The first John Wick was fine. It was fun, simple in its plot and emphasized the action to great effect. It was just about a grieving widower getting vengeance for his dead puppy. That’s all it needed to be and it worked. Even with corny and forced dialogue, each character served their purpose. It was never meant to be a film with deeper meanings other than an experience in high-octane action. Then came John Wick 2. Oy.

Coming off the back of the surprise hit that was the first film, the team behind John Wick needed to find a way to continue riding the success of it all. I commend them for at least trying to do some world-building to expand the idea of making more John Wick films, but man alive it got really stupid in no time at all, quickly scrapping any semblance of John’s initial journey of vengeance and grief in hopes of cashing in on an inevitable dead horse. It quickly gets out of control with Part 2, creating an endless world of assassins that pop up literally everywhere at every moment, feeling like Oprah Winfrey is just handing it out to everyone. “You’re an assassin! You’re an assassin! Everybody is an assassin!” It gets to the point of being comical, with the most painful of them being interactions with the staff at the Continental Hotel (a safe haven for assassins and the like), particularly a scene where John Wick is chatting with the hotel's Sommelier. But get this, he is not serving wine, but weapons instead. The entirety of the scene just has them talking about and describing weapons as if they're wines. "I need something more robust" "Ah yes, robust". It's a painful scene that makes it all the more excruciating due to the fact that it thinks it is being smart and witty.

The cool simplicity that existed in the first film is all gone, letting the straightforwardness of the plot drive the film's slick action to its conclusion. Remember that kid who all of a sudden showed up out of nowhere in primary school to become super cool for like a week? Well, I do at least. Spikey hair, baggy shorts, a chain attached to his Velcro Volcom wallet, Oakley sunglasses and listening to his new Evanescence, Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit CDs on repeat thanks his brother’s Walkman. Now picture that kid still riding the wave of that cool phase well into his late 30s. That is what John Wick 2 and 3 feels like. Somehow still getting a pass for that one time he did half a kick-flip in his Osiris shoes.

John Wick Chapter 3 takes place straight after the events of Chapter 2, as John frantically tries to find a way out of New York thanks to the excommunicado status now put on him after breaking rules at the Continental Hotel in the previous film, which means he can no longer have the same privileges and safety the system of the criminal underworld previously provided for him. With a new price on his head, blistering white-knuckled action is promised to us. Yay. Right? As much as I couldn’t stand John Wick 2, I at least applaud the level of competency of the fight scenes on display. The first film provided a new fighting style I hadn’t seen before in an action film (blending realistic martial arts and brutal gunplay), with the second film sticking to that, although it found itself becoming repetitive, boring and lacking in originality unlike the original film. Here, it appears they have gotten even lazier.

A cool and even funny knife shop fight shows promise after a sloppy opening library fight, it can only get bigger and better, right? Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there, with a far too short bike fight/chase set-piece proving to be the only other interesting fight scene in the movie. The choreography feels stunted in creativity, barely flowing with any sense of real urgency, intensity, and ingenuity. There are instances where everyone looks like they are fighting with noodle arms one would get in dreams, where each punch looks to be the softest of blows that come across as rehearsal fights instead of the final product. One of the big climactic fight scenes of the film has John Wick fighting two guys wielding knives. These dudes were in The Raid films so this looks promising right? “He’s getting slow”, one says to the other, as their characters happen to be fanboys of Mr. Wick. And yeah, it’s evident that he is getting slow because good god it is easily the worst fight scene of the entire film series and one of the blandest I have seen in a while. There is no conviction in each movement and there are instances where you can see the opposing fighter is waiting to be hit by Keanu. It’s slow, sloppy and looks like a de-aged Robert De Niro in The Irishman fighting a bunch of punks trying to take away his arthritis medicine. Even the music can't elevate the scene, coming across as bad videogame music that genuinely sounds like a short clip is being played on loop throughout the scene.

This is not what you want in an action film, especially in a film series that clearly prioritizes action over story. It’s just not fun anymore, becoming a chore to sit through. It’s all the same: Punch punch punch. Headshot. Punch punch punch. Headshot. Rinse and repeat for the entire series. That is literally all that John Wick appears to offer in each film. At least with The Raid film series, the choreography and intensity of the fights get crazier and more brutal with each passing moment. The stakes are felt with each punch, kick and knife slice - making us feel every single one of those body blows, leaving you battered, bloodied and bruised by the end of the ordeal. Even if the storyline isn’t the best, they’re incredibly enjoyable and effective action beat-em-ups. John Wick is the poor man’s The Raid, as well as being an incredibly lame piece of John Woo worship. Instead of gratuitous dove shots prevalent in John Woo flicks, we get incredibly lame and pointless band performances (Part 2) and ballet rehearsal numbers (Part 3) scattered about that add no real value other than providing a platform for that once cool primary school kid playing his worn-out Evanescence CD.

An absolutely ridiculous plot sends John Wick to Morocco, in search of a High Table Elder (the dudes that control and set the rules of the elite criminal underworld) in hopes of reversing his excommunicado status (even hearing them say excommunicado in the film makes my eyes roll into the back of my skull). In order to get there, he needs the help of Sofia (Halle Berry) and her dogs. Cool. I suppose. Enter an incredibly boring battle scene of bullets, punches and crotch biting. Sounds good right? Nope. Not even crotch biting can save it from playing out like a level in a shoot-em-up game you have played over a hundred times where it has lost all meaning, with Halle Berry having a seamlessly endless single clip of ammo she got in a cheat code you punched in. Once that’s over, John heads to the desert, where shit gets resolved with little to no difficulty. It's another instance of things being far too easy for John Wick to succeed, with the writers refusing to let us actually worry about where things are heading. They also seem to be scrapping canon from the first film entirely, trying their best to shoehorn his dead wife and dead puppy into the plot. “Why do you wish to live?” asks the Elder of the High Table. “My wife. Helen. To remember her. To remember us.” I mean…it’s as if the writers totally forgot about the grieving and puppy vengeance that started the whole saga off and just decided “Oh shit um…um…um…just slip it in here. Yeah good enough”. It’s even worse considering how the events in all three films take place over the course of a couple of days, with John Wick appearing to also completely forget how he got here in the first place.

I wasn’t expecting Sorkin-like dialogue or even cleverly written scenes within this film, especially considering the level of dog shit on hand in Part 2, but they somehow managed to get dumber and even cringier with this outing. You know your writing is bad when even Lawrence Fishburn can’t make your dialogue sound good. “You’ve made your point. You have earned my fealty. Matter of fact, I’m going to shove so much fealty up your ass, it’s going to come spilling out of your mouth.” Ag. It’s just another instance of try-hard cool-ness that would fit in perfectly with the unbearable dialogue of the most recent Riverdale incarnation. Part 4’s dialogue might as well be written by a bot at this point.

I get the movie is supposed to be a “turn your brain off” affair, but my god it feels like they’re going out of their way to be stupid, eating paint might even be smarter than John Wick Part 3 (to be fair, eating paint and doing anything else other than reading this frazzled rant is a smarter move). But the worst thing about the sheer stupidity of the John Wick franchise is how unaware it is of its own stupidity. If it poked fun at itself for being so utterly ridiculous and unbelievable in plot, characters and dialogue, it would be an entirely different experience. Hell, it’d be fun to get through. It genuinely thinks it’s cool, which is quite possibly the most embarrassing sin of them all.

At the end of the day, you owe it to yourself to watch better action films than the John Wick series. It’s a mindless and even worse, lifeless and boring wannabe videogame with boring cut scenes added for good measure. The characters are uninteresting, unlikeable, hollow and pointless. Even the film’s hero of John Wick has become bland and forgettable compared to what drew us to him in the first film. We felt some high stakes with his life in danger in the first, but no longer do we feel that in Parts 2 and 3. No one seems to be a challenge for him when coming up against him. He is barely a character with any sort of substance - a one-dimensional nameless videogame character that might as well be voiceless and devoid of any dialogue entirely. The writers seem to have forgotten that you can still write compelling action heroes. This is what makes Die Hard’s John McClane (only watch the first three) such a great character, especially with the first film. He is an ordinary dude thrown into an extraordinary situation, having to resort to his surroundings to kill the bad guys. He’s flawed and we fear for his life because he always only just manages to scrape through with high-wire stunts and set-pieces. Even the casting of Bruce Willis at the time was considered odd and left of center, proving to be a ballsy choice. None of that ballsiness exists anymore with John Wick, with each fight scene proving to be as meaningless and as pointless as ever, missing countless opportunities to raise the tension and stakes a little higher. It’s far too safe and far too predictable. Go and watch the first Die Hard, Seven Samurai, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Matrix, The Bourne Series, The Villainess, The Raid, Aliens, Baby Driver, etc. for deeper and more flawed characters with exciting plot, rewarding character arcs, compelling villains, and innovative set pieces that still hold up today.

Rant over. Apologies.

Where you can watch it: Showmax (SA)

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