Kills so slick, stylish and merciless that the press preview audience burst into applause several times (which made me a little concerned, to be honest).
Copious death-dealing in such efficient yet detached ways that it often seems like just muscle memory at work.
More than one shout-out to Bruce Lee’s uncompleted Game Of Death, including a fight with a towering hitman and a series of duels as the “hero” makes his way up several levels of a battleground.
Hand-to-hand combat so quick and brutal it’s almost like watching Agents of the Matrix in action.
And speaking of The Matrix, there’s even a callback to that groundbreaking milestone film. Of course there’d be, right?
The violence quotient of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is higher than three (1980s) John Woo movies combined. Yup, if you want seemingly unending action, carnage and skeletal breakage, then Parabellum is your new drug.
The thing is, how much of this can a viewer take before it’s too much?
Some mayhem is understandable. After all, the film picks up right after Chapter 2, with Keanu Reeves’ titular assassino di assassini fighting for his life after the world of assassins declares open season on him.
His rights and privileges in one world may have been revoked, but he’s nothing if not resourceful, our John.
Or at least, he is enough of an enigma that longtime series scribe Derek Kolstad can freely conjure up hitherto unknown aspects of his past in each new entry.
New faces (to the audience) who pop up in this third instalment include The Director (Anjelica Huston), a maybe-gypsy queen who is linked to John’s humble origins; and Sofia (Halle Berry), the fiery manager of another Continental (you know, those hotels that double as safe havens and armouries for assassins).
Also new to us is The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon, of TV’s Billions), in town to judge and punish those who helped our far-from-hapless hero. Add action movie (and Iron Chef America) veteran Mark Dacascos to the mix, and you have the ingredients for a pretty explosive cocktail.
Now, this is where things get a little uneven. Returning director Chad Stahelski is so enamoured of the creative kills that he and his crew have dreamed up that he shoehorns literally busloads of murder-fodder into the film.
This leaves hardly any room for a tangible story to unfold, when things are promised – for example, a meeting with the Elder Assassin who is above even the governing body known as the High Table – only to be under-delivered.
Sofia and The Director are compelling characters for the few minutes each that they are in John’s current predicament, but their respective arcs seem to scream “That’s all, suckers – see you in the next sequel!”
In fact, there is a lot about Parabellum that seems to be mere set-up for future tales, perhaps the most in any film in the series so far.
And this makes the already-thin story seem even more inconsequential in the face of the almost non-stop ferocity.
So don’t expect any of the interludes to make sense. It’s almost as if the writers were cribbing from the Game Of Thrones Season Eight playbook, which is simply to make it up as one goes along. (The presence here of Jerome Flynn – a.k.a. Ser Bronn of the Blackwater – might support that notion.)
There’s very little in Parabellum that has the dramatic weight of the first two chapters. As far as character building is concerned, all we see here is that John is not exactly the sharpest sword in the armoury (that’s all you’re getting – no spoilers).
Reeves is more than up to the demands of the action, never more so than in the ridiculously punishing finale (kudos to him and Indonesian martial arts stars Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman for that great, and respect-filled, two-on-one slobberknocker).
Too bad that getting physical is all there is to the role this time.
You would think that after all the killing, something in John’s soul would make him really take stock of his legacy in this world, like more than one character suggests in the course of this chapter.
OK, stop yawning. I know, you’re just here for the buttkickery, right? Then you should make that popcorn extra-large.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Halle Berry, Lance Reddick, Asia Kate Dillon, Anjelica Huston, Jerome Flynn, Yayan Ruhian, Cecep Arif Rahman, Said Taghmaoui