The John Wick films are deliriously over the top, using the death of a puppy to fuel shocking levels of carnage. So even as the franchise expands its world and sets up a potential endgame for the titular assassin, it finds time to indulge in some of the greatest -- and sometimes goofiest -- actions beats in recent memory. John Wick: Chapter 3 -- Parabellum is the best entry yet, escalating the stakes without losing any of the gonzo individuality that made the action-thriller stand out in the first place.
The film doesn't waste any time setting up the narrative, instead opening with Keanu Reeves' John Wick on the run. Following the events of 2017's Chapter 2, the titular assassin has lost his protected status, and now the entire world seeks to claim the bounty on his head. While John travels the world in an attempt to survive, his former allies, including Ian McShane's Winston, Laurence Fishburne's Bowery King and newcomer Anjelica Huston's the Director, are confronted over their refusal to kill John by the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), accompanied by the devastating Zero (Mark Dacascos) and his band of ninjas.
The film does a surprising amount of heavy lifting to expand this world of effortlessly cool killers and neon museums. We even receive our biggest clues yet to the origins of John Wick, with the Director hinting at the training that transformed him into the Baba Yaga. Beyond that, John travels outside of New York, exposing not only new aspects of the world but fresh faces as well. He briefly teams with a former ally named Sofia (Halle Berry) for an extended period in the second act. However, the best pieces of world-building belong to the enigmatic Adjudicator and Zero, who is practically the action-movie equivalent of NoHo Hank from Barry. His enthusiasm and oddball sense of honor make him stand out amid an army of killers.
But no one is here for the plot. The action has always been the core of the John Wick series, and this latest entry reaches new heights of absurdity. Sometimes, the film just indulges itself and goes big, like when John has to duel multiple ninjas on top of motorbikes. Other times, it becomes keenly aware of how ridiculous it can be, like in a surprisingly comedic library fight in which John uses a book as his primary weapon against a considerably larger assassin.
The best moments, however, are when John Wick: Chapter 3 figures out to combine both of those elements, such as in an extended sequence in a knife store that's both brutal and silly, or the surprisingly honorable duel between John and two of Zero's deadliest men that also includes more than a few pratfalls. Reeves is enjoyably game for whatever the film throws at him, whether that's the smaller dramatic beats, massive well-staged battles or even the surprising moments of comedy.
Director Chad Stahelski does a terrific job of framing each fight differently, keeping the nonstop action from ever feeling repetitive. The film is choreographed with the precision of a ballet, something the film makes into an overt parallel. The series has always aimed to make death into visual poetry, and this film achieves that goal better than either of the earlier chapters. Each gunfight goes bigger than the last, escalating the action and the stakes with relative ease. Credit should also go to cinematographer Dan Laustsen, who helps to keep the highly kinetic action straightforward and easy to follow.
If the film has any failings, it's when it slows down to try and force the audience to care about characters, like Sofia. Berry is good in the role, and the character is a fun foil for John, but her section of the film feels like an extended pitch for her own adventure instead of a wholly natural diversion. Likewise, the vague references to the leaders of this assassins guild do little but to set up future films. But even those are minor bumps for the movie, which knows exactly what it is and how to do the best possible version of it.
John Wick: Chapter 3 -- Parabellum ends with not so much a cliffhanger as a promise that John Wick isn't done killing, and we couldn't be happier. The character and his world still have plenty of room to grow.
Directed by Chad Stahelski, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum stars Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Halle Berry, Jason Mantzoukas, Lance Reddick and Anjelica Huston. The film opens Friday nationwide.