Everyone in the world is trying to kill John Wick in “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum.”
Yeah, well, tough rocks, world. The gentleman isn’t down with that particular agenda. He’s got a different take on the situation: He will kill them.
Countless gunmen, swordsmen, knife wielders, hatchet throwers, hand-to-hand martial artists: They all do their damnedest to put Mr. Wick in the ground. Thanks to bullets to the head (lots and lots of those), swords through the guts and knives to the jugular, none succeed. Even a library book is used to lethal effect by our Mr. Wick.
Can you say excessive? Sure you can. Say it with me now: EXCESSIVE!
It’s the defining characteristic of “John Wick” movies. Originated by screenwriter Derek Kolstad and brought explosively to life (and death) by director Chad Stahelski with Keanu Reeves in the title role, the series goes so far over the top in terms of mega mayhem that it is, frankly, funny. Back-to-back-to-back sequences of bone-crushing, neck-snapping, glass-breaking chaos leave the audience gasping and guffawing. It is. All. Too. Much.
Um, glass-breaking? Yep. If there is a window or a display case anywhere nearby, Stahelski, a one-time stunt man, will contrive to have Reeves and his many combatants throw one another through it. For the climax, Stahelski stages a protracted fight in an all-glass gallery. It’s smash-crash excess taken to a stratospheric level.
What feeds the humor is that virtually none of the bad guys are recognizable as human beings. They’re all anonymous figures in a shooting gallery. Set ’em up, cut ’em down. And seemingly no civilians get caught in the crossfire. It’s a closed system populated by targets.
Kevin Kavanaugh’s production design is one of “Parabellum’s” biggest strengths, with the action set in grand spaces such as New York’s Grand Central Terminal and a Casablanca castle. All are lavishly filmed by cinematographer Dan Laustsen.
Wick, a feared assassin, has gotten sideways with the picture’s assassin league, called the High Table, by having dispatched a particularly nasty killer inside the posh confines of the Continental Hotel, the swanky headquarters of the High Table at the end of 2017’s “John Wick: Chapter 2.” That’s a big no-no — no killings on the premises, if you please — and resulted in him being declared excommunicado, and cast into the outer darkness with a $14 million bounty on his head.
Laconic, stoic and, by this point, iconic in his sharp black suits, Wick is definitely a bad dude, but as Reeves plays him, he’s not an unfeeling monster. And that makes him oddly relatable. For one thing, he loves dogs. It was his rage at having a cute puppy, the final gift from his late beloved wife, killed by evildoers in the first “Wick” picture in 2014 that makes him an outcast. His lingering devotion to his wife’s memory is what gives him incentive to cling to life against all odds.
At first it seems like he hasn’t an ally in the world, but in the course of the movie he gets grudging help from a fellow assassin (played by a snarling Halle Berry) — she’s a dog lover, too, though her pooches tend to rip people to pieces — and the so-called Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne, who originated the crime-lord role in “Chapter 2”).
Ian McShane, playing the top man at the Continental with elegant charm, also returns along with Lance Reddick in the role of the ultracool-and-collected concierge Charon.
It’s all pretty silly, but the way “Parabellum” keeps topping itself and then topping the toppings makes the picture eminently watchable. It’s a guilty summertime-movie pleasure for sure.
★★★ “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum,” with Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick, Mark Dacascos, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane. Directed by Chad Stahelski, from a screenplay by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams. 131 minutes. Rated R for pervasive strong violence and some language. Opens May 17 at multiple theaters.