We are far beyond killing someone with a pencil. In this new instalment in the Keanu Reeves Can Still Go franchise, the limit is pushed even further than in John Wick Chapter 2. The world of John Wick is utterly ridiculous, with talk of shadowy organisations better suited to trashy conspiracy mysteries, reaching a level of farcical nonsense on a par with the latter Fast & Furious movies. Why does it not receive the same level of scrutiny?
I’m posing that question rhetorically. The greatest strength of Parabellum, as has been since the first John Wick, is its outstanding choreography and staging. Each sequel has repeatedly upped the ante in terms of action spectacle, yet the filming of said action has remained clear and legible. The often maligned traits of modern action (quick-cut editing, shaky handheld camera, dull lighting and poorly implemented CGI) are rarely seen here, and when used they are done so effectively and minimally as to be near-invisible. Keanu Reeves has done an admirable job as John Wick, continuing to prove himself as an exemplary action star, though in this instalment he is beginning to show his age when fist fighting with younger, more mobile foes.
For Parabellum, a further step has been taken in the composition of each shot and the lighting. NYC is bathed in neon, dynamic shadows cast at every opportunity, and use of rain to accentuate these almost casts the film as a cyberpunk piece. A heightened sense of style benefits the absurdity of the film, almost bestowing a cartoonish element to it, further buoyed by a supporting cast having rather a lot of fun (Ian McShane and Lance Reddick amongst others return, while newcomers, notably Mark Dacascos, bring bags of personality to proceedings). It is consistently thrilling to the eye, a further welcome change to the modern trend for drab, colourless affairs. To see the level of action be maintained and even improved through this escalation is remarkable, though it does not come without cost.
While there is a pulpy thrill to be gained in the increasingly outlandish world of John Wick, the narrative investment shrinks with each film, with Wick himself displaying little growth from the first outing. As such each action sequence becomes ever more contrived, with the pervading feeling that the action was conceptualised first, with the narrative justification coming afterwards. A motorbike chase (which provides some fun moments) literally involves Wick stopping, turning around and going back the way he came. An entire (excellently) choreographed action sequence in Casablanca features a supposedly important character that then entirely drops out from the film (no doubt they’ll return in the already announced John Wick 4). The series is exhibiting clear signs of bloat, chipping away at the leanness that made me a fan from the beginning.
Enjoyment of Parabellum lives in the moment of watching it. In the days since viewing I think little of the film, and when I ponder on this new iconic character of Reeves’, I find myself thinking more to his arc in the first film when searching for moments of meaning, with everything afterwards being a highlight reel of admittedly breathtaking action. I look forward to watching clips on Youtube once the Blu-Ray releases.
John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum is out now in the UK on general release.