When John Wick first entered into the zeitgeist back in 2014, the term art house action kept repeating all over social media and in reviews. The idea to stylise action seemed to most to be a novel concept, a new and interesting approach to a trend that has been well established for quite some time, no matter how hard people try to tell you otherwise. The element of John Wick that truly made it exceptional was its use of allusion, the idea that John exists within a world that is deeper and more meaningful than the initial barrage let on. While the follow-up film further fleshed out this lavish, neon-infused world, it didn’t leave much to the imagination, in the same way, something Parabellum brings back in spades.
Following on from the first film, Parabellum features Wick (Keanu Reeves) and his fight to survive after being marked for death by the mysterious round table after his actions in the prior film. As he seeks some brief moments of respite between brutal beat downs he also finds himself with few friends and even fewer tricks. Forced to trade in all the favours he is owed, John finds himself hunted and alone.
While filling the role of trilogy closer, Wick is never concerned with concluding a world too established, too steadfast in its mission of assassination. The main purpose here seems to be informing viewers that the flash in the pan critiques it received back in 2016 were for nought, Parabellum is a return to form with a kind of playful ambiguity about a character who works better as a mystery, a walking exception to a pre-established rule. Clearly riffing off of survival films in general, this Wick is richer because he is in a position he hasn’t been before, somewhere where he has no control, just reactions.
It’s oddly amusing how much director Chad Stahelski peeks into his characters by avoiding any real conversations. Obfuscated dialogue adds a richer history than an explanation ever could. The addition of Halle Berry as Wick’s old ‘friend’ and contentious partner may be more effective at setting up a continuation of the series but it doubles as a glimpse of the past, a reminder that while the John we know is righteous and driven, the one we haven’t met had more demons than a hell-mouth.
The back-step into the past allows for a more visceral film, one that treats Wick like an un-caged beast. The survival instincts on display here means the violence is more visceral and brutal. While the action is still consumed by style, here there is a real intimacy that was lacking before. Be it the conclusion of a trilogy or the newly established stakes, Stahelski has moved away from the look, instead, playing with tone to tremendous effect.
While to some extent this is the story of a lone wolf, Parabellum opens up this world to the notion of a pack mentality. If anything, the third film seeks to find it’s own identity outside of Wick himself and while Reeves gives his most unhinged performance yet, it is the grand storytelling and addition of new faces and old enemies that makes the film work.
While this all develops into a feature that is chilling and thrilling and everything a good action film should be, it squanders the power that comes with the closing of a trilogy, the culmination of a story never arrives and while it ratchets the stakes up, it never pays them off. While we can all look forward to more Wick in the future, the direction of this saga seems to have become more narrow with fewer opportunities of one. While some might embrace the ending, the possibilities that come with it, most will feel cheated but that isn’t to say that before all this comes about you might embrace the clearer focus and nail-biting tension, even if it doesn’t really go anywhere.