Third ‘John Wick’ chapter is full of action and worth your time

‘John Wick’

Rated R: For pervasive strong violence and some language.
Playing at: Alamo Drafthouse, Premiere Cinemas (includes IMAX and D-Max auditoriums), Tinseltown 17 (includes XD auditorium), Movies 16 (includes XD auditorium) and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Credits: Directed by Chad Stahelski. Screenplay by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Mark Abrams; from a story by Kolstad; based on characters created by Kolstad. Original music by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard. Cinematography by Don Lausten. Edited by Evan Schiff. Production design by Kevin Kavanaugh. Art direction by Ian Bailie, Teddy Setawan and Chris Shriver. Set decoration by Letizia Santucci (Morocco set decorator) and David Schlesinger. Costume design by Luca Moska.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston and Said Taghmaoui.

Bill’s rating: Four of five stars

Since childhood, one has run across occasional public contests in which the public is asked to guess how many beans or candies (or whatever) it takes to fill a large jar. Guess that total correctly and win a cash prize, although I would wager no one guesses the exact number if playing fairly.

Why ask? Because it seems safe to add your chances might be even less if asked to guess how many characters are killed in any “John Wick” movie.

Mind you, there are more pauses in early stages of the new “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” thanks in part to an extended sequence devoted to a one-on-one fight within the stacks of classic literature at the New York Public Library.

The bar for screen energy is set early, with a would-be killer breaking rules by attacking Wick during a safe period, only to be beaten to death with a research volume. After which Wick is careful to return the same, now slightly bloodied, book to its proper place on the library shelf before running off.

And at this point, yes, those counting Wick’s kills can hold up one finger.

It is not long, however, before I began losing count at “somewhere over a couple dozen” and, furthermore, stopped even trying to keep up.

No doubt, most moviegoers know right away if John Wick is your cup of tea. The film series finds assassins staying alive by outwitting and eliminating more assassins. At the same time, the series may provide the best communication via pure visual action since Gareth Evans directed Iko Uwais, featuring his parkour skills in the memorable 2011 Indonesian action film “The Raid.”

Critics, along with a high percentage of moviegoers, have bonded quickly with a Keanu Reeves series in which the imaginative fight choreography by stunt double-turned-director Chad Stahelski takes continued precedence over the limited dialogue provided by no fewer than four writers.

A bit of series history, first.

“John Wick,” 2014

The original, always viewed as a possible series kickoff, introduced Wick as an assassin for the Russian crime syndicate in New York City. Upon meeting and falling in love with Helen, played by Bridget Moynahan, John wants to retire and marry her. His request will be granted only if he completes an unlikely task involving multiple murders.

Wick pulls it off, but Helen falls victim to a terminal disease. Before she dies, she gives John a beagle puppy named Daisy to help him cope with grief.

Wick is reduced to mourning by driving around with Daisy in his 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1. When he turns down  a gangster who wants to buy his car, they instead knock Wick out, steal his vehicle and kill Daisy. Wick’s goal: Revenge.

Wick wins numerous battles and, by the end, also saves a pit bull puppy destined to be euthanized. Together, they walk home along the boardwalk where John had his last date with Helen.

Reeves devoted four months to learning judo, jujitsu and Brazilian jiu-jitsu for this film.

 “John Wick: Chapter 2,” 2017

The sequel opens with hitman Wick on the run. Important characters include Winston (Ian McShane, hardly recognizable from “Deadwood”) and Chron (Lance Reddick) as the manager and concierge at the Continental, a chic Manhattan hotel. Unknown to the public, this hotel is a place of neutrality for an international league of assassins. No blood can be spilled on its premises.

Not every criminal plays fairly; one group destroys Wick’s home with a grenade launcher, setting off a pursuit and potential bloodbath. After Wick refuses to follow through on a marker deemed legitimate, he also loses control and breaks the major rule of the High Order by murdering a cowardly rival hiding on neutral ground at the Continental.

The film ends with Wick declared “excommunicado,” placing him on the run with a $14 million bounty on his head. That amount is sent via text message to every registered professional killer.

And now …

This is where “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” opens, and it runs the risk of repetition near the end. Fights within rooms of mirrors, after all, date back to Bruce Lee films in the 1960s.

Yet the story impresses as the writing team and director Stahelski surprisingly find time to build Wick’s back story and develop supporting characters.

The film opens precisely where Chapter 2 ended, with the High Order of Assassins rescinding all of Wick’s privileges. But soon a new High Order employee called the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) arrives,  aware of each detail related to Wick’s betrayal.

For example, she knows that hotel manager Winston gave Wick one hour to escape; so she destroys Winston’s career and, likely, his future.  All Laurence Fishburne, as the Bowery King, did was offer Wick seven bullets during his escape. The Adjudicator has a far more vicious punishment in mind.

Wick has hidden calling cards of his own, which he hopes can be used to combat the excommunicado ruling.

In the process, he makes his way to Anjelica Huston, not quite over the top as a maternal figure for Russian criminals. Pressured, she helps Wick escape the city – all the way to Morocco, in fact, or specifically Casablanca.

Meanwhile, the film’s most impressive and enjoyable action sequence finds Wick battling alongside old friend Sofia, a killer played by Halle Berry, and a pair of her own trained German shepherds.

Editing cuts appear almost nonexistent when Berry, Wick and the fierce dogs attempt to find a building exit, slaying or biting dozens in the process.

Training via choreographed gymnastics, said Berry, found three of her ribs cracked during filming.

The third Wick movie utilizes a Latin word, parabellum, as a subtitle. Audiences are informed it comes from the Latin phrase “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” translated on screen as “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

It did not take three movies for viewers to recognize Wick is an expert at preparing for war.

Violence rarely gives way to gore here; such scenes do not dominate. Nevertheless, there are reasons for the movie gaining an R rating.

Still, nonstop action usually feels about as lethal as a Tex Avery cartoon sequence. Try not to laugh, for example, when Wick first uses a horses’ hooves as weapons, before taking off on that same horse down a rainy New York City street, with assassins on motorcycles trailing.

Wick is the series’ hero. Punched, jabbed and stabbed, he is always a man with a cause, and at times also a dog. He is the formerly retired hit man for whom audiences continually root. He is able to parry both the sarcasm and killing blows of Marc Dacascos as martial arts opponent Zero.

Nor does it seem like giving away a spoiler when mentioning that the movie does not end with Wick finding his happy place. But yet, despite the price on their heads, Wick and a friend appear willing to take on the High Order once and for all in “John Wick: Chapter 4.”

Fans no doubt will return, as well.

Gage’s rating: Four-and-a-half of five star

After seeing the first two John Wick movies, I really didn’t know what to expect from the third installment.

Nevertheless, I am glad they just jumped right back into the action and expanded the universe in which John Wick lives. Without skipping a beat, they kicked up the action and continued the same story, while also saving some mystery for a future Chapter 4.

The John Wick series always has been known and revered for its action. This movie is no different. It provides far and away the best action in the series thus far. It’s just a marvel to watch as Keanu Reeves’ character just goes absolutely insane. Scenes become longer takes with few cuts, letting viewers enjoy what is happening.

Reeves is back in the tailored suit, reprising his role of John Wick. While the actor expressed an emotional take on Wick in the first two movies, he turns up the intensity here, taking determination to another level. I had already believed Wick to be very determined – but wow, I was shocked to find him willing to cut off his own ring finger.

New and old characters were fun, examples being Halle Berry portraying killer Sofia and Ian McShane back as Continental Hotel manager Winston. It was a joy watching Sofia crank up the violence, even willing to kill several people to protect her dogs. (“It’s not just a puppy” for her, either!)

Other characters were OK, but I thought improvements in Chapter 3 came about from expanding the lore about new characters,

I was not thrilled to find the final five minutes being used to make sure fans know about the next sequel. But even that is an improvement over “Hunger Games (Mockingjay Part 1),” where the entire movie seemed to be a setup for the next movie.

I did like the setup for what might, or might not, turn out to be a final John Wick movie.

Still, I wasn’t sure I would like “John Wick: Chapter 3” as much as I did. But the same filmmakers proved me wrong.

In fact, this is probably my favorite movie of 2019, thus far.

I’m not ashamed to say I had that much fun watching it. Unlike some movies – I’m looking at you, “Avengers Endgame” – “John Wick: Chapter 3” did not disappoint in the slightest.