In the world of 2010s action blockbusters, there’s entertainment, and there’s entertainment. I know that’s vague, but bear with me. You see, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 — PARABELLUM squarely aligns with the latter; a film so hell-bent on being nothing but raw, visceral, uncut bombast, that it’s easy to forget that one is supposedly watching a film about a grieving assassin defending his pitbull. The emotions run so rampant that they are one and the same with the action. Every gunshot, gut-punch, grab, and growl is an externalization of Keanu Reeves’ torment.
And that’s how the John Wick franchise has separated itself from all those other forms of entertainment (most of which just so happens to come from Disney). It’s patently disinterested in the long-cons of serialized blockbusters, making it the perfect release to directly follow the monolith that is AVENGERS: ENDGAME. After all, who needs a 21-movie marathon just to see a protagonist become an old man and live a happy life if you can watch a Belarussian hitman master the art of throwing knives? So indulge me for a minute as I ramble about a half-dozen things that have seemingly nothing to do with JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 — PARABELLUM.
Bear with me!
I had a conversation with someone a few weeks ago about all things Marvel, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars. As seems to always be the case when I engage in these discussions, I stirred up quite some controversy by voicing my disdain for Marvel’s often flat direction, and THE LAST JEDI standing tall as a rare 21st century blockbuster that can compete with the likes of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. It was a debate that eventually helped me arrive at an important conclusion that I was never able to quite articulate until now: Americans aren’t particularly interesting storytellers, but they’re fantastic at spectacle.
What I mean by that is that Hollywood is and likely forever will be the primary source of mankind’s cinematic diet (including this person I spoke with the other day). As such, we really do hold the American cinema in extremely high regard because of their financial prowess. The fact of the matter is simple: no other country will ever give us an AVENGERS: ENDGAME (as much as China might want to try). And look, I get it, there’s a lot to love about popcorn thrills, and Hollywood has firmly planted itself as the cream of the crop for spectacle, but it’s this recent trend of making blockbusters elevated character dramas that really doesn’t ring true: mostly because everyone from Kit Harrington to Daisy Ridley is not a good enough actor to support the emotional weight these projects want to demand of their stars.
Readers strolling through this article expecting a generic review of JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 — PARABELLUM
European cinema has made peace with this sense of competition. It shows in the type of films they prop up. Europe isn’t inherently more interested in character and story, they simply can’t hold a candle to the American blockbuster. And that’s cool! But it also perfectly encapsulates why I don’t like AVENGERS: ENDGAME, but really love MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. My investment in character arcs and deep, profound storytelling is at an absolute minimum with the American blockbuster. So long as I fundamentally care about the character’s motivations, I’m happy, because all I need is justification for bombast. There’s no better proof than Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa: a single shot of her falling to her knees and screaming in a desert wasteland is all I need to get on board with the action. But it’s why I roll my eyes at Marvel’s attempt to give us internally conflicted characters at the expense of satisfying action set-pieces.
Let’s face it, if I want characters struggling with morality, I won’t watch CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. Having said all that, this is also why I do kind of love Rian Johnson’s THE LAST JEDI, if only because he’s perhaps the only tentpole-hired director to successfully give me something substantive and visually impeccable in the 2010s Disney monoculture. It’s for this reason that we all love our Kubricks, Tarantinos, and Spielbergs. They are the once-in-a-blue-moon directors that render their spectacle into something more profound; something personal that registers as singular and auteurist. But putting these beloved directors aside for a second, the reason I seek out the average American action films is because of the bombast they serve up, not the depth and complexity of their characters.
Okay, next paragraph will talk about Reeves riding a horse!
All that said, yes, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 — PARABELLUM more squarely falls into the former camp. It’s spectacle of the highest order: from deadly horse kicks, to K9 viscera, to deliciously choreographed knife fights! It’s maybe not quite the action epic I had hoped for, partly because director Chad Stahelski is still a little too occupied planting characters, world rules, and prematurely paving the road for sequels, when frankly a lot of it should just speak for itself. In short: too much talking, despite the fantastic action. But when it rocks, it rocks hard—even harder than JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2. Insofar, it is the true American action film, completely devoid of the faux-intellectualism that plagues its contemporaries, and all of the exhibitionism that made Hollywood the birthplace of everyone from Buster Keaton to Steven Spielberg. With all that said, by all accounts, Keanu Reeves has stumbled onto a winning formula; starring in the rare action franchise that actually gets better with every new release!