In 2014, Keanu Reeves launched a killer action franchise in “John Wick,” following an ex-hit-man who comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that killed his beloved dog.
This weekend, we get the third installment “John Wick 3: Parabellum,” a film that ups the ante on violence with some of the craziest fight sequences and highest body counts ever put on film, but a script that leaves room for little else as it jumps from action set piece to set piece.
The plot picks up with Wick (Reeves) being chased by assassins of the High Table trying to collect a $14 million bounty on his head. The journey spans the Manhattan hotel The Continental managed by Winston (Ian McShane), a ballet company run by The Director (Anjelica Huston), a Brooklyn underground crime lord (Laurence Fishburne), a trip to the markets of Casablanca with friend Sofia (Halle Berry) and ultimately a glass-filled skyscraper.
The film opens with two of the wildest fight sequences I’ve ever seen as Reeves does his own stunt work, proving that he has grown quite skilled in martial arts since “The Matrix” (1999).
The first takes place in the New York Public Library where Reeves uses a hardback book as a weapon in every way imaginable, cracking skulls, smashing mouths and breaking necks.
The next features Reeves shattering glass cabinets to retrieve a series of knives, as he and his foes hurl throwing knives at each other with such precision aim that the crowd will roar.
From there, we get Reeves slapping horses on their behinds so they kick the baddies, then riding a horse underneath the elevated train tracks of Brooklyn for a high-speed chase.
Such sequences earn newfound respect for director Chad Stahelski, who started as a Hollywood stunt man. Here, he uses his experience to choreograph the fights so you can follow the action with storyboard clarity rather than rapid shaky-cam blurs.
However, after a while, we realize that the script has little to offer other than the high body count, desensitizing us to the violence so that it doesn’t mean much of anything.
Screenwriters Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams also get lost in the desert, where Berry leads a duo of crotch-chomping canines who leap onto henchmen and spin them like whirlybirds. The dogs are clearly revenge for the franchise’s catalyst puppy death — ironically released the same day as “A Dog’s Journey” — we just wish Berry had more screentime as she mysteriously disappears from the story once we leave Casablanca.
The Sahara Desert sequence is also quite random, as Reeves trudges through the sand dunes like Lawrence of Arabia but in a designer suit. Surely he would die, but hey, this is a movie.
The film regains its footing in the final battle in a glass-filled space, similar to the Hall of Mirrors in “Enter the Dragon” (1973). Here, Stahelski does a great job of showing the details of each sword making a cut mark on the glass, while tricking our eyes with various reflections.
In the end, Wick is too invincible as a character. Nothing can kill this guy. By the time we get to the epilogue, it’s clear the film is leaving the franchise open for sequels, but I’d stop while they’re ahead.