John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes
Director: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Mark Dacascos
In the John Wick-iverse, the primary object of commerce is not cash, but servitude. The gold coins that the participants of the sprawling assassin underworld network exchange for access to the endless catalog of “services” embedded in the fabric of default society posits a hyper-transactional sub-culture buttressed by a presupposed authority, “The High Table.” Bureaucratic squabble is systemically recognized as a measure of civility in a world defined by bullets and blood; the coveted Marker, a blood oath between any two individuals made at the giver’s discretion, being the only thing regarded above the deadly strict Social Contract that binds everyone. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum poses the titular hero against the bureaucratic mandate of The High Table, where he must rely on his interpersonal relationships, cultivated over the implied years, to survive.
Keanu Reeves reprises his role as John Wick, the Baba Yaga (The Boogeyman), this time on the run as he seeks refuge before being officially designated “Excommunicado” as a consequence for killing the villain of Chapter 2 on Continental Hotel grounds, where all “official business” is strictly prohibited. Watching John on his toes trying to get from safe point to safe point while an infinite pool of adversaries challenge his tenacity, I found the thematic through-line of personal consequence within an impersonal system the most fascinating among the brilliantly choreographed mayhem. Asia Kate Dillon (Orange is the New Black, Billions) plays “The Adjudicator,” an official representative of The High Table, the bureaucrat whose words are to be taken as that of the institution itself, but she isn’t. Asia performs the official role with a stark pomposity that mimics the intended perception of the operating ideology. By the film’s end, all the double-crosses and twists settled, the privileged air of her title dissipates as the realization of the situation becomes well, real.
The Capitalism in the John Wick world is much more direct in its minutiae than the one we’re accustomed to, but the end affect is all the same. Over the runtime, John brushes arms with a vivid ensemble of new characters, the most high-profile of which being Sofia (Halle Berry). With each character there is an underlying respect for John that ultimately drives them to aid instead of hinder our protagonist, even if it’s in their best interest to throw him to the wolves. It’s impressive that the franchise’s third film is able to deliver more consistent and compelling action and expand upon it’s intriguing lore while also stoking an admirable political thesis; so much so that you can guiltlessly cheer on the ultra-violence on display.
With so many of the living action franchises like Mission Impossible and 007, and even the superhero films from Marvel and DC, whose respective narratives always operate under such moral contradiction, without as much as a mention of systemic failure as the cause of conflict and a desire to rectify it, John Wick: Chapter 3 gets extra kudos for making that failed logic of Capitalism its basis of conflict, with legitimate stakes. Here’s to hoping Chapter 4 stays true.