John Wick 3: The Return of Baba YagaMay 16, 2019
All photos courtesy of Summit Entertainment
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Writted by: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Halle Berry, Anjelica Huston, Mark Dascascos
In the first John Wick film, the head of the Russian mob told his son that assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) was a killer so terrifying that he was worse than “Baba Yaga” (the Russian boogyeman, who came to take away bad children). Wick was the one who was called when you wanted to kill Baba Yaga. In John Wick 3: Parabellum, Wick has a freakish, near-supernatural figure leaving behind a staggering body count.
Parabellum is Latin for "Prepare for War." The word is usually nestled within the phrase, "Si vis pacem, in para bellum," which translates, "If you want peace, prepare for war." Keanu Reeve's third outing as the unstoppable, puppy-loving assassin named John Wick is a relentless, ultra-violent march toward all-out war among the members of the shadowy criminal underworld ruled by the members of the High Table.
Quick recap: In the previous movie, Wick (Keanu Reeves) is forced to break one of the two unbreakable rules of the underworld: no blood is to be shed on Continental grounds (the chain of hotels which serve as sanctuaries where the denizens of the underworld hang out between violent jobs), and every marker must be honored. How did he end up in this untenable position? Simple, really. In the first John Wick movie, men broke into his home, killed his puppy (a gift from his wife who had passed away) and stole his vintage car. Wick went after the men responsible and had to ask for help from the wrong guy. This led to John Wick 2 and the dilemma of which unbreakable rule he would have to break.
John Wick 3 picks up just minutes after the end of John Wick 2, with a weary and bloodied Wick staggering through the streets of New York City. The clock is ticking as a $14 million open contract on his life is about to be put into effect. Wick has been declared "excommunicado" by the High Table, meaning no one in the underworld can assist him once the contract becomes active. In short, every assassin in the underworld will be coming after him, and no one is allowed to help him. His old friend, Winston (owner and manager of the Continental Hotel in New York) puts Wick's odds of survival at about 50-50. It's a joke, of course, We know that Wick will survive as he takes the audience through a dazzling and exhausting series of fights that define the "Gun Fu" genre, a mash-up of martial arts fighting style filled with all sorts of inventive knife-and-gunplay.
Chad Stahelski, director of the first two John Wick movies, is back behind the lens again here and along with his team of stuntmen and choreographers, delivers some of the most creative fight scenes you'll ever see on film. While the scenes have moments of pure humor, they are so relentlessly violent, some viewers may feel as though they've been pounded into numbness. For me, this is the biggest drawback of the Wick series. The violence is so relentless, and the body count piles up so quickly that death becomes nearly meaningless.
Reeves is perfect for the role of the stoic Wick, just as he was made for the role of Neo in "The Matrix." Stahelski and Reeves even give a quick nod to the Wachowski's ground-breaking series with a one-liner that elicited quite a bit of laughter from the audience. Ian McShane is back as Winston, as ambiguous as ever when it comes to whose side he's really on. Lance Reddick (Charon) and Laurence Fishburne (The Bowery King) also return in crucial roles while Halle Berry makes her first appearance in the Wick series as Sofia, an assassin who owes John Wick through a marker of her own.
Fans of the first two John Wick films will find everything they love in this latest episode. They'll also likely be thrilled to see that the end of this movie clearly sets up fourth outing. The only problem is, where do filmmakers go with defining element of the Wick series. John Wick 3 is so ultra-violent that it has to have pushed the movie rating system to the very edge of an R-rating. Where else can they go from here? And even more importantly, what kind of impact does viewing this increasing level of violence have on movie audiences? Not that we would expect John Wick fans to go out and engage in an ultra-violent activity, but does the growing level of violence in movies like John Wick 3 simply reflect our increasingly violent society or add fuel to the fire?