Darke Reviews | John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Si vis pacem, para bellum. I actually have this on a whiteboard at my job. The Latin phrase translates basically to “If you want peace, prepare for war”; thus the title being Prepare for War. John Wick is one of those movies that kinda snuck in the backdoor back in 2014 with no one giving it much attention at the initial release. It came in second to Ouija by over $5 million, alright? It barely did better than a Brad Pitt movie (Fury) in it’s second week and Gone Girl in its 4th week and that had already made over $100 at that point. So yeah it’s safe to say John Wick was not exactly a popular film on it’s release weekend. It did however double its $20 million budget, but was pretty much gone in four weeks. It found life however in the after market and people realized what they were missing (but you know if more people read my reviews they would know to go see it!).   Two and a half years later John Wick: Chapter 2 doubled the domestic gross of it’s predecessor with $92 million; but also doubled the budget. $15 million more was thrown at the third chapter.

Did they prepare for war though?

The story was written by the original writer, Derek Kolstad, who literally just makes assassin projects, with his next two being a TV series for The Continental and Hitman. The screenplay then gets three additional writers, thus violating the writing rule of Darke. Marc Abrams (The Bernie Mac Show), Chris Collins (Sons of Anarchy, The Wire), and Shay Hatten in their first major writing project. I have to admit confusion here as one of the driving forces of a John Wick movie have been relatively simplistic plots that rely on a minimum of dialogue. This one is not that different in that regard. Kolstad was the sole story/screenplay credit on the last two so I cannot fathom what the others brought to the work.

The story is as simple as what’s on the tin and picks up where the last left off more or less. John having killed someone within the Continental has been declared Excommunicado by the surprisingly large network of assassins and support staff. He loses all rights to services and is now himself the hunted. What will he do? Where will he go?

That’s it. Even as we get a deeper look at the world of killers beneath the surface of our own, which is a lovely conceit still, there is a simplicity to it all. They do of course add layers and some complexity as we visit new locations and meet new personalities, but all of that is handled well by Stunt Performer turned director Chad Stahelski. As with the first two films having someone with his kind of experience in knowing what it takes to make a good shot for the camera (and guns) lets us really enjoy the kineticism of the fight sequences. Again this is no different, except now we have added animals to the stunts using horses and dogs – which anyone can tell you adds even more risk. You don’t want the animal getting hurt, the animal has to be trained, and you have to be careful the animal doesn’t hurt any of the performers when it’s all in camera like this. I am pleased to say the addition of the animals definitely added to the action.

We can talk about performances, but we are dealing with Keanu Reeves in the role that revitalized his career and the action movie industry. He gets to spend most of the time just being tired, broken, and still the Baba Yaga we know and love.  Ian McShane (please narrate my life) and Lance Reddick return as Winston and Charon of the Continental, with Laurence Fishburne also coming back to work with his friends from the Matrix.  Two of the new stand outs are of course Angelica Houston as The Director and Halle Berry reminding us she exists and has action chops. Asia Kate Dillon (Orange is the New Black, Billions) gives us to my knowledge our first Non-binary actor (pronouns are They/Them) with a major role in a major Hollywood production. They do exude a helluva presence on screen and I am interested to see them in more projects. A special call out to Yayan Ruhian (The Raid, The Raid 2) and Cecep Arif Rahman (The Raid 2) for one of the more memorable fight sequences and showing just how scary Silat can be as a martial art. The show stealer, that isn’t four legged, is absolutely Mark Dacascos (The Chairman of Iron Chef America, Brotherhood of the Wolf), who just is a joy to watch and clearly was having the time of his life as our John Wick antithesis for the film.

TL;DR?

John Wick is back. They were prepared. 11/10 would go into battle with the dogs from this movie. The movie runs a bit long at 2 hours and 10 minutes and at times feels it, it still turns out a solid bit of entertainment. Yes, this is still a world turned to eleven and no you cannot possibly be expected to take it seriously. That isn’t the point here. The point is to enjoy 2 hours and 10 minutes of Keanu Reeves moving from action set piece to action set piece and wondering how they will continue to ratchet it up as the movie goes on. For that it succeeds dramatically. I am confused by the number of writers still, but I got what I wanted from the movie and could still see every action piece and every stunt.

My only glaring flaw is that the first one shone for the raw amount of practical. As the stunts ratchet, they did hit some of the CG and compositing a bit harder than I like and my eyes were easily able to pick out more than a few. Granted safety first, but if it’s going to have to be that digital, look for a different stunt.

Should I see it?

You’re invested already. So yes.

Would you see it again?

Officially the answer is yes, but the likelihood of it happening is low.

Will you buy it?

Absolutely. No regrets on that front.

Are the dogs adorable?

They are the bestest boys. Would pet. Would also likely lose a hand.

 

Wrapping up I had two new Dark Princesses tonight with me and I enjoyed the movie and it was very cathartic after a rough week. It’s that kind of movie and I am glad for it.

 

Next week: Brightburn and Aladdin. I am honestly not sure which I will see first.

 

WAIT! before you go – what’s a Dark Princess?

If you join me for the movies. You are a Dark Princess. Male or Female. Those are the rules. Those are the results of the vote on the AmusedintheDark Facebook page.

My original two Dark Princesses might get special titles, I haven’t decided yet.

 

Welcome to the Continental.

Darke Reviews | John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

I still fondly remember seeing the first one on a lark. “Ah what the heck…I don’t mind Keanu.” What I then received, despite the theatre being empty was one of the best action movies of that year and arguably the next. Of course, everyone who did see it got others to see it and word of mouth of this diamond in the rough spread and a cult phenomenon formed around the little movie that could. It deserved the attention. It stands out amongst action movies with a very low end, for Hollywood, budget of $20 million – which it went and doubled domestic and quadrupled world wide. That isn’t counting after market sales once it left theatres. Again – it is right to have this praise. I ended the last review saying we need Hollywood to pay attention to it and learn from it.

Well they got it half right. They paid attention and gave us a sequel. Sadly I cannot think of a movie since 2014 that is such a magnificently choreographed ballet of bullets and blood. Sure we’ve had good action movies, I’ve seen most of them, but most of the time I am complaining about the camera work or editing.

The question is – Is the magic that made John Wick back or should it have stayed in retirement?

The pen of Derek Kolstad returns to the script, not really having worked on anything since the last film. He had a task I have seen many fail at before. Write a script for a sequel to a movie a lot of people liked, but closed its ending quite nicely. How do you bring your principle character out of retirement – twice. How do you get people to care about the story? How do you avoid rehashing the literal same story or other story again? Time and time again people fail at this when going to sequels. Usually they are rushed, but he had at least a year to write and they had a year to film before this release.  The time helped. Kolstad told the story that we came out of the last one wanting more of. He brought us more into the world of Hitmen, Coins, and The Continental. I do admit I want more of that world, and it delivered. For those familiar with the World of Darkness, take notes – you have good source material here. Is the plot complex? No. Is it more than avenging the death of his dog. Yes. What you should take away from it  is that he bothered with a plot rather than a thinly veiled way to string together gunfights. Thank you Derek. We mean it.

At the helm is previous director Chad Staheleski, minus previous director David Leitch; though Leitch does have an executive producer credit. He does as well as he did in the first one and it is very clear that he paid a lot of attention over the years on the films he worked as a Stuntman and coordinator on. The beats, the blocking, the  shots were gorgeous. There is one in Rome, near a large bathtub that is one of the most gorgeous shots I have ever seen on screen. He and cinematographer Dan Lausten (Crimson Peak, Brotherhood of the Wolf), do some really amazing shots and made some otherwise risky shooting choices all of which paid off. Shooting in a mirror maze is difficult enough. Shooting with a moving camera in a mirror maze with moving panels must have been a nightmare. They did it.

My only complaint on the technical facet of the film is that there’s a bit of shaky cam on a handful of sequences; and overall most of the gunfights could have been shaved by a few seconds or beats. One in particular could have lost two minutes and we would have been ok. There’s a touch more CG enhancement to shots that really didn’t need it when a composite shot could have done better. That said, on the flip side – the practical in camera effects are just damn good. They are as visceral and brutal as you would think. Also – that bathtub sequence. I don’t want to know what it took to get that – but it was perfect. They really, as a pair, grasped when to use the different lenses and how to do different depths, angles, and movement with the cameras.  There’s no shot I found off putting and they flow well to the credit of editor Evan Schiff (Pans Labrynth…huh thats two who worked with Del Toro).

So yes, the technicals are really solid here – a little more flawed but nothing game breaking or even really detrimental to the movie. I think I am more trying to show it can still be critiqued; because otherwise the stunts are FANTASTIC. This is a love letter to so many stunt performers over the year (including an intro shot with Buster Keaton on a wall). The stunts are not over the top. They are very human very real and require high degrees of skill.So much is done in the frame you can see the actors doing their work and the movie always benefits from it. They also give you time to breath, they let the plot breathe. They let you see the injuries without being gratuitous. They let fatigue set in.

From an acting perspective Keanu does a excellent job of showing John’s state both mentally and physically as the movie progresses.  This man is 50+ years old and his own stunt work is just incredible.  Ricardo Scamarcio (Burnt) does well as our antagonist. Ian McShane is still  Ian McShane and we all love the movie a bit more for him end to end. Ruby Rose, as Ares, in her third performance this year does well with little. She does have weight and does well with it. I am unsure why they made one of the choices about her character – it didn’t hurt that it was made, but still wondering why.  Common (Smokin’ Aces, Selma) continues to impress me with both his delivery of what he must and his action capabilities. Claudia Gerini (nothing stateside) is a stand out performance in the movie and for what time she had made an impact.

TL:DR?

This is a very good sequel. Again I want the movers and shakers in L.A. to pay attention to the movie and learn the right lessons. You will be hard pressed in this genre (sorry Godfather fans) to find a sequel that is as good a follow up to it’s close ended predecessor.  While it isn’t quite as good as the first, it is still bloody awesome.

Should you see it?

Do you like action? Gunplay? Keanu? The First movie? If the answer to any of these is Yes. Stop reading my review and go. Seriously…

Go.

Are you still reading? This movie is that good. Just go.

Will you buy it?

Without a doubt.

Anything else?

Yes, the music. The music was fantastic. I am trying to hunt down the soundtrack.