In the “John Wick” movie series, hearing star Keanu Reeves say “guns — we’re going to need lots of guns” has been a reliable laugh line. But, as the latest installment, the wordily titled “John Wick, Chapter 3: Parabellum,” demonstrates, that phrase is also the movie’s reason for existence.
If you remember the ending to “John Wick, Chapter 2,” Reeves’ back-from-retirement assassin Wick had committed the unpardonable sin in this world of killers: He murdered a member of the High Table, the mysterious organization in charge of everything, in the confines of The Continental, the New York hotel where assassins leave their work at the entrance. The Continental’s manager, Winston (Ian McShane), told Wick then that he was “excommunicate” from the hotel, with a $14 million bounty on his head, and a one-hour head start.
Chapter 3 begins during that hour, as Wick locates a stash of goods he needs to make it out alive, finds a friendly doctor (Randall Duk Kim) to stitch up his wounds, and tries to figure out what he’ll do next. Some of Wick’s figuring is done on the run, as he’s being pursued by the Russian mob, the Yakuza, and every other group with the possible exception of the Camp Fire Girls. Even the National Basketball Association is after him — really, that’s Philadelphia 76ers center Boban Marjanovic, all 7’3’’ of him, fighting Wick in the New York City Public Library.
After the usual round of shooting and punching out random lackeys — a sequence with carriage horses is a nice touch — Wick seeks a way out of New York. The route brings him in contact with a Mad Libs of actors: Anjelica Huston, Halle Berry, Jerome Flynn (Bronn from “Game of Thrones”) and Said Taghmaoui (“Wonder Woman”). Meanwhile, the High Table has sent an Adjudicator (played by Asia Kate Dillon, the nonbinary co-star of Showtime’s “Billions”) to pass judgment on Winston and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for helping Wick in the last movie.
Of course, fans of the Wick series don’t care so much about plot. They want the hyper-stylized action that Chad Stahelski, the former kick boxer and stunt coordinator who has helmed all three “Wick” movies, brings to the show. The action sequences are blood-splattered choreography, like the dance routines in a “Step Up” movie but with a higher body count.
There are some visually arresting fight scenes. There’s the running shootout Wick and Berry’s character have with hordes of assassins in Casablanca (yes, really), or there’s Wick’s glass-shattering karate duel with two ruthless killers (Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian, from “The Raid” franchise from Indonesia), or a final boss battle with Zero (Mark Dascasos, aka The Chairman from “Iron Chef America”), a killer who’s also a sushi chef.
One grades the quality of a “John Wick” movie by the flair and originality of its action sequences. The fights here don’t have the same out-of-the-box charm of the original — you only get to make a first impression once — they are brimming with eye-popping spectacle. For Keanu’s sake, I hope he’s resting up for Chapter 4.
‘John Wick, Chapter 3: Parabellum’
Opens Friday, May 17, in theaters everywhere. Rated R for pervasive strong language, and some language. Running time: 130 minutes.