Chad Stahelski

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019, Chad Stahelski)

Even with conservative expectations, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum disappoints. Even with adjusted expectations as the film progresses; the first act seems like it’s going to be a two hour real-time action extravaganza with lead Keanu Reeves fighting his way through seventies and eighties New York City filming locations, only with twenty-first century fight choreography, special effects, and gorgeous high dynamic range photography. The film’s lighting is explicitly, intentionally exquisite and director Stahelski prioritizes those possibilities in the composition. It’s a great looking film.

Even after the first act, when Reeves is off on a quest to find the master assassin–there’s definitely a movie buff involved in making the Wick franchise; this time Reeves does a Tuco homage—Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—but it doesn’t seem like it can be screenwriter Derek Kolstad because the script sounds like no one involved with writing it (shouldn’t dump it all on Kolstad, he had three co-writers on this one) has ever seen a movie. Just video games. Yet someone knew Reeves on a horse versus ninjas on motorcycles would be great.

And a lot of Parabellum is great. Lots of really good supporting performances—Halle Berry’s action sidekick is outstanding and the film’s less once she leaves the story. And not just because Reeves ends up roaming a very artificial looking desert in hopes of the aforementioned master assassin giving him a last chance. No spoilers on the master assassin but… it’s a casting disappointment. Not just because the actor’s not a big enough name for a film very deliberate in its guest stars, but also because said actor’s performance is wanting. Parabellum is like if a video game were well-acted. Ian McShane is outstanding with absolutely nothing to do except act it up. Same goes for Anjelica Huston, who plays Reeves’s old teacher; she teaches mastery assassin classes to the boys, ballet to the girls. They never get into the gender split.

But pretty immediately Stahelski makes it clear the ballet is going to be a metaphor for the action sequences. And he delivers on them. The fight choreography is fantastic, the lengthy endurance fights are awesome, Evan Schiff’s editing doesn’t break anything (doesn’t really help either); Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s music is solid. They seem to be borrowing from a John Carpenter theme for this score. I think They Live but I’m guessing. Effective music. The film’s exceedingly well-produced, well-executed.

Oh, yeah, great cameo from Jerome Flynn. Don’t want to forget him.

Now for the negative adjectives.

The third act is a disaster. Not because it’s got this big double-cross and triple-cross or whatever cross, but because of how poorly the previously complimented creatives execute the crosses and crossing. Parabellum doesn’t sour right away, it starts by one thread not paying off, then another, then finally it becomes clear they’re just setting up the sequel. Only in a way you could never make a sequel but promise further adventures. No rest for the wicked type stuff.

Maybe if Larry Fishburne weren’t so eh in his role as an erstwhile Reeves ally. Or if Asia Kate Dillon’s emissary character (she works for the still unseen big crime bosses and assesses betrayals or something) weren’t blah. Dillon plays it better than the part deserves, especially since Stahelski ignores Dillon’s successful infusion of comedy into the role. But the most disappointing performance is Mark Dacascos, who’s an absurd (but deadly) assassin out for Reeves’s blood. Dacascos gets wackier and wackier as the film progresses, culminating in what could be a seriously funky homage (saying to what would spoil) but it doesn’t build to anything. He’s just runtime fodder to get Reeves to the sequel setup.

It’s a real bummer, considering the often excellent production. It’s a super-violent, extravagently silly action picture; good lead from Reeves (he doesn’t get too much dialogue this time), great fights, beautiful looking. The writing just catches up with it. The writing and the uneven distribution of good supporting players.

Parabellum could’ve been a contender. But isn’t, which is a bummer.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Chad Stahelski; screenplay by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abrams, based on a story by Kolstad; director of photography, Dan Laustsen; edited by Evan Schiff; music by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard; production designer, Kevin Kavanaugh; costume designer, Luca Mosca; produced by Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Keanu Reeves (John Wick), Halle Berry (Sofia), Mark Dacascos (Zero), Ian McShane (Winston), Asia Kate Dillon (The Adjudicator), Lance Reddick (Charon), Laurence Fishburne (Bowery King), Jerome Flynn (Berrada), and Anjelica Huston (The Director).


John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017, Chad Stahelski)

If—and it's a big if—there's anything interesting about John Wick: Chapter Two as a sequel, it's how poorly the original filmmakers execute the sequel. It feels like a contractually obligated affair, only with the original principals returning.

Well, save David Leitch who produced the first film and was the (uncredited) co-director. Guess we know who brought all the energy. Because Chapter Two’s direction and action scenes are exactly what you'd expect from a contractually obligated sequel. There are big set pieces but with the locations, not the fight choreography, not the direction, not the editing (Evan Schiff’s cuts are middling at best). There's not even good (or enthusiastic) soundtrack selections. There aren't any sequences with distinct accompanying songs. The score’s no better; Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s score does a minimalist Western theme for unstoppable assassin Keanu Reeves and it's a bad choice. It doesn't bring anything. John Wick: Chapter 2: it doesn't bring anything.

The movie starts shortly after the first one. In the first one they killed his dog and stole his car; Chapter 2 begins with him getting the car back from an exceptionally bad Peter Stormare. One cameo from John Leguizamo later (the film would’ve been immeasurably improved with more Leguizamo, who’s likable in a film without much likable) and Reeves is retired. Moments after re-burying his suitcase of guns and assassin credits (the criminal underworld, globally, operates on single gold coins in John Wick world), bad guy Riccardo Scamarcio shows up at Reeves’s door with a job he can’t refuse because in John Wick world, the plots don’t work if there aren’t jobs you can’t refuse. Being an assassin means following the rules; returning Ian McShane, who’s possibly the only consistently welcome frequent supporting player, can’t shut up about the rules. At least he’s amusing with it. Common, who plays Reeves’s target’s bodyguard, can’t shut up about the rules and he’s terrible at it. The film’s bereft of good villains. Common’s not good to start then gets worse the more the film asks of him. Scarmarcio doesn’t seem terrible when he arrives, then gets worse as things progress, but some of the problem for him is the stupid plot being, you know, stupid.

After getting his house burnt down for initially refusing the offer he can’t resist, Reeves meets up with McShane (to get McShane in the movie before he needs to be), then has his equipment prep sequence, which has him getting a bulletproof suit—like, tailored suit, not special outfit, suit suit, just bulletproof—and guns from Peter Serafinowicz (whose Q cameo is one of the film’s better ones). Reeves of course using all the guns he gets, including the AR-15 the film includes to show its love for gun culture, which never gets actually exciting because they’re not gadgets or even distinct weapons. The bulletproof suit comes in handy for Reeves walking around twisting and adjusting his suit jacket to block during gun fights. Handy for Reeves. It looks really stupid.

Also stupid-looking is the big finale with the amped up hall of mirrors shootout. For a second it seems like director Stahelski is including the hall of mirrors to do something fresh or innovative with the trope. Instead, he just adds some CGI to it and calls it good. Then it goes on forever. A lot of John Wick 2 is tedious. Especially the fight scenes, which are never well-choreographed enough to be interesting on their own; they don’t have much dramatic weight as it seems unlikely any of the goons Reeves fights are going to be able to take him.

Speaking of Reeves… he’s really bad here. It’s Derek Kolstad’s script, which seems unfamiliar with how Derek Kolstad’s script for the first film dialogued Reeves. Reeves has a lot of action hero one-liners. They’re all bad, with some being stupider than others.

Can’t forget the Larry Fishburne cameo. He’s really bad. Obviously he’s a Matrix stunt cast but you’d think they’d make sure he and Reeves would at least be fun together. They’re not

I guess Ruby Rose, who plays a deaf (or possibly just mute, it’s unclear) assassin, gets away somewhat unscathed. She’s not good, but she’s also not bad. Not being bad is a rarity in John Wick: Chapter 2. It’s a great example of sequel as pejorative.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Chad Stahelski; written by Derek Kolstad; director of photography, Dan Laustsen; edited by Evan Schiff; music by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard; production designer, Kevin Kavanaugh; costume designer, Luca Mosca; produced by Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Keanu Reeves (John Wick), Riccardo Scamarcio (Santino D’Antonio), Ian McShane (Winston), Ruby Rose (Ares), Common (Cassian), Claudia Gerini (Gianna D’Antonio), Lance Reddick (Charon), Laurence Fishburne (Bowery King), and John Leguizamo (Aurelio).


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