Difficulty: Evil. Cheat mode: Enabled.
I like how cocky the John Wick franchise has become. The first film’s title was simply John Wick. No fanfare. Just a dude’s name. John Wick grossed $88 million on a $20 million budget, coupled with an inexplicably high 85% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Brimming with confidence, Summit Entertainment and Thunder Road Pictures (among others) doubled the production budget and title words for the sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2. The bet paid off with the film grossing $171 million (double the first film) and garnering an 89% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In February. That is impressive for a movie that is barely more than hundreds of murders strung together by well-shot choreography.
With their pockets full of cash, the production companies have made their boldest bet yet – spending $55 million on a third John Wick installment, adding a chapter title – Parabellum – and opening the movie in mid-May with Avengers: Endgame still dominating theaters and just one week before everyone plunks down their cash to watch the Will Smith-fronted, live-action remake of Aladdin (Smith playing the Genie). All joking aside, the release date looks like a major mistake, as Aladdin is immediately followed by Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dark Phoenix, Men in Black: International, and Toy Story 4, on consecutive weekends. Despite currently sporting an 89% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Parabellum is most likely going to die a quick and gruesome death at the box office. Much like nearly everyone in the cast of Parabellum.
(SPOILER ALERT: If you have not been paying attention to this franchise, there really is nothing to spoil since anything resembling a plot has never been seriously considered by the writers of this franchise. Unless body count is a spoiler.)
Parabellum picks up immediately where Chapter 2 ended, give or take a few minutes. We last saw John (Keanu Reeves) being given an hour head-start by the manager of the Continental Hotel, Winston (Ian McShane) before every assassin in New York City starts trying to kill him. Back in the tattooed-lady phone room, the murder contract on John is set at $14 million. While Wick is making his way to a weapons cache (presumably), one of the tattooed ladies is dutifully reciting the time remaining at regular intervals in a telephone.
(Not to get sidetracked, but who exactly is she talking to and why? We know it isn’t any of the assassins (ancient dialing machines are seen spreading the contract information to individual phone numbers) and we can safely assume that every assassin can read a clock, as can the other tattooed ladies in the room. It’s not even useful for the audience because there are clocks everywhere and John himself keeps telling us how much time is left.)
As a reminder, the one thing this franchise beats us over the head with is that there are kinds of rules dictating the assassination business. As I’ve noted in the previous reviews of the franchise, the writing is, to put it delicately, dogshit, so it is not the least bit surprising that Parabellum can’t even wait for its own deadline to kick off the action, breaking the hallowed (and undefined) rules almost immediately. With a few minutes left in John’s hour, the first assassin takes on John, noting that nobody will notice a few minutes and John calls him out on his premature assassination attempt. I would never have remember this line if for not for a) 117% of the movie’s dialogue mentioning the rules and b) a doctor (after patching up John’s stab wound) telling John to shoot him because “they’ll know I told you where the medicine was,” where being on the top shelf of a cabinet in his office. The idea of the all-seeing and all-knowing eye of the High Table is the second-most quoted thing in the movie after the rules, so it is comically poor writing to have back-to-back scenes contradicting that idea.
While Chapter 2 at least made an attempt at some kind of plot, Parabellum shoots that plot in the face, delivering us 131 minutes of mass murder interspersed with an adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) dispensing High Table punishments on everyone who helped John in Chapter 2 and the beginning of Parabellum. This includes Winston, as well as the hobo-king (Laurence Fishburne) and the ballet queen (Angelica Huston) and an attempt on the Casablanca equivalent of Winston, Sofia (Halle Berry). Want to know more about whose these people are? Me too and I saw the movie.
For the third movie in a row, the franchise refuses to dive into its underground/not-so-underground assassin world or any of its characters. Every time the movie stops for a moment and someone starts talking, I got interested. Finally, they are going to flesh out some of th….oh, John is killing more people. *38 dead people later* Ooh, ooh, ooh, someone is finally explaining the High Table and, dammit John, can you please just not kill anyone for five minutes? We desperately need some exposition here. Aaaaaand, he just shoved a shotgun up the exposition’s ass. *Sigh*
The most telling sign that this franchise has worn out its welcome is that the screening audience noticeably tired of the non-stop death. During the first action sequence, people were laughing and audibly cringing and having fun. As the movie drug on, the laughs become more sporadic until finally disappearing altogether around the ninety-minute mark. The second act somewhat revived the audience with a pair of ninja-dogs clamping their teeth on multiple assassins’ dicks (literally, the assassins’ actual dicks) while John and Sofia head-shotted their way through countless enemies. But, by the time the climax rolled around, the death and murder had become so tedious and mind-numbing that the audience was over it. True, a handful of people did clap at the end, but I’m pretty sure they were actually slapping their own faces to wake themselves up.
Essentially, the entire franchise is a video game, each entry bringing diminishing returns. Yeah, the fight choreography is still really good, but the high volume of bad guys causes the audience to notice how truly choreographed it is. You can literally see John’s opponents not fighting in order to allow him to defeat dozens of people simultaneously. It’s the punching equivalent of how the bad guys have the worst aim when shooting while the good guys score perfect kill shots with every bullet (which, incidentally, is also featured in this film and franchise). It’s like if you set the difficulty in Call of Duty to evil, then entered in a bunch of cheat codes. Sure, you’ll get to the end, but it’ll feel like a waste of time when you get there. Just don’t get cocky about it.
Rating: Ask for all of your money back and play a video game instead.