JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 - PARABELLUM. As we struggle for footing on the shifting sands of national leadership in constant cartoon crisis, a broader geopolitical landscape tilting toward global conflict and socioeconomic dissolution, and increasingly centralized popular entertainment defined by literal and figurative monsters, there is hope in John Wick. Everything else can continue to get bigger and worse, and continue to circle the drain, but if Keanu Reeves can stalk the night in exquisitely tailored suits, killing everything by whatever (and always more inventive) means necessary, there will be a source of catharsis, of solace.
Once again: This is not for everyone. Any reader who has wandered this far down the path will likely understand the disclaimer applies to nearly all of my opinions.
I will admit that part of my revelry in the ongoing success of the John Wick saga — yeah, I called it a saga — is petty and a little self-congratulatory. Parabellum is the first movie to finally unseat Avengers from its throne atop the box office. That it had already made a trillion dollars or however much is of little consequence; in this war we're counting pyrrhic victories, including the near simultaneous end of Game of Thrones, which has apparently left the lives of everyone around without a focal point. As I've had no interest in that particular time-suck since the beginning, I can't say I'll miss it. But its absence soothes me. So that's the petty part.
Now, I understand that a generation of consumers have grown up on both the MCU and GoT, and more power to them. And I'll acknowledge that I seem to be aging almost exponentially, at least in my opinions of culture at large, raging from my rocker on the front porch at the death of cinema and such. But the vast popularity of these things speaks more to the FOMO phenomenon than it does to the quality of the work, though I admit that is significant. Just as our stupid smartphones ostensibly connect us while actually making us lonelier than ever, so these vast, strictly commercial enterprises displace imagination and ingenuity in the popular entertainment marketplace. They give everybody something to talk about because nobody has anything to talk about.
The easy counterargument, of course, is that John Wick has also become a cultural phenomenon. "It's No. 1 at the box office so get off your high horse!"
I will; I shouldn't have been up there in the first place.
But there are a few vital differences: Looking back five years, I don't think people particularly expected John Wick (2014) to gain the traction it did. It was released relatively quietly, with Reeves' name-recognition as its only real marketing leverage. And, if we're being honest, the man has been in as many bad movies as good. Don't mishear, I still love him. Just saying. The front cover blurb on my physical copy of the movie is from something called Joblo's Movie Emporium — not exactly a resounding endorsement. The first movie gathered momentum, though, because it is an exquisitely crafted and unrelentingly entertaining thing. The audience at-large may not recognize the pain and experience and volume of work required to execute so many incredible stunt sequences with so little trickery, but thanks to Reeves, director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad, all of that incredible work plays beautifully onscreen as integral to an ever-expanding storyline.
As that narrative, and its encompassing universe along with it, has continued to enlarge, so too have the stunts. Chapter Two took the action back to the Old World, introduced the High Table and played up the ancient ritual binding these assassins all together. And that it brought that aesthetic back to New York, crushed it between the unseen world of the King's (Laurence Fishburne) Bowery and the ultra-modernity of nighttime Manhattan blew minds. Parabellum continues that trajectory: farther, bigger, more and maybe even better.
For the uninitiated (as if any would have gotten this far), Chapter Two left our hero with one hour to put his affairs in order before he would be deemed excommunicado with a global $14 million bounty placed on his head. And so Parabellum opens with the clock ticking on that hour. John needs to get a nasty stab wound attended to, see to the care and feeding of his dog, and hopefully get out of New York alive. Which, of course, means he will need to meet with the Director (Anjelica Huston), rebuild an Old West six-shooter, win a(nother) knife/hatchet fight with a couple of villains and, oh yeah, outrun assassins on Ducatis with a carriage horse.
That's basically just the opening salvo. Provided he survives all of that, John might have to meet up with Sofia (Halle Berry) in Casablanca in an attempt to climb the ladder to the head of the High Table. The two of them might have to fight their way out of a Moroccan stronghold, aided by her Malinois attack dogs. I wouldn't say one way or the other, but it might be the greatest action sequence ever assembled. And I haven't even mentioned the ninja.
Parabellum advances both the world-creation/story-construction and the standard for action commensurately with the series to date. Which is to say it outdoes itself at every turn and is giddily satisfying, all for a budget one-sixth that of Endgame.
PS: The Chapter Four release date has already been announced. R. 130M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
ALADDIN. Live-action Disney remake with (hopefully) less racism and a hotter Jafar than the original. Starring blue Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott and Marwan Kenzari. PG. 128M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK MINOR.
BOOKSMART. Olivia Wilde's comedy about a pair of high school overachievers (Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein) trying to make up for four years of not partying. R. 102M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
BRIGHTBURN. Sometimes you find a crash-landed alien baby and instead of growing up to be Superman he makes a hard turn to the dark side. Starring Elizabeth Banks and Jackson Dunn. R. 91M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
GREASE (1978). Checking my phone if Rizzo's not in the scene. PG13. 110M. BROADWAY.
AMAZING GRACE. A documentary with footage of Aretha Franklin singing with a choir in Watts in 1972. G. 89M. MINOR.
ASK DR. RUTH. Documentary about the 90-year-old sex therapist, Holocaust survivor and petite suit icon. NR. 100M. MINOR.
AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Joe and Anthony Russo's vast, multi-faceted, three-hour finale is a project management master-class with tragedy, triumph and leavening comedy. Compelling performances are hampered by the requisite climactic battle and antiseptic aesthetic. PG13. 181M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK .
A DOG'S JOURNEY. Oh, so now reincarnated pets are a good thing? Starring Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid and Kathryn Prescott. PG. 108M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
HAIL SATAN? Documentary on the Satanic Temple, religious freedom, the separation of church and state, and serving looks in black leather. R. 95M. MINIPLEX.
THE HUSTLE. A weak, unfunny script and poor pacing in this gender-swapped remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels wastes its leads (Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway) and only reinforces outdated gender norms it could be skewering. PG13. 94M. BROADWAY.
POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU. Ryan Reynolds voices the cuddly CGI creature, thus precluding a Deadpool crossover. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR. Romance about a young woman (Yara Shahidi) who's about to be deported with her family when she meets a charming stranger (Charles Melton) on the street in New York. PG13. 100M. BROADWAY.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill