Guns, axes, swords, motorcycles, his belt, the back half of a horse, and a book of Russian fairy tales: These are just a few of the things with which taciturn assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) dispatches his enemies in John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum. After two movies of nearly nonstop kills, you’d think our man would have run out of ways to end a life, but neither he nor they have ever had much else on their mind. When we first met him, John was mourning the death of his wife, from natural causes, and his dog, who was not so fortunate, but as a retired contract killer, he was like a race car up on blocks—and so was Reeves, who’d had few roles of note in the decade since the end of the Matrix trilogy. Chad Stahelski, who has directed all three movies in the series (sharing duties on the first with David Leitch), was Reeves’ stunt double as well as a stunt coordinator, and the movies flow from both his love of action set pieces and his knowledge of his star’s physical capabilities. The John Wick movies are built around Reeves—his laconic deadpan, the swift fluidity of his movements, even the way his hair looks when it’s wet—like a tailored suit. He’s more than their star. He’s the whole reason for their existence.
Chapter 3 picks up right where Chapter 2 left off, with John hurrying his way out of the Continental, the Manhattan hotel that serves as a private club and sanctuary for a cabal of underground assassins. After killing a man on the Continental’s neutral ground, John is persona non grata (or, in the movies’ faux Latin, “excommunicado”), but through the grace of the Continental’s manager, Winston (Ian McShane), he’s got an hour to make it to safer ground. The movie doesn’t let nearly so long elapse before the blood starts flowing, along with bullets, knives, and good old-fashioned punches. Nowhere is safe, and anything can be an instrument of death: As he’s retrieving the library book in which he’s stashed some emergency supplies, John is set upon in the stacks by a towering henchman (7-foot-3 NBA player Boban Marjanovic), so he uses the book as first a defensive and then an offensive weapon, employing its spine to break his assailant’s.
There’s a lot of overlap between John Wick and Jason Bourne, who’s also been known to explore the lethal capabilities of printed matter. But where Bourne’s kills are technological, John’s are closer to mythic. He’s spoken of in hushed terms, compared to the boogeyman and, for some reason, Baba Yaga, the mythical Russian witch who lives in a house on a cabin atop chicken legs. He’s not untouchable—far from it, in fact, since one of the movie’s guiding principles is that Reeves’ chiseled looks can stand a little bruising. But he is unstoppable, at least once he’s in motion. As in the movies before it, many of Chapter 3’s action sequences are staged in long, apparently unbroken takes, like dance routines from classic Hollywood musicals (except with way more blood spatter). His partners, as it were, are often stunt performers or martial artists, their personalities, such as they are, established through the way they fight rather than their dialogue. The Raid 2 and The Force Awakens’ Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman show up as a sword-wielding duo, and Mark Dacascos, a star of innumerable straight-to-video action movies who’s still best-known as the Chairman on Iron Chef America, walks a nimble line as a ruthless killer who’s also a gushing superfan.
There are talkers too, namely McShane and a sour-pussed bureaucrat called the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), who saunters into the Continental in a black suit and crew cut to put a damper on Winston and Wick’s hijinks. Anjelica Huston turns up as the thick-accented head of a mob called the Ruska Roma, and Game of Thrones’ Jerome Flynn puts on a similarly syrupy, if far less identifiable, accent as the minter of the gold coins the assassins use as currency.
Fitting squarely, and surprisingly, in both camps is Halle Berry, an old colleague John looks up in Casablanca. She’s not pleased to see him and neither are her snarling dogs, but the two made a compact literally sealed in blood, so she and her pups wade into combat right alongside him. Berry’s played action before, notably in Catwoman and the X-Men movies, but never without a dash of camp. Here, she’s lethally graceful and, like Reeves, only seems to have been burnished by age. The movie doesn’t give us much of their backstory, but the way they fire off guns in perfect sync with one another, it doesn’t need to. They live on the same plane, moving as if the rest of the world is playing at half-speed.
At times, Chapter 3 likewise feels at times like it’s dragging its heels. The fragrant not-quite-poetry of its dialogue feels more like The Boondock Saints than Tarantino, and the cumulative amorality of its nonstop violence may make you wonder if the movie’s ideal audience is latent psychopaths (or perhaps just New Yorkers, who in these films are so blasé they don’t even glance when two men are stabbed to death amid a Grand Central rush hour crowd). The best way to watch isn’t with oohs and aahhs. It’s with laughter, savoring the beauty and the absurdity of each elaborate spectacle. Each movement is a joke, and death is the ultimate punchline.