John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum Review: Diminishing Returns

  • First Released May 17, 2019
  • movie

Is there such a thing? (Yes.)

The latest entry in the John Wick franchise, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, arrives in theaters Friday, May 17, with the first showings in the US coming on Thursday night. The reviews are positive overall so far, and below we offer our take on whether this new entry from star Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski lives up to the standards of the first two films.

Whatever the future holds for more movies, we know a John Wick TV series is in the works, with Reeves serving as executive producer. Beyond that, it's looking increasingly likely that John Wick is coming to Fortnite in some capacity. The recent Season 9 launch added his house to the map, and subsequent leaks point to both a John Wick skin and limited-time mode for players to engage in, perhaps along the lines of what we saw with Avengers: Endgame.

The original John Wick is one of the greatest standalone action movies ever. John Wick Chapter 2, which came out nearly three years later in 2017, added countless new wrinkles to the series' surprisingly complex mythology, peeling back layers of the clandestine hierarchy of assassins operating under the High Table. But the sequel didn't lose focus--it kept advancing the character John Wick's personal story, even as the mythology around him expanded to become wider and deeper.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, which turns John Wick into just another pawn in the High Table's hidden wars, and sends the character's personal story careening around a narrative cul-de-sac that ultimately leaves him virtually unchanged by the events of this movie.

That's not a dealbreaker, because ultimately, it's more John Wick. But it's a bad sign for the future: If series director Chad Stahelski and star Keanu Reeves plan to keep this franchise going forever, John Wick will eventually run out of steam. John Wick 3 is full of the series' signature awesome, tightly designed action, subtle, dark humor, intriguing lore and mythological symbolism, and well drawn, larger-than-life characters. But the cracks in the engine are starting to show as well.

At the end of John Wick 2, our titular antihero was given a one-hour head start before becoming officially excommunicated by the Continental Hotel--and thus, cast out from under the High Table's laws, which keep the business of assassination professional and predictable, as long as everybody stays in line. John Wick 3 picks up immediately, as Wick jogs through New York City's rainy, neon-lit streets, his unnamed pit bull at his side, a plan to preserve his own hide quickly taking shape. No matter how dire John's circumstances, it seems, there's always another safe house or weapons stash disguised as a deli or a tailor, and always more favors from past associates that Wick can call in when he needs it most. Despite ostensibly having every assassin in the known world gunning for him, John is never truly on his own.

After the series visited Rome in John Wick 2, Parabellum sees the assassin travel to another new Continental location, this time in the Moroccan city of Casablanca. There he teams up with Halle Berry's Sofia, whose gorgeous and impeccably trained Belgian Malinois dogs completely steal the show. There's an action scene in Morocco that will leave you marveling at the gargantuan amount of training and rehearsal that must have gone into it, even as your pulse quickens and your pupils dilate from the sheer gruesome, ultraviolent insanity.

Actions have consequences in the world of John Wick, and John Wick 3's main new driving force is Asia Kate Dillon's character, the Adjudicator, a representative of the High Table who arrives in New York to pass judgment and execute punishment against all those who have helped John Wick throughout the series. The Adjudicator is an agent of raw, unstoppable neutrality who cares nothing for the excuses, circumstances, or personal histories that influence events. All that matters is the High Table's laws, and those who violate them will pay the price. The Adjudicator is, frankly, terrifying, dominating the movie with a scene-stealing authority and presence.

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Most of this third movie is spent dealing with the fallout of John's actions in the last one. The New York Continental's Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick) are featured more prominently than ever before, and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) returns as well. We even learn some intriguing details of John Wick's past, although I won't spoil what.

It's great to spend more time with these existing characters, but not every new addition hits the mark as effectively as the Adjudicator does. Mark Dacascos plays Zero, another assassin who takes Wick on, and his action scenes are air-tight. Zero also happens to be an actual John Wick fanboy, which is hilarious, but the movie never stops to ask whether it makes sense for John to be a mini-celebrity in the world of underground assassins. Is he the terrifying boogeyman--the Baba Yaga of the New York Continental scene, an agent of pure murder, to be dreaded and feared? Or is John Wick an idol that other assassins want to test their strength against and maybe ask for an autograph? The movie wants to have it both ways, but it doesn't completely work.

John Wick 3 has some of the coolest action scenes in the whole franchise, including one late in the film that forces John to rethink his entire fighting style, making for some brutally creative tactics. However, there's also a scene where the assassin somehow coerces a horse into kicking multiple of his enemies in the face, with some weirdly goofy-looking CG. This movie adds fantastic new characters like the grim Adjudicator and deadly dog mom Sofia, but it also takes the lore in some strange directions that get way too overtly biblical for a series that was arguably at its best when a dude just wanted revenge for his dog.

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Worst of all, John Wick 3 essentially treads water in terms of actual narrative progression. It's a middle chapter in a larger saga, one that--for the first time--feels like it might go on too long if it remains on the same path. A trilogy is one thing, but Parabellum goes way past setting up a sequel and veers hard into the territory of "they forgot to write an ending so the movie just kind of ends."

It all combines for the weakest entry yet in a series that, overall, remains head and shoulders above most of its competition in terms of style, action, writing, world-building, and characters. Keanu Reeves' John Wick is still the instant classic action anti-hero he's always been, and John Wick 3 absolutely delivers loads more of what the series' fans love. It's just that, for the first time, it's possible to envision a future in which we love it less and less.

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The Good

  • Learning more about existing characters
  • New characters like the Adjudicator
  • Some of the series' best action scenes
  • Continues to expand the world of John Wick in creative ways

The Bad

  • Kills the series' narrative momentum
  • Some additions to the mythology are lackluster
  • Some goofy CG

About the Author

Mike Rougeau is GameSpot's Senior Entertainment Editor. He loves Game of Thrones and dogs.