When we’re at the third installment in an action film franchise, it’s usually on its last legs. The creativity is now all but gone, and everyone, including the star, is only in it to cash their paychecks. But the John Wick franchise is breaking all the rules.

It’s extraordinary for a franchise to produce not one, but three excellent films on action choreography and cinematography alone. And John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum is the best of the lot. Like its two predecessors, it is one incredible over-the-top set-piece action sequence after another. Its secret is that these aren’t brainless set-pieces involving vehicles (The Fast & the Furious), robots (Transformers) and the like, but people.

If you think about it, each fight sequence is more ridiculous than the next. But because most of the action scenes involve blades, handguns, and incredible martial arts skills without obvious wire-fu, it all feels authentic, and hence, pulsating.

Take for example the first fight. Here, after being declared ‘excommunicado’ for breaking the rules, ex-hitman John Wick played engagingly again by the charismatic Keanu Reeves, is on the run with a 14 million dollar bounty on his head. At the New York Public Library, he searches for a crucifix necklace and a marker medallion from his old clan to earn passage to Casablanca, Morocco. In his way is what appears to be a seven-and-a-half-foot tall assassin. Ultimately, John Wick beats him to death with a library book.

John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum breaks the rules of film franchises by being the best installment yet

Now, that sounds ridiculous and impossible, but the filmmaking style, along with the contemporary noir motif, makes the fight come across as almost poetic.

I have mixed feelings about the two other most memorable action scenes in John Wick 3. The first involves Sofia (Halle Berry), an assassin living in Morocco who is indebted to our hero. She steals every action scene she’s in because of her two incredibly vicious, but equally loyal and disciplined, German Shepherds. These dogs don’t play. The action scenes involving them are utterly vicious. To keep it brief, their method of attack involves chewing out family jewels.

My only concern with Sofia was that Halle Berry didn’t seem to get the memo about John Wick 3 being a neo-noir. Every actor plays the part, except Halle Berry, who appears to overact in context of the film’s direction.

Then, there are the final action scenes. These involve Zero (Mark Dacascos) and his team of ninja-like assassins. I was utterly delighted to see Mark Dacascos (Brotherhood of the Wolf). I have been a fan of the martial arts star for decades and have always felt it a pity that he hasn’t earned more prominent roles.

In John Wick 3, he is quite funny with his deadpan humour. Both his character and his character’s protegees pause between fights to tell John Wick what an honour it is to be fighting such a legendary assassin.

Mark Dacascos clearly hasn’t lost a step despite his age, and that’s the problem. Both he and his final two protegees prove to be too fast for John Wick in hand-to-hand combat. Eventually, our hero beats them both, but it wasn’t entirely convincing. Perhaps it would have served the film better to have had John Wick eventually outclass them with his forte — guns — instead of beating three Asian men at an Asian art where he seemed to be the second best. Regardless of my nitpicking, this action sequence is still quite enthralling to watch. This final sequence certainly paid homage to the final scene from Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, where the late hero fought in a room full of mirrors.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum also pays homage to The Matrix a couple of times. My favourite bit was when John Wick is asked what he needs and repeats a line by Neo: “Guns. Lots of guns.”

While the film is thin on storytelling, it makes the best of what it has. Its mythological take on honour amongst thieves is fascinating. It’s certainly amusing to see criminals follow a strict code of conduct. Though, only when it suits them. They are criminals, after all.

Rated R for pervasive strong violence, and some language

Published in Dawn, ICON, May 26th, 2019